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November 22, 2010 Updated Jan 8, 2013
A registered sex-offender, Rodney Alcala got his 15-minutes of fame as a successful contestant on "The Dating Game" in 1978. Before that appearance, he had already been convicted of raping an 8-year-old girl and had murdered four women. He would go on to murder a 13-year-old girl.
Update: On death row at San Quentin since 1979, Rodney Alcala, now 69, was sentenced in New York Supreme Court on January 7, 2012 to two concurrent 25 years to life in prison sentences for raping and murdering two women in New York in the 1970s. In 1971, Cornelia M. Crilley, a 23-year-old TWA flight attendant, was raped and strangled in her Upper East Side apartment. Seven years later, the body of Ellen Jane Hover, 23, an aspiring orchestra conductor, was found at the Rockefeller estate in Westchester County. Alcala pled guilty to the two murders on December 14. He will now be returned to death row at San Quentin. Since 2006, there has been a court-ordered moratorium on executions in California over the lethal-injection controversy.
By Denise Noe
Bachelor Number One
Airing in the 1960s and 1970s, “The Dating Game” was a popular show about singles finding romance. Usually, a young woman would be on one side of a partition asking a series of quirky and often sexually suggestive questions of a trio of bachelors on the other side of it. Without seeing them, and not being allowed to ask their names, occupations, ages, or incomes, she would think over their answers during a commercial break and then select one of the three for a date.
Occasionally, the roles were reversed and a man would do the selecting from a group of three “bachelorettes.” The show did not use the term “spinsters” for its unmarried female guests probably because that word, so strongly associated with starched gingham and hair-in-a-bun prudishness, would have been out of place in the time period.
“The Dating Game” was hosted by Jim Lange who began every episode by stepping through a flower-speckled partition that suggested the “flower power” that would become a cliché in that hippie era.
In 1978, a program aired in which Lange introduced “Bachelor Number One” as “a successful photographer who got his start when his father found him in the darkroom at the age of 13 – fully developed.” Lange paused while the audience laughed appreciatively at the double entendre. Then the host continued, “Between takes you might find him skydiving or motorcycling. Please welcome Rodney Alcala.”
The audience saw Bachelor Number One, a handsome, dark-haired young man with a ready smile.
Introducing the woman who would pick the date, Lange said, “Here’s a young lady with a wealth of experience. She once earned a living massaging feet – but quit when her boss suggested she work her way up.” Again Lange paused while the audience laughed at the innuendo. Lange continued, “Then she taught school in Phoenix, Arizona and now she’s here to educate our three bachelors on the art of amour. Welcome sensational Cheryl Bradshaw.”
The bachelors were told to say “hello” to Cheryl. Bachelor Number One said, “We’re going to have a great time together, Cheryl.”
The question period began with Bradshaw asking, “Bachelor Number One, what is your favorite time of the day?”
“My favorite time is at night,” the smiling Alcala answered. “Nighttime.
When asked why, he raised his eyebrows suggestively and replied, “Because that’s the only time there is.”
“What’s wrong with morning or afternoon?” Bradshaw pressed.
“Oh, they’re all right,” the contestant conceded. “But nighttime is when it really gets good. Then you’re really ready.”
At another point, Bradshaw said, “Bachelor Number One, I’m a drama teacher and I’m auditioning you for my private lessons. You’re a dirty old man. Take it.”
“Come on over here,” Alcala said and dramatically growled.
That performance was a big hit with the audience that laughed and applauded.
Bradshaw said, “Bachelor Number One, I’m serving you for dinner. What are you called and what do you look like?”
“I’m called the banana and I look really good,” Alcala replied.
"Could you be a little more descriptive?” Bradshaw asked.
“Peel me,” Alcala said with a laugh. The witty reply brought another wave of applause from the audience.When Lange asked Bradshaw to decide which bachelor she wanted to date, she said, “I like bananas so I’ll take One.”
However, the date never actually took place. All sources agree that after Bradshaw talked more extensively to Alcala backstage, she found him “creepy” and refused to go on the date.
