Many people have heard about the Dating Game killer. The Dating Game was a silly but often comical game show where a panel of three eligible bachelors competed for a dream date with an attractive, single woman. None of them saw each other before the game began and the winner was chosen on the basis of the questions the woman asked and the answers the bachelors gave. This particular game proved to be much more than a game show. It was a close brush with death for the gorgeous female contestant since the winning bachelor happened to be a serial killer. Fortunately for her, she had a bad feeling about the winner and refused to accept the date.
2015 – Rodney Alcala is a homely, grey-haired shadow of his former self: a tall, dark and handsome man who was a UCLA student, and who could rival Ted Bundy for being the “poster boy” of serial killers. One police detective called Alcala “a killing machine.” Alcala was a professional photographer and his method was to seek out hundreds of very young girls and young women for his subjects. He plastered their pictures all over the walls of his modest studio apartment for his own personal use. Many of these girls weren’t just the subject of photographs – they were rape and murder victims. I suppose the photographs were trophies.
Alcala was born Rodrigo Jacques Alcala Buquor in San Antonio, Texas, to Raoul Alcala Buquor and Anna Maria Gutierrez. His father abandoned the family and his mother moved Rodney and his sisters to suburban Los Angeles when he was about 12 years old. Children who are abandoned at an early age often carry “life-long scars“, believing they were abandoned “because of something they did wrong.” Self-esteem plummets and the child feels unwanted. Presumably this happened to the young Alcala.
Alcala joined the U.S. Army in 1960, at age 17, where he served as a clerk. In 1964, after what was described as a “nervous breakdown“, he was diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder by a military psychiatrist and discharged on medical grounds. Antisocial personality “needs to have started in childhood or early adolescence, continuing into adulthood.” He probably “recognized that [he had] “something wrong” with [him], but avoided psychiatric treatment… to act out [his] violent, murderous fantasies.” Other diagnoses later proposed by various psychiatric experts at his trials included narcissistic personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, and (from homicide expert Vernon Geberth) malignant narcissistic personality disorder with psychopathy and sexual sadism co-morbidities. Definitely not someone you’d want to meet on a dark night. Or during the broad daylight for that matter.
Alcala’s youngest victim was an 8-year-old girl named Tali Shapiro. 25-year-old Alcala lured into his car then brought her to his Hollywood apartment in 1968. When LAPD police arrived at Alcala’s slovenly home to question him about another rape-murder, they found the child lying face down in a large pool of blood on his kitchen floor. One officer commented about Alcala, “I will always remember that face, the evil in that face.” One police officer commented he couldn’t believe “so much blood could come out of a tiny little girl like that.” Another noticed “white Mary Janes” along with a metal bar used to strangle the child when they found her. The child was so bludgeoned and battered they believed she was dead and commenced a search around the home for Alcala. After several minutes they realized Shapiro was alive and called for an ambulance. The little girl managed to survive. Although Alcala was in the apartment he managed to escape and, to evade the resulting arrest warrant, he left the state and enrolled in the NYU film school, using the name “John Berger”.
The media frenzy surrounding the case and the trauma their child had suffered forced the Shapiro family to leave America and move to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Years later, the prosecution for a second trial tracked down the Shapiro family, asking if they would return to testify but they refused; they felt little Tali had been traumatized enough by Alcala and wouldn’t put her through another ordeal. Thirty years later, Shapiro had the courage to face Alcala in court. Alcala apologized to Shapiro for raping her when she was 8. Shapiro commented “I couldn’t hear what he said….I’m not a victim…I wanted to jump out of the car, but I was 7 or 8 so I stayed.”
The second youngest victim Alcala killed was 12-year-old Robin Samsoe, who disappeared on June 20, 1979, on her way to ballet class. Her decomposing body was found 12 days later in the Los Angeles foothills. Police subsequently found Samsoe’s earrings in a Seattle locker rented by Alcala. The earrings would prove to be a point of contention over the decades in Alcala’s string of unsuccessful appeals for a re-trial. In 1980 Alcala was tried, convicted, and sentenced to death for Samsoe’s murder, but the verdict was overturned by the California Supreme Court because jurors had been improperly informed of his prior sex crimes. In 1986, after a second trial virtually identical to the first except for omission of the prior criminal record testimony, he was convicted and sentenced to death, again. Incredibly, a panel nullified the second conviction because a witness was not allowed to support Alcala’s contention that the park ranger who found Samsoe’s body had been “hypnotized by police investigators“. Seriously. Hypnotized.
