The Worst Serial Killer In American History? Rodney Alcala | 1970s Serial Killers

(Collage created by Caledonian Kitty. Picture credits: New York Times / ABC News / A&E / Orange County Register)

When I mention the name, Rodney Alcala I'm sure quite a few of you are aware of who I'm talking about. You may also know him as 'The Dating Game Killer', others have called him ''one of the worst, if not, THE worst serial killer in American history''. But the latter is up for debate as we've seen quite a number of horrific crimes over the years that have been carried out by the most evil individuals to have ever walked this earth. As someone who has spent many years studying serial killers and (the past few years) writing about some of them, I could never say who was the worst serial killer in history because they are all purely evil and have all caused suffering in their own way. 

If you've seen documentaries about Rodney Alcala before, you've probably noticed that he is often compared to the likes of Ted Bundy due to the nature of his crimes, his smart appearance (as well as academic ability) and that he had represented himself at one of his trials. Like Ted Bundy and other serial killers, the number of actual victims is always called into question. There are the victims that we know about and there are the possible victims that we don't know about. One of the reasons Rodney Alcala is often referred to as 'The Worst Serial Killer in American History' is partly down to the fact that investigators believe that he could be responsible for the deaths of as many as 130 people. Rodney was a keen photographer as both a hobby pastime and an aid in his crimes. He would often photograph his victims and these photographs would be part of his 'trophy' collection. Serial killers often like to either record, photograph or keep personal items of their victims as a way to remind themselves of what they have done. 

Rodney would collect items such as earrings and took photographs of his victims. Some of the victims that were photographed were later identified but there are hundreds of unidentified pictures that still remain a mystery to this day. I'm going to delve into this case which is to be the first in my new series of serial killers of the 1970s posts. I will be focusing on 6 serial killers of each decade, from the 1970s, the 1980s and the 1990s. It's a tough job but somebody has to do it and writing about true crime is my passion. My readers who I appreciate so very much, have mentioned on so many occasions that my posts on serial killers are the most intriguing, so here we are. 

(Rodney Alcala. Picture credit: abcnews)

I hope you find my upcoming posts on serial killers of each decade to be interesting and informative. 

So before we go further in to the crimes of Rodney Alcala, I have to remind you that I will be sharing some disturbing details so please bare that in mind. 

Rodney James Alcala came into the world on the 23rd of August 1943, he was originally known as Rodrigo Jacques Alcala Buquor. He was mostly brought up in a female household with his mother and sisters after his father walked out on the family. With Rodney not having a proper father figure in his life, the shocking abandonment could have contributed to his issues later on. As the only male in a female household it can sometimes be difficult for a young boy to feel masculine and in control. To be dominated in a female environment can sometimes have a soft affect on a male child where they are more loving and in touch with their feminine side and able to communicate with members of the opposite sex in a positive manner. In other ways though, this can have a negative affect, especially if there is abuse in the household. Young men in this environment often grow up to be angry, bitter and seeking revenge which is often played out in future romantic relationships and with possible victims if it happens to be a serial killer. 

Rodney was academically gifted and got on really well at school. He had a close group of friends and nothing seemed to be out of the ordinary. His home life was also relatively normal. As well as being a good student, he was a very sociable individual who took part in sporting events as well as being on the year book staff. The future looked bright for Rodney Alcala, a bit of a shaky start when his father left the family but they seemed to have been able to pick themselves up and Rodney was able to achieve quite a lot in school. He claimed to have a high IQ and demonstrated his natural ability to learn fast and like Ted Bundy he was able to read people, manipulate them to his own advantage and come across as quite charismatic.

He had a short stint as a clerk in the United States Army around 1960 but was soon discharged due to mental health reasons, reportedly to be a nervous breakdown. He had also been reported to have assaulted a number of women. Not one to give up the chance of a bright future and wanting to put his academical as well as creative skills to good use, Rodney enrolled himself in a course at the UCLA School of Fine Arts. He excelled here and was popular with the professors and his fellow students. During his time at UCLA, Rodney changed his name to John Berger.

