Rodney Alcala (The Dating Game Killer)

If you watch The Bachelor, then you’re probably sad that there isn’t a new episode this week. So to make it a little less difficult on you, we are going to do a case that involves a dating show. And if you aren’t a fan of The Bachelor, you’ll still appreciate this episode because. . . well you’ll see.

In the 70s, there was a reality show called The Dating Game. Here’s how it worked – a bachelorette would question three bachelors that were behind a screen so she couldn’t see them. She would ask the men questions and based on how this went, she would choose one of the men to go on a date which would be paid for by the show. Sometimes the roles would be reversed with a man asking the questions to three women or even a celebrity getting to choose a date. So basically, it was your stereotypical dating show. There were some big names who went on the show before they were big – for example Farrah Fawcett, Steve Martin, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Tom Selleck to name a few. (They brought back the Celebrity Dating Game with Zooey Deschanel as the host & Michael Bolton who gives musical clues to the guests, as they are trying to guess who the celebrity is)

On September 13, 1978, Cheryl Bradshaw was excited to have been the woman chosen to be a bachelorette for an episode. She asked lots of questions and Bachelor #1 had some out there answers, but she seemed to like this. Here’s one of these questions (time stamp 4:25 – 4:45):

https://abcnews.go.com/2020/video/rodney-alcala-appears-dating-game-wins-amid-killing-75144625

 

Cheryl was intrigued by him and his personality and ultimately decided that of the three men, he was the one that she wanted to go on a date with.

Rodney Alcala The Dating Game

Bachelorette Cheryl Bradshaw and Rodney Alcala on ‘The Dating Game’ in 1978. (Source: YouTube.com / https://groovyhistory.com/dating-game-killer-rodney-alcala)

Once the show was over, they chatted backstage and he seemed excited to take her on a date. The problem is, once they met in person, she got a bit of a weird vibe from him. He was an attractive guy with long, luscious dark hair – peak 70s but she was uncomfy and wasn’t sure if she wanted to go on a date with him after all. When talking about this later, she said “I started to feel ill. . . He was acting really creepy. I turned down his offer. I didn’t want to see him again.”
Cheryl wasn’t the only one getting a weird vibe from him. Jed Mills, an actor who was another one of the bachelors on the episode, felt like he was a bit odd as well. In an interview he said Bachelor 1 was “kind of quiet” and that after the show he told his brother about him because he was “kind of good looking, but kind of creepy. He was always looking down and not making eye contact.”

He clearly had something going on and it wasn’t just the contestants that noticed it. Michael Metzger, the executive producer of the show, had made a note that he didn’t want him cast on the show because he had a “very strange personality.” (From the 20/20 video he admitted he marked him as an “N/W”, as in No Way, or no way in h-e-l-l.) The casting coordinator disagreed with Metzger’s decision though and pushed for his casting because of how striking he was. Metzger caved and decided they could have him on, but he specifically wanted him to be put on an episode with two other men with good personalities who were respectable, decent, and fun. He thought that by doing this, they would draw the viewers in with the attractive man, but the bachelorette would choose one of the other two men. Obviously, this didn’t happen.
I’ve been talking a lot about this mysterious Bachelor #1, but who is he actually? His name was Rodney Alcala and what everyone discovered after this episode of The Dating Game was more than anyone was expecting. When he went on the show, he had spent three years in prison for raping and beating an 8 year old girl which landed him on the FBIs 10 most wanted fugitives lists.

So this guy who had done these horrible things and has been in prison somehow made it onto a huge dating show. Here’s the thing. The show didn’t run background checks on the competitors. It was the 70s and running a background check wasn’t what it is today. And even if they had run a background check, they wouldn’t have even known half of what he had done because he hadn’t been linked to everything yet. Anywho, I’m getting ahead of myself. So before we move on, let’s learn more about who Rodney Alcala was.

He was born Rodrigo Jacques Alcala Buquor on August 23, 1943 in San Antonio, Texas. When he was 8, his father, Raoul Alcala Buquor, moved the family, made up of Rodney, his mom – Anna Maria Gutierrez, and his sisters – Christine & Marie, to Mexico. This didn’t last long though as he abandoned them there only three years later. After he left, his mother moved them to Los Angeles where they lived for the rest of his teenage years.

When he was 17 he joined the army as a clerk. This didn’t last long though as only a year later he had a nervous breakdown and after being diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder by a military psychiatrist, was medically discharged due to mental health issues. He then went on to attend the UCLA School of Fine Arts and was considered to be quite intelligent with an IQ of 135.