It may well have been the wisest decision of Cheryl Bradshaw’s life. For at the time he appeared on “The Dating Game,” Alcala was already a convicted child rapist and a registered sex offender. Although authorities were not yet aware of it, he had also murdered at least two women and possibly others.
Deserted by Dad, breakdown in the Army
Rodney James Alcala was born on August 23, 1943 in San Antonio, Texas. Published sources reveal little about his childhood but it is known that his family moved to a suburb of Los Angeles, California when he was a baby and that he was raised there. Alcala’s father deserted the family when he was 12.
He enlisted in the Army in 1961 and served as a clerk. An Orange County Register article reports that in 1964 “he claimed he suffered a nervous breakdown.” A military psychiatrist examined him and diagnosed him as having an “anti-social personality, chronic, severe.” He was discharged from the service.
Four years after leaving the Army, in 1968, Alcala committed his first known crime. He spotted an 8-year-old girl, called only “Tali” in official documents, on her way to school in Hollywood and lured her into his car. Then he took her to his apartment where he struck her head with a pipe and raped her.
However, a driver saw Alcala entice the child into his car. The concerned driver followed Alcala to his Hollywood apartment and then phoned police.
According to an article by Christine Pelisk in the LA Weekly, “LAPD officers soon knocked on the door and were greeted at a window by a shirtless Alcala, who told them he’d be right with them. Instead he escaped through a backdoor.”
Police found the girl badly wounded but alive.
Now a fugitive, Alcala left California and headed to New York City. Under the name “John Berger,” Alcala enrolled in New York University. There he studied filmmaking under the distinguished director Roman Polanski, whose wife was brutally murdered in the Tate-LaBianca murders of 1969 and who would eventually become a fugitive himself because of a statutory rape conviction.
In 1971, California police detective Steve Hodel persuaded the FBI to put the fugitive child rapist Alcala on its Ten Most Wanted list. Two teen girls in New Hampshire ducked into a post office to wait out a rain and saw his photograph on the Ten Most Wanted poster. The teens recognized Alcala’s face as that of the man they knew as John Burger who worked as a counselor at their arts and drama summer camp. The girls informed the camp’s dean who notified authorities.
Arrested on August 12, 1971, Alcala was brought back to Los Angeles to face rape and attempted murder charges for what he had done to Tali.
He was convicted but served only two years and 10 months in prison for the vicious attack on a second-grader. Why such brief imprisonment for the beating and rape of a child? Pelisk explains, “California’s state government of that era had embraced a philosophy that the state could successfully treat rapists and murderers through education and psychotherapy. The hallmark of the philosophy was ‘indeterminate sentencing,’ under which judges left open the number of prison years to be served by a violent felon, and parole boards later determined when the offender had been reformed.” Then-governor Jerry Brown ended “indeterminate sentencing” but Alcala had already been paroled when that system was terminated.
Two months after his parole in 1974, police found Alcala at the Bolsa Chica State Beach with a 13-year-old girl called “Julie J.” in the press. She told authorities that he had kidnapped her but he was convicted only of violating parole and supplying marijuana to a minor. He served an additional two years in prison before again being paroled.
Shortly after his release, his parole officer in Los Angeles permitted Alcala, though a registered child rapist and known flight risk, to jaunt off to New York City to visit relatives, Pelisk reports.
When he returned to California, the registered sex-offender acquired a job as a typesetter for the Los Angeles Times in 1977. He worked under his real name so his employers could easily have been aware of his criminal history. However, they may have regarded it as irrelevant to the job he held since it did not involve contact with children.
During the time Alcala worked at the Los Angeles Times, the newspaper was frequently filled with articles of a series of murders attributed to a serial murderer dubbed the Hillside Strangler because corpses of females raped and killed were often left in hilly areas. The Hillside Strangler would eventually be discovered to be a murderous duo, cousins Kenneth Bianchi and Angelo Buono.
Alcala questioned by police – then goes on “The Dating Game”
In December 1977, at the request of the FBI, authorities questioned Alcala about a woman who had disappeared in New York City at a time Alcala had been there on the trip to visit relatives that had been approved by his parole officer.