With his time at UCLA being promising you'd have thought that this would continue Rodney on to a positive path but for some reason there was something within him that was beginning to boil to the surface just like it had done with Ted Bundy. Rodney (like Bundy) appeared to be this model student and friendly guy but beneath the surface he was something else entirely. 

(Rodney  Alcala. Collage credit: Orange County Register)

His first known victim was reportedly, a 16 year old girl called Morgan Rowan in July of 1968,  It was a very sickening and evil crime for someone who was supposed to have had no previous criminal history. Morgan was subjected to a horrendous sexual assault and beating by Rodney Alcala. The whole incident took place in Rodney's apartment and luckily, Morgan's friends came to her rescue and got her out of there whilst Rodney Alcala ran off. Morgan managed to survive but for some reason chose not to report what happened and begged her friends to keep quiet about it too. It was only years later that this horrible incident came to light. 

That same year in 1968, Rodney reportedly committed his 'second crime'. He kidnapped an 8 year old child by the name of Tali Shapiro and the poor girl was subjected to a horrendous sexual assault and beating. Rodney struck her several times with a steel bar at his home and the little girl was basically on the floor in a pool of her own blood. It was a miracle that she was still breathing but only barely. Right at that moment, police officers (who had previously been informed by a member of the public who witnessed Tali being abducted) burst into the house and found the child, Rodney made a swift escape. The policeman who first discovered Tali was more focused (and to be honest he did the right thing at that moment) on getting the little girl to a hospital and saving her life that there wasn't enough time to chase after Rodney who seemed to have vanished into thin air. Fortunately, Tali was able to make a complete recovery (physically at least. Nobody can imagine the emotional trauma that the poor girl must have went through and probably still goes through to this day if she is still alive, I'm hoping she is) but her family moved her out of the country as soon as she was well enough. The whole ordeal was very traumatic for Tali and the people closest to her that they just didn't want to be in the country anymore. 

(Tali Shapiro. Picture credit: abcnews)

Back in those days it was easy to move from state to state and go undetected for a long time. Rodney managed to set himself up again at another film school using the same name 'John Berger'. He studied under the famous film director, Roman Polanski. You may know Roman from his famous movies but also because of his late wife, the beautiful Sharon Tate who was savagely murdered by the infamous Manson Family in 1969. I noticed as I did my research on Rodney Alcala that he seemed to be loosely connected in one way or another to various infamous murder cases. At this time he was also working as a camp counselor at a children's summer camp. He changed his name slightly for this role from John Berger to John Burger. Nobody checked his background so he was able to carry on as normal and be in environments with vulnerable people who were completely oblivious to who they really had in their midst. 

Again, like Ted Bundy, Rodney moved around to different states, changed his appearance slightly and went by an alias. He was soon found out in 1971 when he was recognised by some people who had seen his picture on an FBI wanted poster. He was swiftly arrested and taken back to California where he was to face charges. Since the Shapiro family had left the country the police had a difficult time tracking them down. It was soon made clear that the family didn't want to put Tali through any more trauma so refused to go back to California to face trial. Despite the evidence that Tali had been subjected to a horrendous sexual assault and beating before being left for dead, a deal was struck which saw Rodney Alcala admitting to a lesser charge basically admitting to molestation but nothing else. 

To add even more outrage to the circumstances, Rodney only served a total of 34 months due to the fact that he painted himself as a model prisoner and managed to charm and manipulate the parole board. So they released a dangerous sex offender and potential serial killer on to the streets. Within (reportedly) two months he was he was caught trying to kidnap a 13 year old girl by trying to entice her with drugs. Again, he served a pathetic sentence and was back on the streets after serving only two years. 

