Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Rodney Alcala: Extreme Serial Killer

Ellen Hover

In 1974, a 13-year-old girl known in trial reports as "Julie J." made an emergency call claiming that a man had kidnapped her in Huntington Beach. She'd been waiting for the bus, and Rodney Alcala had offered her a ride to school. He then refused to let the panicked girl out of his car until they got to Bolsa Chica State Beach. He dragged Julie to the cliffs, forced her to smoke marijuana, and kissed her.

Rodney Alcala
Rodney Alcala

Alcala was convicted only of violating parole and furnishing a minor with marijuana. He spent just another two years in prison.

When he got out, Alcala's trusting parole officer gave him permission to go to New York to visit relatives, for the summer of 1977. David Berkowitz, better known as the Son of Sam, would be arrested that August for a two-year crime spree during which he shot seven young women and two men around New York City. Alcala allegedly added to this summer of terror.

NYPD investigators believe Alcala murdered a young Manhattan socialite that summer. Ellen Hover, 23, was the daughter of Herman Hover, the owner of Ciro's, a legendary Hollywood nightclub. Ciro's was first the epitome of Big Band swing, the height of Rat Pack glamour. Sammy Davis, Jr., and Dean Martin served as Ellen's godfathers. Her grandmother was a gossip writer; her aunt, Sheila Weller, writes for Vanity Fair.

Ellen Hover was last seen in her apartment on Third Avenue at 44th Street on July 15, 1977. Her datebook showed that she had an appointment to meet with one John Berger that same day.

Her stepfather hired a private investigator, and the family took out an ad in the New York Times, soliciting information on the mysterious John Berger.

Alcala simply moved back to Los Angeles, reverted to his own name, and got a job as a typesetter at the Los Angeles Times.

No one came forward with information on "John Berger" until later that year. A tip to the FBI pointed out that a New Hampshire drama camp counselor named John Berger had been taken away by the police a few years before. The FBI finally connected the dots and questioned Alcala in Los Angeles. He admitted knowing Ellen Hover, but investigators hadn't yet found her body, so they let him go and apparently filed the case away.

Ellen Hover's body was eventually found on the Rockefeller estate in North Tarrytown, N.Y., just miles from a Hover family summer house, and mere yards from where an aspiring model would later report that "Berger" had taken photos of her.

Meanwhile, Rodney Alcala was up to his old tricks.


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