That woman was Ellen Hover, a talented pianist and socialite. She was the daughter of Herman Hover, who owned the famous Ciro’s nightclub and was close friends with Sammy Davis Jr. and Dean Martin. After she vanished, police searching her home had found the name “John Berger” written on her calendar.
According to Pelisk, the detectives who questioned Alcala about Ellen Hover ‘were acting on a tip from a New Directions drama-camp counselor in New Hampshire, who told detectives seeking a ‘John Burger’ that in 1971, a New Directions camp counselor of that name had been arrested and taken away by police.”
Alcala admitted to police that he had known Ellen Hover but denied having anything to do with her disappearance. Lacking a body or any concrete evidence as to what has happened to the missing women, police could not hold Alcala.
A few months later, on March 22, 1978, officers from the Hillside Strangler Task Force questioned the registered sex offender in connection with those murders. They ruled him out as the Hillside Strangler but sent him to jail for a brief time because they discovered marijuana in his possession.
Shortly after that, he appeared on “The Dating Game.” Criminal profiler Pat Brown commented on that appearance by saying, “Serial killers are tremendous actors. Serial killers are predators and they act like an animal trying to get its prey. The rest of the time they try to blend in.”
Jed Mills, who appeared as Bachelor Number Two on that infamous Dating Game episode, recalled conversations backstage in the “green room” with Alcala. Mills said, “He was quiet but at the same time he would interrupt and impose when he felt like it. And he was very obnoxious and creepy – he became very unlikable and rude and imposing as though he was trying to intimidate. I wound up not only not liking this guy . . . not wanting to be near him . . . he got creepier and more negative. He was a standout creepy guy in my life.”
Both Cheryl Bradshaw and Jed Mills used the word “creepy” to describe Rodney Alcala.
Brown thinks it is significant that Alcala appeared personable on the program but gave the opposite impression to Jed Mills backstage. She observes, “He is showing his psychopathic personality in the green room. He wasn’t acting at that time. Those were his enemies and he had to beat them to get the girl and he wanted to win. This guy probably literally hated them. This guy was going on the show to prove how special and wonderful he was. And his ego was riding on it.”
Robin Samsoe: the girl who called her mother “Pretty Lady”
Early in 1979, a distraught 12-year-old girl called police from a motel in Riverside County. She said she had been hitchhiking and had just escaped from a kidnapper and rapist. Alcala was apprehended. Bail was set at $10,000 and Alcala’s mother paid it.
Five months later, Robin Samsoe disappeared. She was the daughter of Marianne Connelly, a single mother of four children. A Los Angeles Times article relates that in 1977, “The five of them shoved everything they owned into a U-Haul and headed from Wisconsin to California.” Connelly moved the family to Huntington Beach, California. The article states, “Connelly chose Huntington Beach because it seemed like a good, clean town for raising children.”
Connelly said Robin never called her mother “Mom” but always by the special nickname that the child had for her mother: “Pretty Lady.” The natural blonde told her red-haired mother that she, Robin, wanted hair the color of her mother’s. Connelly would reply, “But Robin, people spend tons of money to try to have hair like yours.” The girl would say, “But Pretty Lady, I want to look like you.”
Robin was a ballerina and a star gymnast who dreamed of one day competing at the Olympics.
Robin had a friend named Bridget who had been with her earlier on the day of her disappearance. Both girls had been wearing swimsuits when a man approached them. He told them he was a photographer and wanted to take their pictures. The man left when approached by a suspicious neighbor.
Later that day, Bridget lent her yellow bicycle to Robin to pedal to ballet class. She never made it to the class and never returned home.
Police sketch artists drew the man Bridget described. A parole officer recognized the image as that of Rodney Alcala.
On July 2, 1979, U.S. Forestry Service rangers found skeletal human remains. They were identified as those of Robin Samsoe. Unbeknownst to them, another ranger had stumbled upon the remains several days prior – but had not reported the grisly find because she was so upset by it.
Alcala was arrested on July 24 at his mother’s home.