By the time a search crew found little Samsoe, she “was just bones.” One year later, on July 24, Alcala was arrested for the kidnap and murder of little Samsoe but proving the case was difficult. Still the jury convicted him and sentenced him to death. However the California State Supreme Court overturned the decision stating he “had not received a fair trial.” And they say cats have nine lives. He was re-tried in 1984 and found guilty but once again the verdict was overturned. Alcala made a “career of working the system.” He had twice overturned convictions that resulted in a death sentence. It’s not entirely surprising that the serial killer was able to work the system. He had an I.Q. of 160 and a lot of time on his hands.
Beth Kelleher – the girlfriend
Kelleher (ironic surname) was 22 when she met Alcala in 1979. Kelleher fell in love with Alcala, describing him as “intelligent and well-mannered…great individual.” She saw photographs of girls as young as 12 to women aged 30. “They didn’t bother me.” Kelleher had no reason to suspect that her “well-mannered” boyfriend was a killer. Kelleher stated she enjoyed a good relationship with Alcala. It was several years before she realized he became the Dating Game killer. “That could have been me,” she told the press. Well, no duh.
Another woman who was spared rape and murder at Alcala’s hands was Liane Leedom. When she was 17 Alcala took photographs of her then invited her “to his mother’s home. and so I went in and we talked. He was very preoccupied with the idea that he was a member of Mensa.” Leedom said Alcala never made any sexual advances towards her. Leedom said many of the photos in that collection were of naked women and nude children that Alcala showed her in the presence of his mother. It wasn’t until years later that she understood the look of disgust on his mother’s face. Why it was that Alcala’s mother allowed Alcala to live with her when clearly she disapproved of him remains a mystery. So does she. Gutierrez has never given an interview to the press. She was conspicuously absent during Alcala’s murder trials.
Some photographs Alcala took during his murder spree showed remote settings similar to the region where Samsoe’s body was found. A few of the photos are of men. One photograph was of a young boy about 10 years old, shirtless and smiling broadly for the camera. He was unharmed by Alcala.
The Dating Game
Incredibly, after the murder Alcala committed in 1968 and knowing that the LAPD were looking for him, Alcala had the audacity to appear on the Dating Game. Appearing on television “would have been very tempting for someone like Alcala.” Narcissists enjoy the spotlight. Host Jim Lange introduced him as bachelor number 1, a “successful photographer who got his start when his father found him in the darkroom at the age of 13, fully developed.” He was charming and funny. The audience laughed at his sexual innuendoes. The two other bachelors, including actor Jed Mills, or bachelor number 2, found him to be extremely arrogant, claiming he had “bizarre opinions.” The third bachelor was quite arrogant himself. He felt he should have been chosen and was miffed about that. Years later he told the press that he wore only one earring on the show and that he was the man who started that trend. Whatever.
Mills remembered Alcala as appearing ‘dark, slimy and obnoxious’. Cheryl Bradshaw was the beautiful bachelorette who chose Alcala as the winner. After the two met, he uttered the chilling words “we’re going to have a good time together, Cheryl.” Bradshaw disagreed and after the show she told producers she refused to go out with him. Bradshaw also remembered his behavior: “He was quiet, but at the same time he would interrupt and impose when he felt like it. He became very unlikable and rude and imposing as though he was trying to intimidate. I wound up not only not liking this guy… He was a standout creepy guy in my life.”
