UPDATE (NOVEMBER 1, 2016):
Despite having been charged with the 1977 murder of Christine Thornton, “Dating Game Killer” Rodney Alcala will not have to face the consequences for that crime.
The 73-year-old serial killer is reportedly too ill to make the journey from California to Wyoming to be charged. Alcala was eventually connected to the Thornton murder through DNA testing. It’s suspected that he may have killed many more people than he’s been accused of.
Rodney Alcala has been described as one of the most prolific serial killers to terrorize California. His first known crime was the brutal rape and beating of eight-year-old Tali Shapiro in 1968. Shapiro was found in Alcala’s apartment after someone who saw him pick up the child in his car had called authorities. Unfortunately, Alcala had vanished, fleeing to New York City, where he lived for four years and attended film school until the law caught up with him on the Shapiro case.
Shapiro’s family had relocated to Mexico by then, and didn’t want Tali to testify in the trial, so Alcala was charged with only assault and was out on parole after 34 months. He then began a five-year murder spree almost immediately, and was able to slay an absolutely unknown number before he was finally stopped in 1979. Thanks to a series of trials, convictions, appeals, and retrials, Alcala has basically spent the years since 1979 behind bars. His third trial, alleging the rape and murder of 31-year-old Charlotte Lamb, 27-year-old Georgia Wixted, 21-year-old Jill Parenteau, 18-year-old Jill Barcomb, and 12-year-old Robin Samsoe, began in 2005. During the decades he was jailed, DNA evidence processing had advanced to the point where law enforcement was able to use what they still had to build an even better case against him. In 2010, Alcala was sentenced to death for the third time.
Authorities have always been sure of one thing: these weren’t the only women and girls that Alcala had killed. Alcala is believed to possibly have killed as many as 130 people across the country, but authorities are still trying to get the evidence to connect him. In Alcala’s possessions when he was arrested was a large collection of photographs he’d taken of young women and men — some of whom were his victims, while most remained unidentified. It’s always been suspected that in those unidentified models were some additional victims, cold cases waiting to be solved. This week, those photos helped authorities add another name to his list: Christine Ruth Thornton of of San Antonio.
Those photos got into the hands of Thornton’s family in 2013, and Thornton’s sister recognized her sitting on a motorcycle in one photo. When authorities confronted Alcala about the photo, he admitted to being the photographer, but refused to admit to her murder. Dan Erramouspe, an attorney from Wyoming connected to the Thornton case, told reporters that some of the things Alcala had said when they tried to confront him did potentially help tie him to Thornton’s murder. Compounding the tragedy of Thornton’s murder was the fact that she was six months pregnant when she died.
Thornton’s body was found by a local rancher in rural Wyoming in 1978, but remained unidentified until two siblings of Thornton sent DNA samples to be checked against the national missing-person’s database in 2015. It took some time, but they finally connected the DNA from Thornton’s still-unidentified remains to that of her siblings. Thornton’s body has been recovered, and police are attempting to get as many viable DNA samples as they can obtain sent to the FBI to see if any of them connect to Alcala. Still, they have accumulated enough evidence on the Thornton murder to file first-degree murder charges against Alcala.
The question is whether or not he will even be extradited to Wyoming to stand trial. In 2012, Alcala was convicted of two murders in New York State and sentenced to a long jail term. Still, he remains jailed in California’s Corcoran State Prison.
For the curious, here is vintage video of Alcala’s 1978 appearance on “The Dating Game”, which earned him his nickname:
Main photo: Rodney Alcala on the Dating Game [screenshot]