Written By: Angela DiLella
Edited By: Grave Reviews Staff
Many serial killers go for decades leading superficially normal lives. They may be seen as cagey or odd, but can handle academics, careers, and may even manage to handle some form of family life. Rodney Alcala is one such killer: better known not for his crimes, but for the fact that he passed well enough to win a date on The Dating Game.
Rodney Alcala was born in San Antonio, Texas, in 1943. His family moved around a lot during the first twelve years of his life, finally settling in Los Angeles, California, after his father left the picture. Alcala’s younger years appear fairly unremarkable otherwise, until 1964, when he was discharged from the army due to a nervous breakdown. He was discharged after a diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder. After leaving the Army, Alcala graduated from the UCLA School of Fine Arts and later studied film under Roman Polanski at New York University.
Early Criminal History
In 1968, he committed his first known crime. He lured an eight-year-old girl named Tali Shapiro into his apartment. A witness saw him luring Shapiro away and alerted the police, but they arrived at Alcala’s apartment only after he raped her and used a steel bar to beat her. It was so brutal that the police assumed she was dead when they found her. Dodging the police in his apartment and the warrant for his arrest, Alcala assumed a new name and headed East to NYU. While the FBI put Alcala on their most wanted list in 1969, he continued his pattern of crime in Manhattan. Although the extent of Alcala’s crimes is unknown to this day, the murder of a young female flight attendant in 1971 was traced to him in 2011, nearly 40 years after the crime. Cornelia Crilley, the young woman, had been raped, attacked, and strangled.
Alcala skipped town shortly thereafter with another new alias and obtained a counseling job at an all-girls summer camp in New Hampshire. Two girls Alcala worked with recognized him from a wanted poster and, eventually, Alcala was taken into custody. However, Tali Shapiro’s family would not let her testify in court, so rape and attempted murder convictions couldn’t be made. Instead, he got off with a charge of assault, and was out of jail on parole in less than three years. He assaulted a teenage girl less than two months later yet managed to get parole again in two years’ time.
In 1977, Rodney Alcala was out and traveled in between Manhattan and Los Angeles. There are some cold cases from that time period that investigators believe Alcala committed. Again, he continued his usual pattern of violence. This time, he was luring girls and women into his lair by claiming he was a professional photographer. In fact, when he appeared on The Dating Game in 1978, he listed his profession as photographer.
Dating Game Appearance
As was mentioned above, it is Alcala’s Dating Game appearance—and his subsequent win—that usually comes to mind when the killer is mentioned, not his actual crimes. Clips from his appearance from The Dating Game can be found here. It’s worth noting that he was on the show under his real name, the name that was on FBI lists and was attached to numerous brutal crimes that resulted in several years of jail time. Although it wasn’t as easy back then to look up anyone’s name and background, it seems astonishing that there wasn’t anyone from cast, crew, production, or the audience that recognized the name or face of Alcala.
Perhaps even more astounding was that he charmed his way to first place in the competition, though Cheryl Bradshaw never went on the date with him. She said that when they met backstage, “I started to feel ill. He was acting really creepy… I didn’t want to see him again.” Jed Mills, a competitor of Alcala’s on the show, also found Alcala creepy.
Killing Spree and Trials
A year later, Rodney Alcala was caught for the murder of a twelve-year-old girl named Robin Samsoe and would later be tried for the murder of four other girls. He would be convicted for Samsoe’s murder in 1980, jailed and given the death penalty, and convicted for all five murders in 2010. New laws and technology regarding DNA evidence proved his guilt. Tali Shapiro also came forward to testify. Alcala simply claimed he had no memory of any of the murders. He received the death penalty in California three times, in three separate trials. In 2013, he was sentenced to 25 years to life in addition to all other charges by a judge in Manhattan. Alcala will undoubtedly spend the rest of his life behind bars.
At this time, there are still cold cases being investigated that officials believe Alcala could be connected to. Currently, cases in New York, California, New Hampshire and Arizona are being studied. Over one hundred of the explicit photos he took while posing as a photographer are still on police websites in the hopes that the victims can be identified. The most recent identification of one of Alcala’s murder victims appears to have been in 2016, but Alcala was supposedly too ill to be moved to Wyoming to stand trial.
Now 77 years old, he remains in California State Prison, Corcoran pending further appeals of his death sentences.