While preparing their third prosecution in 2003, Orange County investigators learned that Alcala’s DNA, sampled under a new state law over his objections, matched semen left at the rape-murder scenes of two women in Los Angeles. Another pair of earrings found in Alcala’s storage locker matched the DNA of one of the two victims. Additional evidence, including another cold-case DNA match in 2004, led to Alcala’s indictment for the murders of several additional women: 23-year-old New York flight attendant Cornelia Criley, strangled to death in 1971, 23-year-old Ellen J. Hover, Jill Barcomb, 18, a New York runaway found “rolled up like a ball” in a Los Angeles ravine 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 the laundry room of her El Segundo apartment complex in 1978; and Jill Parenteau, 21, killed in her Burbank apartment in 1979. All of the bodies were found “posed…in carefully chosen positions”. Ick.
A Fool for a Client
For the third trial Alcala elected to act as his own attorney. He took the stand in his own defense, and for five hours played the roles of both interrogator and witness, asking himself questions (addressing himself as “Mr. Alcala” in a deeper voice), and then answering them. Alcala had spent 30 years on death row by then and he knew the facts cold. Still he made foolish statements such as “no one has ever asked if Robin Samsoe had pierced ears.” Samsoe’s mother had to endure his questioning during the trial. She brought a gun with her but did’t shoot Alcala as she’d planned on doing. “Robin’s hand on my arm stopped me,” she claimed.
During this Ringling Brothers side-show self-questioning session he told jurors in a rambling monotone that he was at Knott’s Berry Farm when Samsoe was kidnapped. He showed the jury a portion of his 1978 appearance on The Dating Game in an attempt to prove that the earrings found in his Seattle locker were his, not Samsoe’s, but any earrings he might have worn on the program were obscured by his dark, shoulder-length hair.
He made no significant effort to dispute the four added charges. As part of his closing argument, he played the portion of the Arlo Guthrie song “Alice’s Restaurant” in which the protagonist tells a psychiatrist that he wants to “kill”. Seriously. After less than two days’ deliberation the jury convicted Alcala on all five counts of first-degree murder. A surprise witness during the penalty phase of the trial was Tali Shapiro, Alcala’s first known victim. She said she didn’t remember much because Alcala knocked her out with the metal bar across her neck. Shapiro vaguely recalled being taken to a hospital.
“I sincerely regret and apologize for my despicable actions that day,” Alcala said during his trial.
Shapiro said it was the first time Alcala had apologized to her. When asked if the apology moved her in any way, Shapiro said, “Hell no….My brother told me years later they didn’t know whether I’d be an idiot or not….I have trust and commitment issues to this day.” She said Alcala’s apology meant little because it appeared to be self- serving. “He apologized because he got caught,” Shapiro said after testifying. Shapiro said she hoped Alcala would be sentenced to die. “The fact that this guy is still alive is amazing,” she said. One could argue the same about Shapiro.
Alcala has been incarcerated since his 1979 arrest for Samsoe’s murder. During the period between his second and third trial he wrote and self-published You, the Jury, in which he claimed innocence in the Samsoe case and suggested a different suspect. A reader commented, “it made absolutely no sense. It was just a lot of rambling. He’s not insane, it was just pure sexual deviancy and pleasure that drove him.” Alcala filed two lawsuits against the California penal system, for a slip-and-fall incident and for refusing to provide him a low-fat diet.
In 2013 he received an additional sentence of 25 years to life after pleading guilty to two homicides in New York in 1971 and 1977. Judge Bonnie Wittner burst into tears as he as he handed down a sentence of 25 years to life. “This kind of case is something I’ve never experienced, hope to never again. I just want to say I hope these families find some peace and solace for these inexplicably brutal and horrific acts.” His true victim count remains unknown. A homicide investigator familiar with the evidence speculates that he could have murdered as many as 50 women, while, based on photographs and the occurrence of murders in his vicinity, other estimates have run as high as 130.
Another woman suspected to have become Alcala’s victim include 19-year-old Pamela Jean Lambson, from San Francisco. She disappeared in 1977 after telling friends she was meeting with a photographer. Police say they have no DNA evidence to go on, but witness descriptions convincingly match Alcala’s profile. Likewise police in Seattle are convinced he was behind the deaths of two teenage girls in 1977 and 1978, but again without sufficient evidence for a conviction.
Alcala has lived on death row for 30 years. Until the California Supreme Court finally comes to its senses and allows the state to carry out the death sentence against Alcala, he may very well live there for 30 more, no doubt enjoying his low-fat diet.