True Crime Vol. XXII: The Dating Game Killer

By: Courtney Henson

Rodney Alcala was born in San Antonio, Texas on August 23, 1943. In 1951 Rodney and his family moved to Mexico. Three years later after his father abandoned them, the family moved to Los Angeles, California. At the age of 17, Rodney enlisted in the military. Soon thereafter, he was discharged after being diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder. Other diagnoses in Rodney’s life include narcissistic personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, malignant narcissism with psychopathy and sexual sadism comorbidities. 

Rodney committed his first known crime in 1968, when he assaulted and beat 8 year old Tali Shapiro. To avoid being caught by police, Redney fled to New Hampshire where he got a job as a camp counselor under the alias of “John Burger” in 1971. After two girls recognized him at the camp, Rodney was captured and charged with child molestation and sentenced to 3 year in state prison. Alcala was released on parole in 1974 after seventeen months. Months later, he was re-arrested and charged for assaulting a 13-year-old girl. Once again, he was paroled after serving two years.  

Between the years of 1977 and 1979, Rodney lured and convinced hundreds of young men and women that he was a photographer, and photographed them for his “portfolio,” often inappropriately.  

In 1978, Rodney appeared on the game show, The Dating Show, Alcala won the competition which earned him a date with Cheryl Bradshaw, who refused to go out with him because she found him “creepy”. This is where Rodney earned himself the name of The Dating Game Killer.

On June 20, 1979, Robin Samsoe disappeared somewhere between the beach and her ballet class. 12 days later her body was found in the Los Angeles foothills. After a\the circulation of a sketch, Rodney was identified and a Seattle storage locker in his name was found with Robins earrings. Rodney was tried in 1980, where he was sentenced to death, but the verdict was overturned after it was revealed the jurors had been informed of his criminal record ahead of time. In 1986, another trial took place, but again, the conviction was invalidated after it was believed that a witness had been “hypnotized by police.” 

While awaiting a third trial, Rodney’s DNA was tied to 4 other cases. The rape-murder of Jill Barcomb, Charlotte Lamb, Jill Parenteau, and Georgia Wixted. As well as admitting to the murders of Cornelia Crilley and Ellen Jane Hover. Prosecutors admitted they would never know the extent of Alcala’s murder spree. 

For the third trial, Rodney chose to act as his own lawyer. For five hours he played the role of both interrogator and witness. At this trial he claimed he was applying for a job when Samsoe was kidnapped and that the found earrings were not hers, but his very own. Rodney made no attempt to dismiss the other 4 added charges. After two days deliberation, Rodney was convicted on 5 count of first-degree murder. In March of 2010, Rodney was sentenced to death for the third time. A surprise witness during the penalty phase of the trial was Tali Shapiro, Alcala’s first known victim. 

In March of 2010, a portion of the photos Rodney had taken were released in hopes of identification. In the first few weeks of the release, police say that 21 women came forward to identify themselves, and “at least six families” said they believed they recognized loved ones who “disappeared years ago and were never found.” Unfortunately none of the photos were connected to a missing persons case until 2013, when a family recognized the photo of Christine Thornton, whose body was found in Wyoming in 1982. 

This third trial did not put a stop to the uncovering of Rodney’s past. In New York State in 2011, Rodney was convicted of the murders of Cornelia Crilley and Ellen Hover. In 2010-2011, Rodney became the person of interest in the cold cases of Antoinette Wittaker, Joyce Gaunt, and Pamela Jean Lambson. Fianlly, in September 2016, Rodney was convicted of one last murder. After being reconized by a realitive, h Rodney was convicted of the murder of Christine Ruth Thornton.

Rodney died of natural causes in California, on July 24, 2021, at the age of 77, while still on death row.

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