He told authorities that he had been at Knott’s Berry Farm at the time Robin Samsoe disappeared. He claimed he had gone there to apply for a job taking photographs at a disco contest.
In a search of Alcala’s residence, officers discovered a receipt for a locker in Seattle. LAPD officers traveled there. Inside that locker they found a pair of gold ball earrings like those believed to have been worn by Robin Samsoe on the day she disappeared. Also found were many other pairs of earrings and a wealth of photographs of women and teen girls.
The locker’s contents would turn out to be a treasure trove of evidence linking Alcala to murders.
First trial for the murder of Robin Samsoe
In July 1979, Alcala pled not guilt to charges that he kidnapped, molested and murdered Robin Samsoe. His only defense attorney was John Barnett. Barnett has described Alcala as “a very polite and intelligent person.”
Deputy District Attorney John Farnell headed the prosecution team. Judge Philip E. Schwab presided over the trial.
The prosecution presented the earrings found in his locker as physical evidence linking him to the victim.
Former forestry firefighter Dana Crappa was a crucial witness for the prosecution. She had seen a man who might have been Alcala and a little girl who might have been Samsoe on the day the child went missing. She had also found Robin Samsoe’s dead body but failed to report it.
Crappa had been severely traumatized by her discovery and that trauma showed when she was examined. The Los Angeles Times described her as testifying in a “halting voice” and holding her head in a “bowed position.” The effects of the trauma also made her vulnerable on cross-examination.
According to the Los Angeles Times, “The 21-year-old forestry firefighter identified photographs of Alcala’s car as the one she saw parked on a turn-out when she slowed down to turn a sharp curve on Santa Anita Canyon Road. Prior to being shown pictures of Alcala’s car, she described its features in intricate detail.” She said that one reason she had such a clear memory of the vehicle was that she had been thinking of buying a car of the same model. She also “testified that the 1976 Datsun F-10 was striking because of its distinctive smoke-tinted rear windows and luggage rack.” She said that she saw a man and a child in the front of the car. She could not specifically identify either of them but testified that the man was of medium build and had dark brown hair like Alcala and that she believed that the child was female and was certain that the child had long blonde hair as did Robin Samsoe.
The article continued, “Crappa testified that the following evening at 8:30 p.m. she again saw the same car on another turnout while driving up the road. She said she was able to see the car although it was night because she almost hit it when she swerved to miss colliding with another car that had strayed into her lane.”
Later Crappa said that she had been in the foothills of the Sierra Madre Mountains on June 25 when she made a grisly discovery.
“What did you see?” Deputy District Attorney Rich Farnell asked.
“It was a body,” the witness replied.
“What did you see about the body?” Farnell queried.
“It was missing hands and feet,” Crappa said.
“What else did you see?” Farnell asked.
“It was pretty cut up,” Crappa said. She went on to say that the head was separated from the rest of the body that “was bloated like an animal gets after it sits for awhile.”
However, Crappa continued that she did not report the gruesome find because she was in shock. The girl’s death would not become known to authorities until the body was found by other forestry workers days later on July 2.
Then Farnell returned to the subject of the man and child she had previously seen. “Do you see the man who was pushing the little girl on June 20 in the courtroom?” the prosecutor asked.
Crappa answered, “I’m not 100 percent positive but the individual that looks like the one I saw is here.”
Farnell asked, “Where is he?”
Crappa’s eyes had previously focused down. Now she raised them and said, “He’s sitting next to Mr. Barnett.”
On cross-examination, Barnett pressed Crappa on how long she had seen the man she believes is Alcala and she admitted that she had only had a brief look at him. She had said as much on direct examination but the defense attorney wanted to reinforce the fleeting nature of that look to indicate that the jury should give it little weight.
Barnett drew from Crappa admissions that she had not been fully forthcoming in her initial interviews with investigators. For example, she had not told them when first questioned about her finding the body. A Los Angeles Times article reports that she testified that she “had failed to disclose the crucial information because her inability to talk about discovering the body had formed a mental block.” She also admitted that she had hedged telling the full truth because she was reluctant to testify in court about what she had seen.