Possible unidentified victims of Rodney Alcala

These are ten of the hundreds of photos recovered during searches of Alcala’s Monterey Park home and a storage locker Alcala rented in Seattle that were released in 2010 by the Huntington Beach police. Huntington Beach police are asking for the public’s help in identifying any potential victims among dozens of young women apparently photographed by Rodney Alcala (Source: https://medium.com/@danihunter_5985/the-haunting-collection-of-photographs-taken-by-serial-killer-rodney-alcala-7a10eb8e4b4f)

As I mentioned before, he spent a few years in jail for the rape and beating of an 8 year old. This was his first known crime and the girl, Tali Shapiro, survived because a motorist in LA witnessed him luring her into his apartment and called police. When police arrived, he had already beaten her with a steel pipe and raped her, but he quickly fled to the east coast.
At this point, he started going by the alias John Berger and enrolled in the NYU film school where he studied under Roman Polanski (Polanski has also plead guilty to the rape of a 13 year old girl). (Polanski’s wife was Sharon Tate, victim in the Manson Murders.) In 1971, he got a job as a counselor at a New Hampshire arts camp for children. He was still using the alias John Burger, but spelled differently by one letter. Around this time is when he was added to the FBIs Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list. His face was put on posters that led two campers to recognizing him and notifying camp directors. He was then arrested and extradited back to California. Like I mentioned earlier, he was only sentenced to three years for this? So how did we go from the 10 Most Wanted list to 3 years in prison? Well, the charges he was officially sent to prison on were only assault. This is because the authorities were unwilling to charge him with rape and attempted murder without Tali there to be their primary witness. She wasn’t there because her family had moved to Mexico and her parents refused to let her testify. To be honest, I can totally understand why they wouldn’t want her to testify and put her through that again especially when taking her age into consideration, but it is disheartening that he wasn’t really held responsible because of this.

He was let out on parole after only 34 months. It was really popular at the time to let people out on parole as soon as they showed evidence of rehabilitation, so this explains how he got away with serving such a short amount of time. Only two months after being released he was arrested for violating parole and providing marijuana to a 13 year old girl, named “Julie J.” in court papers, who said she had been kidnapped. He was sent to jail again, but let out only two years later. Because unfortunately, he was only charged with violating parole & giving marajuana to a minor.

We’ve now made it to 1977 and his parole officer gave him permission to travel to New York to “visit family.” This is surprising being as he was a repeat offender and a flight risk. Elaine Hover who was the daughter of a popular Hollywood nightclub owner was killed within seven days of his trip and it is now believed that he killed her, though it hasn’t been proven for sure at this point. While it isn’t 100% that he killed her, she did have an entry in her datebook for the same day she disappeared with “John Berger” which we know was one of his aliases. (2 serial killers in NY at the same time – Son of Sam & Alcala)

During this time, he was working as a typesetter for the Los Angeles Times by day and a professional fashion photographer by night. Or so he said. This is what he would tell young women to convince them to let him photograph them for his “portfolio.” It is believed that some of the women he photographed ended up becoming victims and were never heard from again.

It was during this point of Rodney’s life that he appeared on The Dating Game. Since Cheryl was creeped out by him in person, the producers said that she didn’t have to go through with the date if she didn’t want to and so while he was upset about this, she never actually went on a date with him. This rejection led to what Criminal Profiler, Pat Brown, described as an escalation, as Alcala then went on to commit 3 more murders in two years.

On 02/13/1979 Alcala offered a ride to a 15-year old female who was hitchhiking and lured her in by asking her to take pictures of her for a contest. A day later, on Valentine’s Day – 02/14/1979, after spending the night together, Alcala drove her to a secluded area, took naked photos of her, then raped her. She was able to gain Alcala’s trust by being as friendly as possible and then took her opportunity to escape when he went into a gas station bathroom. On the same day, 02/14/1979, after being identified in a photo lineup, Alcala was arrested and admitted to choking and raping the young woman. Because of his arrest, in April of 1979, Alcala gave his two weeks’ notice to the Los Angeles Times. On 06/14/1979, the body of Jill Parenteau, 21-year old female, was found inside her apartment in Burbank, CA.

Days later, on June 20, 1979, Robin Samsoe, a 12 year old girl from Huntington Beach, went missing somewhere between the beach and her ballet class. 12 days later, her body was found in the foothills of Los Angeles. This was tied to Rodney when police found her earrings in a Seattle locker rented by him. In 1980, he was tried, convicted, and sentenced to death for her murder. It seemed like he was finally getting his just desserts, but that didn’t last long. His conviction was overturned by the California Supreme Court because the judge had allowed the jury to hear about the Tali Shapiro case as well as his other rape and kidnapping convictions.

They retried him in 1986 where he was once again convicted and sentenced to death, but this conviction was also thrown out. (on the grounds that a witness was “hypnotized by police investigators.”)

In 2003, Orange County investigators were preparing for their third try at this case when they learned that Alcala’s DNA matched semen left at the rape-murder scenes of two women in Los Angeles. Another pair of earrings found in his storage locker also matched the DNA of one of the two victims.