(Robin Samsoe. Picture credit: nbclosangeles)

As I mentioned previously, for serial killers such as Alcala and Bundy, moving around, changing names and switching jobs was quite easy back then in the 1970s because everything was mostly done on paper. Rodney had managed to land on his feet again and in 1977 obtained a role as a typesetter for the Los Angeles Times. In a chilling twist, Rodney Alcala was one of the men interviewed by the police who were investigating The Hillside Stranglers (I covered this infamous case earlier this year, you can find it here). 

(Charlotte Lamb. Picture credit: nbclosangeles)

In 1977, Rodney was responsible for the horrific sexual assault and murders of three women. Jill Barcomb who was just 18 years old and originally suspected to be a victim of The Hillside Stranglers (there is suspicion to this day that Kenneth Bianchi and Angelo Buono were the perpetrators of this particular murder but they never confessed to this crime), was found deceased in the Hollywood Hills. Jill had been viciously beaten and sexually assaulted. He'd also raped and murdered 32 year old Charlotte Lamb. Charlotte was found in the laundry room of an apartment complex. Both women had been strangled. Due to the nature in which he killed his victims, Rodney also drew comparisons with The Hillside Strangler and Ted Bundy. He was also responsible for the murder of 27 year old Georgia Wixted. Georgia had been savagely beaten with a hammer and strangled. Rodney had used the hammer to also mutilate Georgia's vagina. 

(Cornelia Crilley. Picture credit: Sky News)

As I mentioned previously, Rodney would use his photography hobby as an aid in his quest to either attempt to abduct a girl or a woman by posing as a professional photographer wanting to compete in a photography competition. He would also try to persuade his victims to pose in sexually explicit poses for him. Sometimes he would just take random pictures of people but he had hundreds of these haunting photographs and the majority of them are very disturbing. Some of the people pictured were able to be identified and some have yet to be known. 

Rodney would often rely on the kindness and naivety of his victims when it came to taking their pictures. he was able to charm and manipulate them into posing voluntarily and other pictures were taken obviously done out of fear. It's important to note that Rodney was suspected and linked to a number of murders around this time which are still being investigated. He has been linked to various murders around that time. It was around 1978 when he made his infamous appearance on The Dating Game (the American version of Blind Date). It just goes to show the absolute audacity and raving narcissist that he actually was. He believed that he was untouchable and now here he was on national television on a popular TV show. He turned on the charm and actually won a date with a lady but she refused to go out with him once she spent about 5 minutes off of camera with him. She thought he was creepy and made her feel uncomfortable. 

A number of people who were there at the filming of the show all commented that Rodney Alcala came across as a complete weirdo. The presenter of the show described him as a successful photographer. One has to wonder what was going through Rodney Alcala's mind considering that he'd already been responsible for the sexual and physical attacks as well as some deaths of women and girls before and during his appearance on this show. He must have thought that he was too clever for everyone and to be honest, he was able to fool a lot of people. 

In 1979 he was reported to have been responsible for the horrific sexual battery and murders of a 12 year old girl (Robin Samsoe) and a 21 year old woman by the name of Jill Parenteau. He was eventually linked to these crimes and arrested that same year and from 1979 he remained behind bars (I'm pleased to say that partly because we know he would have carried on more sickening attacks and murders and it was bad enough what he had already done). 

(Ellen Hover. Picture credit: Sky News)

Now that he was behind bars and the evidence against him was overwhelming, you'd have thought that it would have been the end of it and the victims families would get their justice. Sadly, it would take a ridiculous number of years and trials before he was finally given an appropriate sentence and the families were able to get some closure. There was a lot of drama with convictions being overturned and appeals, jury members being acquitted because of past perjury in previous cases. It was all a palaver and I could go into it all but that would make this post even longer and I know you want me to get to the punchline with it. He represented himself in court on an occasion where he was able to question his victims families and survivors.There was not one shred of remorse from him and he even played a song 'Alice's Restaurant' by Arlo Guthrie in the court room during closing arguments where he asked the court not to sentence him to death. 