The prosecution summoned Orange County Jail inmates who had shared quarters with the accused to the stand. A Los Angeles Times article reports that the inmates “testified that [Alcala] acknowledged luring Robin into his car by offering to take her to afternoon dance lessons.” The article continues that one of those inmates, Michael Herrara, “testified that Alcala told him that he placed the yellow bicycle she was riding in his car. When it became clear that Alcala was not driving her to her dance class, according to Herrara, Robin began to scream and reached for the door handle. Alcala then locked the door to the passenger side and repeatedly struck Robin about the face, Herrara said.” Herrara claimed Alcala said he later deposited the bicycle behind a thrift store. A manager of an El Monte thrift store that stands between the area in which Robin’s body was found and Alcala’s Monterey Park residence testified that a yellow bicycle had been found behind the store building and later sold.
When the defense began its case, it called Tim Fallen to the stand. The Los Angeles Times reported that Fallen testified to seeing “Robin Samsoe in Huntington Beach the day after she was reported seen in the Sierra Madre foothills with her accused kidnaper-murderer, Rodney James Alcala.” He believed he had seen her on June 21 at about 4 p.m. riding a yellow bicycle down an alley.
The defense called Alcala’s sister, Christine de La Cerda, to the stand. She testified that Alcala had been at her home from about 4:30 p.m. to 4:35 p.m. on June 20, making it impossible for him to have been at a turnout on the Santa Anita Canyon Road at 5:30 p.m., the time when Dana Crappa testified to seeing a man who resembled Alcala and a child looking like Robin Samsoe there. A Los Angeles Times article reported that after that five minute interval in which Alcala was in Christine de La Cerda’s home, “her three children followed Alcala to his car and searched through his glove compartment for some gum.”
In closing arguments, Barnett said that prosecutors had “proved that Mr. Alcala is a bad man” but had “not proved that Mr. Alcala killed Robin Samsoe.”
Farnell asserted in the prosecution’s closing that Alcala’s defense “does not mesh with common sense.”
On April 30, 1980, the jury found Alcala guilty of the first-degree murder of Robin Samsoe.
Death or life imprisonment for a “sexual misfit”?
During the penalty phase, defense attorney Barnett decried “the lust for blood that pervades this courtroom.” He described his client as a “sexual misfit.”
Barnett argued, “This crime is sick. Every crime and every indication of misdeed in his past has been the product of unthinking passion.” He also said, “I am not asking you to excuse Mr. Alcala from guilt but I am arguing against death.”
Prosecutor John Farnell countered, “The only appropriate sentence in a case like this is death. The only question is whether death is sufficient for this defendant.”
Judge Schwab apparently found the prosecution’s arguments more persuasive. He sentenced Alcala to death. Schwab asserted, “It is fair to say that the evidence discloses that the defendant in a premeditated manner stalked his prey for a number of days. The defendant not only has a prior felony conviction [referring to his child molestation conviction] but there are also distinct similarities to this case. . . . This is a particularly vicious and cruel crime.”
Rejecting the defense contention that Alcala’s mental condition merited mercy, the judge said, “He is a man of depraved character but he is able to appreciate the difference between right and wrong.”
As is the norm in death penalty cases, Alcala’s case was appealed. John Barnett was no longer his attorney. The appeals were handled by attorneys Keith Monroe and David Zimmerman.
Their efforts bore fruit on August 23, 1984 when the California State Supreme Court reversed Alcala’s conviction on the grounds that jurors had been improperly informed of his prior sex crimes. According to a Los Angeles Times article by Steve Tripoli, “prosecutors contended they were allowed to discuss the prior offenses under laws that permit it if similarities between the crimes tend to identify a defendant as the culprit. The high court rejected the contention that the crimes were similar enough to be allowed into evidence.”
Alcala’s second trial was largely a re-run of the first sans evidence of his prior crimes. In June 1986, he was again convicted and again sentenced to death.
On death row, he kept busy by penning a manuscript in which he argued for his innocence and pointed to an alternative suspect. He self-published the book, entitled You, the Jury, in 1994. A petition was soon filed to prevent him from claiming any money the book might make.
