Before the days of YouTube, Netflix and other at-your-fingertips entertainment, staying home sick from school consisted of watching daytime TV. My personal favorite when I was resting on the couch was watching game shows (I loved The Price is Right). I often wondered how people were chosen for participate on the shows, what they did after their 15-minutes of fame, and who they were off the show. For the audience watching The Dating Game in 1978, they didn’t know that they were watching a serial rapist/murderer/child molester with over 100 possible victims.
Rodney James Alcala was born Rodrigo Jacques Alcala Buquor on August 23, 1943. This man had some of the best luck I have ever read about and the disgusting failures of law enforcement and the judicial system led to so many more victims suffering at the hands of this monster.
Alcala’s family life, like many killers, was not ideal. His father, Raoul, left when Alcala was about 11 years old. Following that, his mother, Anna Maria, moved the family from Mexico to Los Angeles.
When he was 17, Alcala joined the military. After four years, he was diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder following a nervous breakdown. He went AWOL and hitchhiked to his mother’s house just before being discharged on medical grounds. He graduated from UCLA School of Fine Arts and then studied under Roman Polanski at New York University.
Alcala’s first crime that we know of occurred in 1968. He was seen by a motorist leading eight-year-old Tali Shapiro into his apartment. The young victim was found raped and beaten, but alive. Alcala had fled the scene and that’s when he moved from Hollywood to New York to enroll in film school under the name John Berger.
Alcala got a job at New Hampshire Art Camp for Children (now using the slightly changed name of John Burger) in 1971. That same year a 23-year-old flight attendant was found raped and strangled in her apartment. We will come back to her murder, but it was unsolved until 2011. Alcala was on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted list by now for the rape of young Shapiro and two children from the camp recognized his picture at the post office. Unfortunately, Shapiro’s family had moved to Mexico by the time Alcala was arrested and they refused to have their daughter testify in court. This meant that, although Alcala was accused of rape and attempted murder, he was only found guilty of assault. The child rapist was paroled out of jail in 17-months.
His freedom didn’t last long because he was arrested again for assaulting a 13-year-old named Julie who accepted a ride to school. Alcala was free from jail in 2-years.
It doesn’t need to be mentioned that Alcala should have remained in jail for either of these crimes, but the real bugling of justice really hit here when he was, as a parolee and a flight risk, allowed to travel to New York. Here, it is now known, he killed 23-year-old Jane Hover and left her remains buried on the grounds of the Rockerfeller Estate in Westchester County.
Alcala got a job in 1978 as a typesetter for the Los Angeles Times. While working here he was questioned by a Hillside Strangler task force but cleared of suspicion. Due to a charge and short sentence for marijuana possession, Alcala lost his job and started up a business as a fashion photographer. This job opened the door for his criminally sexual proclivities to run rampant. He convinced hundred of men and women to pose for his portfolio.
Even after being in jail three times, and commenting an unknown number of other crimes, Alcala was selected to be a contestant on The Dating Game. He was introduced by host Jim Lange as “A successful photographer who got his start when his father found him in the dark room at age 13, fully developed. Between takes you might find him skydiving or motorcycling.”
Alcala may have won the competition, but bachelorette Cheryl Bradshaw refused the date. He was described as “Creepy” “very strange” and having “bizarre opinions.” Following the game show, Alcala committed three murders. Pat Brown, a criminal profiler, speculated that “one wonders what [the rejection] did to his mind. That is something he would not take to well. [Serial killers] don’t understand the rejection. They think that something is wrong with that girl. ‘She played me. She played hard to get’”
12-year old Romona Samsoe disappeared from Huntington beach in July 1979. The search for her lasted 12-days before her remains were found. Her friends told the police that a stranger on the beach had asked them if he could take their pictures. Using the girls’ descriptions, a police sketch was created and recognized by Alcala’s parole officer. Romona’s earrings were later found in a locker rented by Alcala.
Alcala was arrested and finally found guilty of murder. He was sentenced to death in 1980, but the sentenced was overturned by the California Supreme Court because the jurors were improperly told of Alcala’s previous crimes and the verdict was said to be biased. Alcala was tried again for the same crime in 1986 and sentenced to death again. Alcala contended that the park ranger who had found Romona’s body had been “hypnotized by police investigators.” No witness could contend this and Alcala had a second death conviction overturned.
Hoping that the third time would be the charm, the prosecution prepared for a third trial in 2003. During this time Alcala’s luck started to run out. His DNA matched semen sampled from rape scenes of two LA women. DNA match was also matched to the murders of four different women ranging from 1977-1979: Jill Barcomb (18) found in LA, Georgia Wixted (27) found in Malibu, Charlotte Lamb (31), and Jill Parenteau (21) found in Burbank. Each of these women were found “posed…in carefully chosen” horrible positions. Victims of violence, rape, and absolute disregard for their humanity.
Between the second and third trial, Alcala stayed busy writing and publishing a book entitled You The Jury. In the book he proclaimed his innocence and offered other suspects. He also tried to sue the California penal system for not providing him a low-fat diet.
By the time the third trial came around, the book and overturning two death sentences had made Alcala feel pretty confident. He decided to act as his own attorney. During the trial he took the stand in his own defense and questioned himself for 5-hours. He played the role of both interrogator and witness, using different voices for each part and addressing himself as “Mr. Alcala.” Alcala, using psychiatrist Richard Rappaport, argued that, due to his diagnosed personality disorder, he could not remember committing the crimes. Finally, his luck ran out. In March of 2010, Rodney Alcala was sentenced to death for a third time.
Alcala had a collection of thousands of photographs of men women, adults, and children. In an effort to use the public to recognize possible victims, 120 of the photos were deemed appropriate for public release. Over 900 of the photos were deemed too “sexually explicit” to be released. From this, at least six families came forward recognizing their loved one who had disappeared. However, it wasn’t until 2013 that a photo of Christine Thornton (28) was identified. She had been missing since 1982 and her cold case was finally solved. The victim was 6-months pregnant when she died. Alcala admitted to taking her photograph, but denied murdering her despite his DNA being found with her remains.
Remember the flight attendant from 1971? Her murder was finally solved in 2011 along with another flight attendant murdered in 1977. Alcala was found guilty of both murders and received another 25 years for the crimes.
In 2010, Alcala was named a “person of interest” in the 1977 and 1978 Seattle murders of Antoinette Wittaker (13), and Joyce Guant (17). Alcala is also said to be guilty of murdering Pamela-Jean Lambson (19) who disappeared in 1977. Though he was never found guilty for these crimes, officials say there is enough evidence to convict him should a trial ever occur. Alcala was deemed too ill to stand trial for these crimes.
Along with the photographs and multiple pairs of earring found in Alcala’s possessions, it is estimated that the victim list of this monster could number into the hundreds! Currently, Alcala awaits death in the California State Penitentiary.