In 2003, prosecutors entered a motion to join the Samsoe charges with those of four

newly-discovered victims. Jill Barcomb, 18, killed in 1977 and originally thought to have been a victim of the Hillside Strangler; Georgia Wixted, 27, bludgeoned in her Malibu apartment in 1977; Charlotte Lamb, 31, raped and strangled in El Segundo in 1978; and Jill Parenteau, 21, as we mentioned, was killed in her Burbank apartment in 1979.

 

He contested the motion for obvious reasons, but in 2006, the California Supreme Court ruled in the prosecution’s favor, and in 2009 Rodney stood trial once again. At the third trial, he acted as his own attorney, telling jurors, often in a rambling monotone, that he was at Knott’s Berry Farm when Samsoe was kidnapped. (He offered no defense of any kind in the other four cases.)

As part of his closing argument, he played the portion of Arlo Guthrie’s song “Alice’s Restaurant” in which the protagonist tells a psychiatrist he wants to “kill.” He was unsurprisingly convicted on all five counts. A surprise witness during the penalty phase of the trial was Tali Shapiro, who was now an adult. In March 2010, he was sentenced to death for a third time.

 

2013 Photo of Rodney Alcala

In this Jan. 7, 2013, file photo, convicted serial killer Rodney James Alcala appears in court in New York. David Handschuh/AP, FILE (Source: https://abcnews.go.com/US/dating-game-serial-killer-rodney-alcala-dies-death/story?id=79036859)

He kept busy while incarcerated and among other things, he self-published a book called You, the Jury in which he proclaimed his innocence in the Samsoe case. He contested the DNA swabs done on prisoners periodically for the police department’s evidence bank. This is a common practice to get people’s DNA on file and it makes sense that he wouldn’t support it since it was from these DNA swabs that he was connected to other crimes. He also brought two lawsuits against the California penal system; one for a slip and fall accident, and another for the prison’s refusal to provide him with a low-fat menu. (insofar as the book publishing was concerned, the Son of Sam Laws were not yet a federal statute in the U.S., because as we mentioned earlier, the Son of Sam, David Berkowitz, was committing his crimes at the same time as Rodney Alcala. Actually, in 10 states, as of 2000, they’ve either replaced the original Son of Sam law with one that is similar, or it was struck down altogether because of the 1st amendment rights of prisoners)

 

Because although he was convicted & sentenced to death, California’s Governor, Gary Newsome, ordered a moratorium on executions in March of 2019. So, all 737 prisoners, including Rodney Alcala, had their sentences commuted to life in prison. He sat on death row which then became life in prison in California until he died of natural causes at age 77 on July 24, 2021. Police believe that he could have many more victims and continue to try to connect him to those cases through things like DNA and the photographs he took of women in the 70s. They actually released 120 of these photographs in 2010 in an effort to identify some of the women and see if any could be additional victims. In the first few weeks, approximately 20 women came forward to identify themselves, but there are still plenty of women still unidentified. Marie Claire has an article with all of these pictures that you can view, as well as a Facebook page that we’ll post a link to on our Instagram. And if you are able to help identify any of the women in the photos you can contact Sgt. Sam Shepard with the Huntington Beach Police Department at (714) 536-5947.

 

Sources:

Accessed March, 2022. https://murderpedia.org/male.A/a/alcala-rodney.htm

Accessed March, 2022. https://allthatsinteresting.com/rodney-alcala-dating-game-killer

Accessed March, 2022. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rodney_Alcala#Early_life

Accessed March, 2022. https://abcnews.go.com/2020/video/rodney-alcala-appears-dating-game-wins-amid-killing-75144625

Accessed March, 2022. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/24/us/rodney-alcala-dead-dating-game.html

Accessed March, 2022. https://abcnews.go.com/US/serial-killer-rodney-alcalas-photographs-recognize/story?id=75067205

Accessed March, 2022. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Dating_Game#Format

Accessed March, 2022. https://criminalminds.fandom.com/wiki/Rodney_Alcala

Accessed March, 2022. http://maamodt.asp.radford.edu/Psyc%20405/serial%20killers/Alcala.%20Rodney%20_2012_.pdf

Accessed March, 2022. https://www.wiki.ng/en/wiki/rodney-alcala-bio-and-facts-to-know-about-the-dating-game-killer-501383

Accessed March, 2022. https://www.facebook.com/find.alcala.victims/photos/

Accessed March, 2022. https://www.marieclaire.com/culture/g899/serial-killers-photos/

Accessed March, 2022. https://www.npr.org/2019/03/12/702873258/gov-gavin-newsom-suspends-death-penalty-in-california

Accessed March, 2022. https://www.freedomforuminstitute.org/2012/03/23/son-of-sam-statutes-federal-and-state-summary/

Accessed March, 2022. https://www.theguardian.com/science/2019/oct/04/false-witness-us-using-hypnosis-convict-criminals

Accessed March, 2022. https://www.apmreports.org/story/2018/05/01/how-can-someone-be-tried-six-times-for-the-same-crime

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