Alcala filed two lawsuits against the California prison system. One was a “slip-and-fall claim” and the other was for failing to provide him with a low-fat diet.
His second conviction was overturned on April 2, 2001. U. S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson ruled that during the second trial, certain rulings had “precluded the defense from developing and presenting evidence material to significant issues in the case.” According to a Los Angeles Times article by Jerry Hicks, Robin Samsoe’s mother, Marianne Connelly, burst into tears when she heard that Alcala’s second conviction had been vacated. Through her sobs, she wailed, “Oh, no! My God, how many times are they going to put us through this hell? This is just so unfair.”
Five Murders and a fool for a client?
In September 2005, Rodney Alcala was indicted for four additional murders to which authorities had linked him with blood, fingerprint and DNA evidence. Much of the DNA evidence had been developed after 2002, when Alcala was forced to provide a DNA sample.
Those four were: Jill Barcomb, 18, a woman from Oneida, New York who had only been in California for three weeks when her body was found bludgeoned and strangled in Los Angeles on November 10, 1977; Georgia Wixted, 27, a registered nurse whose nude body was found on December 16, 1977 in her Malibu apartment, beaten, raped, and strangled; legal secretary Charlotte Lamb, 32, strangled and found naked in the laundry room of an El Segundo apartment complex on June 24, 1978; and computer program keypunch operator Jill Parenteau, 21, found strangled, nude, and propped up by pillows on the floor of her Burbank apartment on June 13, 1977.
Alcala pled not guilty to all four of the new murder charges on November 22, 2005.
Alcala’s attorneys asked that he be tried separately on the Robin Samsoe murder. Prosecutors wanted all five cases tried together.
On March 24, 2006, Superior Court Judge Francisco Briseno granted the prosecution request to try the five cases together.
An attorney who had previously represented Alcala, John P. Dolan, called the ruling “a big victory for the prosecution.” Dolan explained, “If you’re a juror and you hear one murder case, you may be able to have reasonable doubt. But it’s very hard to say you have reasonable doubt on all five, especially when four of the five aren’t alleged by eyewitnesses but are proven by DNA matches.”
By the time the trial opened on February 2, 2010, Rodney Alcala had decided to act as his own attorney. No longer the handsome and seemingly debonair young man who appeared on “The Dating Game,” the lean-faced Alcala sported wavy gray hair flowing past his shoulders and a pair of horn-rimmed glasses.
Soft-spoken and articulate, he began his opening statement by telling the jury that Robin Samsoe had been murdered “about 10,820 days, five hours and 15 minutes ago. About 33 days and 16 hours later, I was arrested. I have been incarcerated ever since.”
As he would throughout the trial, Alcala essentially ignored the charges of murdering the four adult women and focused on the Samsoe murder charge. It is possible that he regarded this as the most serious because of the girl’s age. Scientist Kent A. Kiehl and Joshua W. Buckholtz have studied psychopaths and concluded, “Once fixed on a goal, psychopaths proceed as if they can’t get off the train until it reaches the station.” This “narrowly focused, full-speed-ahead tendency” might have influenced Alcala to focus almost exclusively on the charges that he had been fighting for years and pay little attention to the new ones.
In addressing the Samsoe accusations, Alcala projected a document on a screen before the jury that read: “The 6 Minute 15 Second Window of Opportunity.” Alcala contended that this was the narrow time period in which Samsoe may have been kidnapped and promised that he would prove he was at Knott’s Berry Farm during that time.
Alcala’s performance as an attorney often seemed to lend credence to the old saying that someone who represents himself has a fool for a client. A Los Angeles Times piece by Paloma Esquivel observes, “In the early parts of the trial, while prosecutors attempted to tie Alcala to the slayings of the four Los Angeles County women, the defendant was almost absent. He asked few questions and made few objections. He waited until a prosecutor had finished interviewing one witness and then broke in quietly with a handful of objections to the testimony, unaware that it was late.”
However, Esquivel also notes that Alcala “developed something of a rapport with [Judge] Briseno, who at times guides him through the legal process, and with Matt Murphy, Orange County senior deputy district attorney, whom Alcala often asks to help with exhibits.”
