Our case last week dealt with vigilante justice in 1933 California. You may recall that mob dragged the confessed kidnappers and killers of Brooke Hart from jail and lynched them in a public park. Our case this week is also from California, that of serial Rodney Alcala. In the day, Alcala was good-looking enough to earn a slot on television’s The Dating Game. But no one at the time knew he was an active serial killer.
Rodney Alcala was born Rodrigo Jacques Alcala Buquor in San Antonio, Texas in 1943. In 1951, his father moved the family to Mexico but abandoned them three years later. His mother later moved Rodney and his two sisters to the Los Angeles suburbs.
Alcala joined the U.S. Army in 1961 when he was 17. He served as a clerk for about three years before he had a nervous breakdown and went AWOL. The Army gave him a medical discharge.
Rodney Alcala, Criminal
On September 25, 1969, a witness called Los Angeles police after seeing Alcala lure an eight-year-old girl into his apartment. Tali Shapiro was alive when police arrived. But Alcala had beaten her with a steel bar and raped her before fleeing before fleeing.
To avoid arrest, Alcala moved to New York and enrolled in the NYU film school. In 1971, he managed to get a job as a counselor at an arts camp for children in New Hampshire. In June of that year, two children from the camp recognized his picture on a wanted poster. Extradited back to California, he received a three-year sentence for child molestation.
Paroled after 17 months, Alcala was rearrested when he assaulted a 13-year-old girl to whom he offered a ride. He went back to prison but was out in two years.
During this period, Alcala convinced numerous young men and women that he was a professional photographer. Many posed for him. However, most of the models were nude and the photos were usually suggestive. Police feel that many of Alcala’s photography subjects may be cold case victims.
Alcala Appears on The Dating Game
In 1978, Rodney Alcala appeared on the TV game show The Dating Game as Bachelor Number One. Host Jim Lange introduced him as a successful photographer who was into skydiving and motorcycling. On air, he was witty and charming, and the female contestant, Cheryl Bradshaw, picked him.
Backstage, however, Alcala was anything but charming. Bradshaw called the show’s office the next day and refused to go on the date. She said she felt “weird vibes” coming from him. Fellow contestant Jed Mills, who sat next to Alcala as Bachelor Number Two, described him as a “very strange guy” with “bizarre opinions.”
Alcala Arrested, Tried, and Convicted
On June 20, 1979, 12-year-old Robin Samsoe disappeared on her way from the beach to ballet class. Her body was found 12 days later. Robin’s friends said a man approached them on the beach and asked to take their pictures. Police circulated a sketch of the photographer, and his parole office recognized it as a sketch of Rodney Alcala.
Police arrested Alcala in July 1979 and held him without bail. At his trial in 1980, the jury convicted him of the Samsoe murder, and he received a death sentence. The California Supreme Court overturned that conviction because jurors heard improper testimony concerning Alcala’s prior convictions for sex offenses. The second trial in 1986 was essentially a repeat of the 1980 trial and ended with the same result.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the 1986 conviction as well. The State of California tried Alcala for the third time in 2010. This time, there were five counts of murder. In the years since his second trial, investigators had traced the murders of four additional women to him. These women were: Jill Barcomb, 18; Georgia Wixted, 27; Charlotte Lamb, 31; and Jill Parenteau, 21.
At his third trial, Rodney Alcala acted as his own attorney. This rarely goes well, and it didn’t go well for Alcala this time. He ended up convicted on five counts of murder and with another death sentence.
In 2013, Rodney Alcala pled guilty to two homicide charges in New York. Police identified him as a suspect or person of interest in murders in Washington State, San Francisco, and Wyoming as well. The total number his victims is likely far greater than the seven women he was convicted of killing.
Rodney Alcala died of unspecified natural causes on July 24, 2021. He was 77 years old and still awaiting execution.
You can read more about the case in Victoria Best’s More Than Just a Pretty Face and Rodney James Alcala: Occupation: Serial Killer a.k.a. The Dating Game Killer by J.R. Knowles.
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