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‘Dating Game Killer’ Rodney Alcala Dies In Prison From Natural Causes At Age 77

“He’s where he needs to be, and I’m sure that’s in hell,” Sweetwater County Sheriff’s Office Investigator Jeff Sheaman said of Rodney Alcala's death.

By Jill Sederstrom
The Rodney Alcala Case, Explained

“Dating Game Killer” Rodney Alcala—who earned the moniker after appearing on the popular 1970s game show to vie for a woman’s affection—has died in prison at the age of 77.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation confirmed Alcala’s death on Saturday, saying the condemned inmate died from natural causes at 1:43 a.m. that morning at a hospital in Kings County.

Alcala was convicted of killing six women and a 12-year-old girl in two different states, but investigators believe the former photographer could have been responsible for as many as 130 deaths across the country, the Associated Press reports.

He often used his skills as a photographer to lure his unsuspecting victims by offering to take their picture.

“He’s where he needs to be, and I’m sure that’s in hell,” Sweetwater County Sheriff’s Office Investigator Jeff Sheaman told The New York Times of the death. “When I interviewed him back in 2016, he was the most cold person. Everything about that guy just gives me the creeps.”

Sheaman interviewed Alcala in connection with the death of Christine Ruth Thornton. The 28-year-old had been six months pregnant when she disappeared from Wyoming in 1978. Her body was discovered in 1982.

Alcala was charged with her death in 2016 but prosecutors would later determine he was too ill to face trial, The Associated Press reports.

Alcala was convicted, however, in the deaths of six other women and one 12-year-old girl.

Robin Samsoe, 12, disappeared on June 20, 1979 while riding on her bike to a ballet lesson, The Washington Post reports. The young girl’s remains were later found scattered across a remote ravine in the Los Angeles foothills. Samsoe’s friend told police that the day she disappeared a stranger had been photographing them on the beach.

Her death came one year after Alcala had appeared as a contestant on “The Dating Game” to try to win a date with bachelorette Cheryl Bradshaw. According to a clip of the appearance on YouTube, Alcala, who was decked out in a brown bell bottom suit, was described by host Jim Lange as a “successful photographer.”

“Between takes, you might find him skydiving or motorcycling,” Lange told the crowd.

Alcala went on to win the date with Bradshaw using sexual innuendo to persuade her—but the date would never take place. Bradshaw later backed out of the date after telling contestant coordinator Ellen Metzger she was unnerved by her suitor, according to ABC News.

“She said, ‘Ellen, I can’t go out with this guy. There’s weird vibes that are coming off of him. He’s very strange. I am not comfortable. Is that going to be a problem?’ And of course, I said, ‘No,’” Metzger told the news outlet.

Unbeknownst to viewers, he had been convicted six years earlier for beating and sexually assaulting 8-year-old Tali Shapiro in 1968 after luring her into his car as she walked to school, The New York Times reports.

“The planet is a better place without him, that’s for sure,” Shapiro—who also shared her harrowing story in Oxygen’s “Mark of A Killer”—told the publication after learning of his demise.

In Samsoe’s case, Alcala was convicted and sentenced to death in Orange County in 1980, according to the state’s department of corrections.

The judgment was reversed by the California Supreme Court in 1984, but Alcala would be convicted and sentenced to death again for her death in 1986.

A federal appeals court overturned that sentence in 2003 and Alcala was once again given a new trial; however, by that time DNA technology had advanced which linked his DNA to the murders of four other women in California.

Alcala was convicted a final time for Samsoe’s murder in 2010. He was also convicted of first-degree murder for the four other victims, including 18-year-old Jill Barcomb and Georgia Wixted, 27, who both died in 1977; Charlotte Lamb, 32, who died in 1978; and Jill Parenteau, 21, who died in 1979.

“You’re talking about a guy who is hunting through Southern California looking for people to kill because he enjoys it,” Orange County prosecutor Matt Murphy told the jury during the trial, according to the Associated Press.

Alcala was once again sentenced to death.

Rodney Alcala Pd

Two years later, Alcala was extradited to New York after being linked to the 1971 murder of Cornelia Crilley and the 1977 slaying of Ellen Jane Hover. He pleaded guilty to both murders and was sentenced in New York to 25 years to life.

Investigators believe he could also be linked to other murders in California, Washington, New York, New Hampshire and Arizona, authorities said.

California prosecutors said Alcala drew out his victim’s agony by repeatedly strangling them and resuscitating them before their deaths. In at least two instances, he took earrings from his victims to serve as mementos of the heinous acts.

“There is murder and rape and then there is the unequivocal carnage of a Rodney Alcala-style murder,” Bruce Barcomb, the brother of victim Jill Barcomb, said at the killer’s sentencing in California.

Although Alcala served much of his time in prison on death row, Gov. Gavin Newsom imposed a moratorium on executions in 2019.