At one point, Alcala cross-examined Samsoe’s mother, Marianne Connelly. Gold ball earrings found in Alcala’s locker and believed to have been worn by Samsoe at the time of her disappearance were a major piece of evidence in the prosecution’s case.
Alcala repeatedly asked questions designed to show that Robin Samsoe had not been wearing such jewelry on the day of her disappearance. At one point, an obviously – and understandably – distressed Connelly retorted to her questioner, “You know if she had earrings on, don’t you?”
Shortly after this exchange, the jury left the courtroom at the judge’s request. Judge Briseno spoke to Connelly, acknowledging that it would inevitably be “difficult” for her to “take questions from the person that you feel is responsible for taking a life.” He continued that the defendant had the constitutional right to act as his own attorney and asked her to show patience in her conduct on the witness stand.
With the jury back in court, Alcala again questioned Connelly about the earrings. At one point, he turned to the jury and said, “For me, the facts of the Samsoe case began in the summer of 1978. That’s when I had my left earlobe doubly pierced.”
To prove that he had the earring before the Samsoe slaying, Alcala played a 20-second clip from “The Dating Game” episode on which he had appeared. The clip showed Alcala and Cheryl Bradshaw after Bachelor Number One had been picked and gone beyond the partition to meet the awaiting Bachelorette. Alcala’s dark hair was shoulder length so his ears were not easily discerned. However, Alcala told the jury they could spot the telltale earring if they really tried. He said, “You have to watch really closely when it plays because it’s just a flash.”
In the most surreal portion of the trial, Alcala acted at once as both witness and attorney. He took the stand, asked himself questions, and then answered his own questions. For five hours, Alcala asked, “What was the next thing you did, Mr. Alcala?” and, “After that, what did you do, Mr. Alcala?” During this bizarre self-questioning and answering session, Alcala explained that on June 20, 1979, the day of Robin Samsoe’s disappearance, he had visited a friend at Seal Beach. Unable to find his pal, Alcala went to a picture frame store, then to Sunset Beach and finally to Knott’s Berry Farm.
Alcala made little effort to dispute the blood, DNA and fingerprint data that prosecutors entered into evidence pointing to him as the murder of Jill Barcomb, Georgia Wixted, Charlotte Lamb and Jill Parenteau.
After deliberating less than two days, the jury convicted Alcala on all five counts of first-degree murder.
“He’s a monster.”
Each murder was aggravated by special circumstances of rape and/or kidnapping. A conviction of murder with special circumstances meant Alcala could receive either the death penalty or life without parole.
In his closing argument asking the jury to sentence him to life imprisonment, Alcala pointed out – quite correctly – that a death sentence could mean another 15 to 20 years of appeals. He continued that a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole “would end this matter now.”
Alcala also told jurors that by voting for execution, “You become a wannabe killer in waiting.” He tried to drive home this point by playing part of the song Alice’s Restaurant, a Vietnam War protest song by Arlo Guthrie. The part of the song Alcala played in court was about a young man who had been drafted telling a military psychiatrist, “Shrink, I want to kill. I mean, I wanna, I wanna kill. . . . I wanna see blood and gore and guts and veins in my teeth. . . . I mean kill, kill, KILL, KILL.”
Deputy District Attorney Matt Murphy urged the jury to sentence Alcala to death, calling the defendant “an evil monster.”
The jury deliberated for a few hours and returned with a verdict of death.
Robert Samsoe, brother of victim Robin Samsoe, shouted, “Yes!” With tears streaming down her face, Robin’s mother Marianne Connelly hugged family members and prosecutors.
Echoing the words of prosecutor Murphy, one juror explained the sentence by saying, “He’s a monster. He’s not a human being.”
Questions left dangling
The jury’s sentence was far from the last word on the Rodney Alcala saga. As he noted, his case is likely to drag on through over a decade or more of appeals.
There are also important questions that have not yet been answered. The most obvious is whether Alcala had more victims than the five of which he has been convicted of murdering.
