Convicted serial killer Rodney Alcala died inside a California prison yesterday of natural causes. He was 77 years old and is known to have murdered at least eight people, though some have speculated he may have murdered as many as one hundred and thirty. He was known to many as “The Dating Game Killer” because he appeared on the game show in the middle of his murder spree.
Rodney Alcala’s appearance on The Dating Game happened in 1978. Then in his mid-30s, Alcala had already been to prison twice for assaults against an eight year old and a thirteen year old girl, but nonetheless, he was selected and introduced as a photographer. He won the episode, but after meeting him in person, the bachelorette reportedly refused to go out with him. She allegedly found him to be “creepy.”
Just a year prior to his appearance and unbeknownst to anyone on the show, Alcala reportedly murdered Ellen Jane Hover in Manhattan. She was the daughter of a famous nightclub owner and the goddaughter of Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. Her body was discovered at the Rockefeller Estate north of New York City. In 1979, he was arrested following the dissapearance and murder of a 12-year-old girl named Robin Samsoe. She was on her way to ballet class.
Rodney Alcala was arrested, charged, convicted of murder and sentenced to death three different times, as his first two trials were thrown out on technicalities. DNA evidence from cold case files later linked him to the murders of six other women. Many observers and law enforcement agents suspect the number may be far higher, as police discovered pictures in his possession of hundreds of people including underage teenage boys and girls, many of which were sexually graphic. Most of the subjects of those pictures have never been identified, though one was proven to be Christine Thornton who had gone missing in 1977. Alcala was later charged with her murder.
Selection for most game shows and reality television programs has gotten a lot more sophisticated since the late 1970s. Extensive background checks for most appearances are now conducted as standard procedure. Some contestants even undergo psychological evaluations to make sure they would be a good fit.
The Dating Game originally premiered in the mid 1960s and went through several different incarnations. It was recently rebranded as The Celebrity Dating Game. It premiered in June on ABC with Zooey Deschanel and Michael Bolton as hosts. There have also been dozens of international versions. Rules have sometimes varied but the basic premise involves a person on one side of a curtain asking questions to three possible suitors on the other side of the curtain.
Despite being on death row for decades, Rodney Alcala was never executed. His convictions were thrown out on two separate occasions, the first because the jury was told he was a sex offender and the second because a witness was disallowed during the second trial. Executions in California were later halted by Governor Newsom in 2019.