Murderer Monday: “The Dating Game Killer”

It’s been AGES since I’ve done an old-school #MurdererMonday post, but I’ve been really keen to do some more researching recently. I think this is because we are in the midst of the good television season, what with The Bodyguard, Strangers, Killing Eve … and Strictly. I’ve been struggling to think of new things to write about recently, so let’s go with an oldie but goldie. In honour of all the current TV shows, this week we are focusing on “The Dating Game Killer”.

Early Life

Rodney Alcala is Mexican-American, and was born in August 1943. Him and his family was abandoned by his father in Mexico when he was 8, and 3 years later his mother moved the family from Mexico to Los Angeles. In 1960, at age 17, Rodney joined the U.S. Army and served as a clerk. In 1964, after a nervous breakdown, he hitchhiked from the army base in Fort Bragg back to his mother’s house. A military psychiatrist diagnosed him with antisocial personality disorder and discharged him from the army. Various experts at his later trials also diagnoses him with narcissistic personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, and malignant narcissistic personality disorder with psychopathy and sexual sadism comorbidities.

After leaving the army, he somewhat got his life back on track by graduating from the UCLA School of Fine Arts and later studied film at New York University.

First Victims

In 1968, age 25, he was arrested after a motorist witnessed him luring an 8 year old girl into his Hollywood apartment. The girl was found beaten, abused, but alive. To evade arrest, Rodney fled and enrolled in college under the pseudonym John Berger. This allowed him to get a job as a camp councillor at an arts camp using the same name.

In 1971, a 23 year old flight attendant was found raped and strangled in her Manhattan apartment. A crime that went unsolved until 2011 when it could be connected to Rodney Alcala. It was in 1971 that the FBI added Rodney to their Most Wanted list and his photo was spotted in a post office by children who attended the arts camp. Rodney was arrested, however the parents of the young girl he attacked had emigrated and would not allow her to testify. This meant he could only be convicted of the lesser charge of assault, and served 17 months in prison. Less than 2 months after his release, he was re-arrested after assaulting a 13 year old after promising her a lift to school.

After his second release, he was wrongly allowed to fly to New York by his parole officer. It was then that police believe he killed a 23 year old woman. During his time in New York, he worked as a typesetter, and was even interviewed by the Hillside Strangler Task Force but was ruled out. He also convinced hundreds of people that he was a fashion photographer who needed models for his portfolio.

The Dating Game

In 1978, Rodney was a player on ABC’s The Dating Game- somehow the show didn’t perform background checks. He was bizarrely introduced as “successful photographer who got his start when his father found him in the darkroom at the age of 13, fully developed. Between takes you might find him skydiving or motorcycling”, although he was really a serial killer. His fellow contestants described him as a “strange guy with bizarre opinions”. Rodney won the show, and a date with Cheryl Bradshaw, who luckily refused to go out with him because she found him too creepy. In the game, she asked;

“What’s your best time?”

“The best time is at night,” Alcala grinned. “Night-time.”

Later criminal profilers claim he killed 3 women after this ordeal, and that rejection was an exacerbating factor in his anger. You can watch him on the show here.

Arrest and Trial

In June 1979, a 12 year old girl vanished from Huntington Beach. Her friends told police that a man had approached them and asked to photograph them, and created a composite sketch of the man. Rodney’s parole officer recognised the sketch and police decided to search his mother’s house. In her house they round a receipt for a storage locker rental, where the girls earrings were found.

He was arrested without bail and sentenced to death, however this was overturned in 1980 because jurors had been misinformed about his prior sex crimes. After a second, near identical trial, he was again found guilty and sentenced to death.

Further Convictions

In 2003, Rodney’s DNA was tested under new state law and was found to match DNA left at 6 more crime scenes where young women had been murdered.

During his incarceration, Rodney wrote a book entitled “You, the Jury”, in which he claimed innocence. He also filed 2 lawsuits against the Californian penal system, one for injuries after slipping over, and another for refusing to provide him with a low-fat diet.

For his third trial after the discovery of the 6 additional murders, Rodney chose to act as his own attorney. For 5 hours he acted as both the interrogator and witness, asking himself questions in a deep voice and then answering. He also played the jury clips of him on the dating show. He made no attempt to deny 4 of the charges, stating he merely couldn’t remember killing the women. A surprise witness was also Tali Shapiro, the 8 year old girl Rodney had assaulted in 1968, now age 42. After less than 2 days deliberation he was found guilty of first-degree murder on all accounts. As part of his closing argument, he played the Arlo Guthrie song “Alice’s Restaurant” in which the protagonist tells a psychiatrist that he wants to “kill”.

In March 2010, some of his photography portfolio was released to the public in the hopes of identifying some unknown people. 21 women came forward, and several families recognised people as members of their family who had disappeared years before. 110 of the photos remain online, here, and police are still trying to identify them.

Since his conviction in 2010, there have been 4 other cases that have been linked to Rodney. The most recent in 2016 when he was charged with the murder of a 28 year old woman who disappeared in 1977 but could not be identified until 2015.

His true victim count remains unknown, it may be as high as over 130, and the 75 year old is currently sat on Death Row.

Sources:

  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rodney_Alcala
  • https://www.murdermiletours.com/blog/unusual-nicknames-of-infamous-serial-killers-murderers
  • allthatsinteresting.com/rodney-alcala-dating-game-killer
  • https://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/real-life/true-stories/the-serial-killer-that-won-a-tv-dating-show-during-his-murder-spree/news-story/4808e43e9d9e276f4e93d08075103df2
  • https://www.cbsnews.com/news/serial-killer-rodney-alcala-the-killing-game/
  • https://www.ranker.com/list/rodney-alcala-dating-game-killer/amandasedlakhevener
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