He is considered the prime suspect in the previously mentioned murder of Ellen Hover and is also a suspect in the rape and murder of Cornelia Crilley, 23, a flight attendant whose body was found in her Manhattan apartment on June 12, 1971. Authorities say his DNA matches DNA found in Crilley’s apartment.
However, New York law enforcement has stopped pursuing Alcala because of his status in California as a prisoner awaiting execution.
Investigators released photographs from his telltale storage locker and home in hopes of identifying those pictured and learning if any of them are either missing or dead. Several have been identified as alive. As of this writing, none have been connected to either a missing person’s case or an unsolved murder.
Questions that linger include the vexing issues of why. Why did he rape and murder?
It is unlikely he will ever tell us. It is quite possible that he does not know.
“3 Tell of Alcala Contacts on Key Days.” Los Angeles Times. April 10, 1980.
“Accused Killer Pleads Not Guilty; Man facing retrial in the death of an O.C. girl is charged with four murders in the 1970s.” Los Angeles Times. November 23, 2005.
“Alcala Jury Hears Final Arguments.” Los Angeles Times. April 29, 1980.
Brown, Doug. “Jury Finds Alcala Guilty in 1st Degree.” Los Angeles Times. May 1, 1980.
Brown, Doug. “Witness Says She Believes She Saw Alcala With Girl.” Los Angeles Times. March 21, 1980.
Buckholtz, Joshua W., and Kiehl, Kent A. “Inside the Mind of a Psychopath.” Scientific American Mind. September/October 2010.
“Criminal profiler Pat Brown on the dating show serial killer Rodney Alcala.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WWe45bYQtqI
Esquivel, Paloma. “Alcala guilty in murders of O.C. girl, 4 women; it is his third trial in the abduction and killing of Robin Samsoe, 12, and his first in the others.” Los Angeles Times. February 26, 2010.
Esquivel, Paloma. “Jury views ‘Dating Game’ clip of serial murder suspect; Rodney Alcala says the 1978 video from the TV hit shows an earring police said he took off victim in ’79.” Los Angeles Times. February 10, 2010.
Esquivel, Paloma. “Suspect in 5 killings acts as attorney; Rodney Alcala faces the death penalty for the third time. His decision to represent himself is criticized.” Los Angeles Times. February 3, 2010.
Farr, Bill. “12-Year-Old-Girl’s Killer Charges in Second Slaying.” Los Angeles Times. July 12 1980.
“Girl’s Killer Receives Second Death Verdict.” Los Angeles Times. June 22, 1986.
Hicks, Jerry. “A Mother’s Nightmares Get Even Worse; Victims: Marianne Connelly has been haunted for 21 years since her daughter’s slaying. The idea that her twice-convicted killer could possibly go free is almost too much to bear.” Los Angeles Times. April 4, 2001.
Hicks, Jerry. “Federal Judge Overturns Alcala Conviction; Prosecutors must decide whether to try man for the third time in the 1979 slaying of a Huntington Beach girl, 12.” Los Angeles Times. April 3, 2001.
Jarlson, Gary. “Public Defender Leaves Alcala Case.” Los Angeles Times. August 15, 1979.
Jarlson, Gary. “Suspect Pleads Innocent To Kidnaping [sic], Murder of Girl.” Los Angeles Times. July 27, 1979.
Lin, Sara. “Judge OKs Merging 5 Trials for Murder.” Los Angeles Times. March 25, 2006.
Pelisek, Christine. “Rodney Alcala: The Fine Art of Killing.” LA Weekly. 1/21/2010.
“Serial Killer Rodney James Alcala on ‘The Dating Game.’” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Uf95INZmWI.
Tripoli, Steve. “Murder Conviction Is Reversed for Man Sentenced to Death.” Los Angeles Times. August 24, 1984.
“Witness in Alcala Trial Admits Lying.” Los Angeles Times. March 26, 1980.
“Witness Puts Alcala in Area Body Was Found.” Los Angeles Times. March 20, 1980.
“Witness Says Girl Seen Day After Disappearance.” Los Angeles Times. April 9, 1980.
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