Rodney Alcala, the serial murderer who became known as the “Dating Game Killer” because of his 1978 appearance on the game show, died July 24 at a hospital near California’s Corcoran state prison at the age of 77.
Alcala’s chilling story provided an early glimpse of how the growth of unscripted television with everyday people would inevitably have a dark side. He appeared on the 1970s syndicated series, but the “bachelorette” that he chose wound up refusing to go out with him, telling producers after the taping that she got “weird vibes coming off him,” according to ABC News.
Just two years after his “Dating Game” appearance, Alcala was sentenced to death row in California for the 1979 murder of 12-year-old Robin Samsoe. In 2010, he was convicted of five counts of first degree murder for Samsoe’s death as well as the 1977 deaths of 18-year-old Jill Barcomb and 27-year-old Georgia Wixted; the 1978 death of 32-year-old Charlotte Lamb, and the 1979 death of 21-year-old Jill Parenteau, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
In 2012, Alcala was charged with two more murders dating back to 1971 and 1977. Four years later, he was charged with the murder of a Wyoming woman who was six months pregnant. Alcala was suspected in several more cases in Los Angeles and California’s Marin County, as well as Seattle and Arizona.
Alcala’s initial death sentence for Samsoe’s death was overturned in 1984 amid the reckoning then over the death penalty. He was retried in 1986 and again sentenced to death, but a federal appeals court overturned that conviction in 2003. That led to his third trial for Samsoe in 2010, albeit this time with four more counts and the mounting signs he was implicated in more heinous slayings.
In later years, Alcala delivered a number of bizarre statements in court appearances including cross-examining himself on the stand at his third trial. The murders he committed makes his appearance on the risque-ish TV dating show all the more disturbing.
As detailed in a recent ABC News retrospective look at Alcala’s “Dating Game” appearance:
During the episode in which Alcala appeared, bachelorette Cheryl Bradshaw asked him questions like, “What’s your best time?” and “I’m serving you for dinner. What are you called and what do you look like?” Alcala responded to the latter, saying, “I’m called the banana and I look good.”
“Can you be a little more descriptive?” Bradshaw asked Alcala.
“Peel me,” he said, prompting the audience to laugh.
“In retrospect,” Greenfield said, “it sounds horrible. But at the time, that’s a good solid answer. … We were looking for raunchy, sexy answers, and that was one. Take it in context now, it’s like, ‘Oh my God.’”
Alcala’s predatory behavior in seeking vulnerable female targets was psychopathic. Samsoe was a 12-year-old Huntington Beach girl riding a borrowed bicycle on her way to ballet class when a chance encounter with a sociopath led to her death. Among the evidence that helped convict Alcala, thanks to tireless efforts by Samsoe’s mother, Marianne Connelly, was that he kept the girl’s earrings as a trophy.
In 2013, New York state Judge Bonnie Wittner broke down sobbing while reading out an additional 25 years to life sentence for Alcala to hold him accountable for his grisly 1971 and 1977 killings in the state. The 1977 victim was Ellen Jane Hover, the daughter of the owner of Hollywood nightclub Ciro’s, who was the goddaughter of Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr., and was found buried on the grounds of the Rockefeller estate.
“I just want to say I hope the families find some peace and solace,” the judge said after regaining her composure, according to the New York Times.
In June, Netflix announced a movie based on his case, starring Anna Kendrick as the “Dating Game” contestant, called “Rodney and Sheryl.”