Date Him – And Die!
By Walton Golightly
In September 1978 Rodney Alcala appeared on the US TV show The Dating Game. One of three contestants vying to impress Cheryl Bradshaw, he was introduced as ‘a successful photographer who got his start at the age of 13 when his father found him in the dark room – fully developed’. Bradshaw chose Rodney as her ‘date’. But after talking to him backstage she decided he was a little creepy – and never did accompany him on that date. Which is just as well, because Rodney Alcala was a serial killer.
Born in San Antonio, Texas, in 1943, Alcala was living in LA when he abducted, raped and nearly killed an eight-year-old girl in 1968. A witness saw the girl being forced into a car and followed the vehicle to Alcala’s apartment before calling the police. By the time officers arrived on the scene Alcala had bashed the girl’s skull with a metal pipe and raped her. When they knocked, he escaped out of the back door.
He fled to New York, where he started calling himself ‘John Berger’.
On June 12, 1971, Cornelia Crilley was raped and strangled with her own nylon stockings. Two months later, Alcala was finally arrested for raping the eight-year-old. Although found guilty, he only served 34 months of his sentence. Out on parole, he was given permission to ‘visit relatives’ in New York. On July 15, 1977, socialite Ellen Hover vanished. Her datebook showed she had an appointment to meet with a ‘John Berger’ that day. Her body would be found close to a spot where an aspiring model later said Alcala had taken photos of her. It took a few months, but the Berger alias was traced to Alcala, who was back in LA. Questioned by police, he admitted knowing Hover, but investigators hadn’t yet found her body, so they let him go. Alcala’s next victim was runaway Jill Barcomb, 18, whose body was found in November 1977.
In December 1977 nurse Georgia Wixted, 27, was found dead in her Malibu apartment. She was posed naked on her bedroom floor, strangled with her nylons. She’d been sexually assaulted and her skull bashed in. Her genitals had been mutilated.
In June 1979 Jill Parenteau, 21, was found dead and naked on her bathroom floor. She was posed with pillows under her shoulders. She’d been sexually assaulted, beaten and strangled. Later, one of Parenteau’s friends would testify she and Jill had met Alcala at a club several times.
On June 20 Robin Samsoe, 12, was abducted on the way to ballet class.
Her decomposing body was found 12 days later in the LA foothills. Samsoe’s friends told police a stranger had approached them on the beach, asking to take their pictures. Detectives circulated a sketch of the photographer, and Alcala’s parole officer recognised him. During a search of Alcala’s mother’s house in Monterey Park police found a rental receipt for a storage locker in Seattle; in the locker, they found Samsoe’s earrings.
Alcala was tried, convicted, and sentenced to death for Samsoe’s murder, but the verdict was overturned because jurors had been improperly informed of his prior sex crimes. In 1986, after a second trial, Alcala was again convicted and sentenced to death. An appeal saw the second conviction nullified, in part because a witness was not allowed to support Alcala’s contention that the park ranger who found Samsoe’s body had been ‘hypnotised by police investigators’.
While preparing their third prosecution in 2003 investigators learnt that Alcala’s DNA matched semen left at other rape-murder scenes. This, plus other evidence, led to Alcala’s indictment for the murders of Jill Barcomb, Georgia Wixted, Charlotte Lamb – 31, raped, strangled and left in the laundry room of an apartment complex – and Jill Parenteau.
In March 2010 Alcala was sentenced to death for a third time. He was later also found guilty of murdering Crilley and Hover.