By all accounts, Rodney Alcala was an absolute monster. When he wasn’t photographing and murdering women, he found time to date them, appearing on The Dating Game in 1978, in the midst of his rampage. His crimes occurred many years ago, but why was he in the news last month? This week on True Crime Corner, Bachelor #1, Rodney Alcala…
Rodrigo Jacques Alcala Buquor (better known as Rodney James Alcala) had potential. With a near genius IQ, he graduated from UCLA and was accepted to New York University’s School of Fine Arts. One of the program instructors at NYU was none other than Roman Polanski, the famous director whose actress wife, Sharon Tate, was murdered by members of the Manson Family. Alcala was well on his way to becoming the famous photographer he aspired to be.
Unfortunately, he used his love of the lens to lure victims both male and female for photos under the guise of entering them into what were fictional photography contests. He often killed the women, posing them in grotesque positions after death, sometimes going so far as to take photos of the corpses. He would keep souvenirs of his victims, a ritual which would eventually aid in his conviction in the murder of 12-year-old Robin Samsoe, when her mother recognized earrings as her own.
His first known victim was in 1968. It happened in California, when he lured a little girl walking along Sunset Boulevard to his car, and then drove her to his apartment where he promised to show her a picture. Once inside, he beat, raped, and attempted to kill the 8-year-old, known as Talia S. It was a miracle that she survived the ordeal. If it hadn’t been for a good samaritan calling the police when he saw Talia get into the car, she likely wouldn’t have survived the attack. She would testify against Alcala decades later in an effort to persuade the jury to sentence him to death, at one of his many trials. It boggles the mind how a known child predator like Alcala went on to work as a camp counselor on the opposite coast. When he returned to California, he worked at the L.A. Times, even as he was under suspicion of being The Hillside Strangler. (Those crimes were later attributed to two cousins Kenneth Bianchi and Angelo Buono). I guess background checks and offender lists weren’t as strict as they are now.
He appeared as Bachelor #1 on The Dating Game, a popular show at the time. He won over Bachelorette Cheryl Bradshaw, securing himself a date with her. Alcala had a bright smile and good looks, but it’s reported that he so creeped out Bradshaw that she refused to go on the date with him. In fact, a competing bachelor found him off putting. She was lucky, most women who crossed his path were never seen again, unless it was in a photograph that Alcala took, discovered later in his personal belongings. The video of his episode is horrifying when you realize that he already killed women and savagely injured a child before he was ever on the show.
After appearing on the game show, Alcala continued to prey upon victims willing to pose for him. His rampage wasn’t limited to California. Like Ted Bundy, he took his ruse on the road, his atrocities coming to an end in 1979, when he was imprisoned for good.
Police recovered Alcala’s pictures confiscated from a storage locker in 1979, and appealed to the public in 2010 for help identifying people in the photos. There were other pictures unavailable to the public, as they were explicit in nature. The pictures are unnerving, some of them showing young women together with Alcala. Last month he was connected to a Wyoming cold case murder. A relative of one of the victims was able to make a positive identification through the photos shared by authorities. It remains a mystery how many more victims or survivors could be out there.
Alcala has drawn comparisons to Ted Bundy. Both were attractive young college students. Each had a knack of putting potential victims at ease. The killers left bodies from coast to coast, their exact tallies unknown. Both failed to achieve good outcomes for themselves when acting as their own attorneys in court. While Bundy was executed, Alcala is still condemned continuing to delay the death sentence, aggravating the system with his antics. He’s filed frivolous lawsuits while incarcerated. He brazenly self-published a book called You, the Jury, proclaiming his innocence in the death of Robin Samsoe. If that weren’t infuriating enough to the victims’ families, the serial killer/rapist received a pacemaker to prolong his life within the last few years.
Hindsight being 20/20, I wonder if Robin Samsoe’s mother regrets not shooting Alcala when she had the chance. The distraught woman carried a gun in her purse to the killer’s trial. Only the thought of her deceased daughter disapproving of her being taken away from her remaining children kept her from pulling the trigger. This woman is still waiting for justice to be served, over 30 years after her little girl was murdered.
I find Rodney Alcala a fascinating figure in true crime, still in the news today. I urge you to read The Dating Game Killer by Stella Sands. It’s a thorough book that provides much more detail about Alcala, the victims, the crimes, and the trials. The road to the killer finally residing on death row is long, including having convictions overturned more than once. His is a difficult story to tell, and Sands does it so well.
Rodney Alcala now sits on death row at the age of 73. I feel for the families and the victims; surely it’s been a nightmare. It will be interesting to see how many more cold cases can be solved through photos the killer thought would remain private.