Dating Game Killer: Rodney Alcala who raped, killed over 100 girls won dating show posing as a photographer
He took part in 'The Dating Game' but the woman he wooed later declined a date because she felt something was off
A serial killer believed to have murdered over a hundred women and was sentenced to death over his crimes appeared on a dating show amidst his killing spree posing as a photographer and earned the nickname 'Dating Game Killer'.
Rodney James Alcala has been convicted of seven homicides, five in California between 1977 and 1979, and another two in New York in 1971 and 1977 but investigators suspect his true victim count might be higher.
His sociopathic tendencies and utter disregard for his victims evident from his modus operandi — he would strangle them until they were unconscious, wait for them to come back around, and then repeat the process several times before finally killing them — led to one police detective describing him as "a killing machine," while others drew comparisons to another infamous serial killer of the time: Ted Bundy.
But what Alcala's name has been most associated with over the years is his 1978 appearance on popular game show 'The Dating Game,' where host Jim Lange introduced him as a "successful photographer who got his start when his father found him in the darkroom at the age of 13, fully developed," and that between takes "you might find him skydiving or motorcycling."
Little did Lange know that his contestant for the night, while charming and undoubtedly good-looking, carried with him a disturbing criminal past that included multiple assaults of young children.
In 1968, he lured an eight-year-old girl named Tali Shapiro into his Hollywood apartment, and then beat her with a steel bar before raping her. Three years later, in June 1971, he raped and strangled 23-year-old Trans World Airlines flight attendant Cornelia Michel Crilley in her Manhattan home.
He was added to the FBI's list of Ten Most Wanted Fugitives the same year but managed to evade capture until two children attending the art camp where he worked noticed his photo in a poster and notified the police. However, because Shapiro's parents did not want her testifying at his trial, the prosecution lost their main witness and had to settle for convicting Alcala of a lesser charge of assault.
The "indeterminate sentencing" program that was popular at the time meant parole boards released offenders as soon as they saw signs of rehabilitation, resulting in Alcala walking out of prison after just 17 months in 1974. Less than two months later, he was re-arrested for assaulting a 13-year-old girl after she accepted from him what she thought was a ride to school.
He was released in 1977, only to be allowed to travel to New York City, where he killed Ellen Jane Hover, 23, daughter of the owner of the popular Hollywood nightclub Ciro's and goddaughter of Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. He was subsequently interviewed by detectives who were a part of the Hillside Strangler task force as part of their investigation into known sex offenders but was ruled out as a suspect.
During the same period, he convinced hundreds of young men and women he was a professional fashion photographer and took hundreds of sexually explicit photos that police now believe might carry clues about his other potential victims. It was also what got him invited onto 'The Dating Game'.
While most of the public was smitten by Alcala during his appearance, his fellow contestants that night had a different impression of him. They described him as "creepy" and "obnoxious."
"Oh yeah, I remember it quite clearly," Jed Mills, the game-show contestant who sat next to Alcala on the episode, told CNN. "He was creepy. Definitely creepy. That's when I became part of a nightmare, and I didn't realize it was a nightmare until 32 years later."
"Creepy" wasn't too much of a stretch considering Alcala's answers to Cheryl Bradshaw, the woman he was trying to woo. When asked what was his "best time," he said with a wide smile, "The best time is at night. Nighttime."
He went on to do an impression of a "dirty old man" and made groaning noises while telling Bradshaw to "come over here." It did not sit well with Mills, who said he felt an almost immediate aversion towards his fellow contestant.
"Something about him, I could not be near him," he said. "I am kind of bending toward the other guy to get away from him, and I don't know if I did that consciously. But thinking back on that, I probably did."
"He was quiet, but at the same time he would interrupt and impose when he felt like it," he continued. "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."
Alcala even went on to win Bradshaw's hand that night, only to be later rejected for a date because she, too, felt something was off about him. According to reports, she found him "creepy" and was concerned about going out with him.
Within months of that rejection, he abducted and murdered a 12-year-old girl. Before the 1970s were done, he had claimed two more victims. "One wonders what that did in his mind," said crime profiler Pat Brown about him being spurned. "That is something he would not take too well. They don't understand the rejection. They think that something is wrong with that girl: 'She played me. She played hard to get.'"
In February 2010, following a third trial where he bizarrely represented himself and asked himself questions in a deeper-than-normal voice before answering them, he was convicted of five charges of first-degree murder and sentenced to death.
Police have released 120 of his photographs and sought the public's help in identifying them in the hope of determining if any of the women and children in it were additional victims. He remains incarcerated at the California State Prison, from where he is appealing his conviction.