The lyrics to Alice's Restaurant which included the lines.....''Kill, I wanna, I wanna see, I wanna see blood and gore and guts and veins in my teeth,'' It was a poor excuse for a defense and showed just how delusional he actually was. One of the stand out moments from the final trial was when Tali Shapiro turned up on the stand, much to everyone's shock. The little eight year old girl that he so savagely attacked and attempted to murder all of those years ago, was now stood before him as this very brave, strong and beautiful woman. In that moment she had beaten him right back and she had won. Even he looked surprised to see her and the  strength that it took for her to stand there and face him was nothing more than awe inspiring. He told her that he was sorry for what he had done but again there was no real genuine feeling or emotion to it. Tali had this strong attitude about her as if to say that she didn't want his apologies and no longer cared. She'd outgrown her fear of him, she survived him and she beat him. It was like she stood there representing all of the victims and survivors of Rodney Alcala. 

Rodney Alcala was sentenced to death in 2010 after years of endless court proceedings, convictions overturned and constant back and forth, the families and the survivors could finally breathe a sigh of relief. It had been a long time coming and for it to have carried on so long is a disgrace. Tali Shapiro said it best when she said that it should have stopped with her, he should have been punished whether she was there in court or not. Tali went through hell and was lying in a pool of her own blood, he was charged with molestation and nothing more and served a pathetic sentence and released for good behaviour. That is not justice, that is a joke. We know he had attacked women and girls before this but how many? nobody knows. That is the added mystery to the evil Rodney Alcala, just how many lives did this monster take away and who exactly were the unidentified people in the remaining photographs? Will we ever find out? Questions still remain. 

(Rodney Alcala. Picture credits: rollingstone / abcnews)

Right up until the day that he died, Rodney Alcala tried to manipulate the system and continued with appeals to stretch out his time and stave off the death sentence. He was a gutless coward right up to the end and he finally died on the 24th of July 2021 due to natural causes. 

My heart breaks for the families and survivors because he not only took away their precious loved ones, their childhoods, their sense of security, but he also destroyed their lives too. Three trials he put them through, years having to face him and be put through everything time and time again. It should never have been allowed. I'm very against convicted murderers who are sentenced to death with overwhelming evidence, being able to appeal. These monsters just play with the system and put the families through hell as well as draining tax payers money. If he had been put to death years before, the families and survivors would have some closure. Robin Samsoe's mother who began fighting for her 12 year old daughter's justice, was just a young woman herself when it all started. In 2010, she was now a much older woman, she'd lost most of her life because of this. She said in an interview that she wanted to live to see the day that he was put to death, even if she was to live one day longer than him, that would be enough. She said that she wanted to have just one day to properly breathe knowing that he was no longer alive. 

Justice (in the courtroom at least) was finally done but too much time had passed and been wasted. I hope that the families and survivors are still with us now and are able to have some sort of positive lives because lord knows, they have been to hell and back. 

Maybe one day more questions will be answered in this case, we might find out who the unidentified people in the photographs are. Until that day, all we can do is hope but it is one small relief that Rodney Alcala is finally gone. 

(Tali Shapiro. Picture credit: abcnews)

I thank you as always for joining me in this case and I know it's a long one to get through but these serial killer posts, when done properly, are often long and this case was a roller coaster. 

I'm thinking of the victims, the families and survivors and the unknown and unidentified victims. RIP Robin Samsoe, Jill Barcomb, Georgia Wixted, Charlotte Lamb, Jill Parenteau, Cornelia Crilley, Ellen Hover and those we don't yet know about. 

Click here to view the photographs that were taken of unidentified individuals by Rodney Alcala. If you recognise anyone in the photographs, please contact Sgt. Sam Shepherd of Huntington Police Department on (714) 536 5947

Further Reading & Sources: 

Rodney Alcala: Article | New York Times

Rodney Alcala: Article | Rolling Stone

Rodney Alcala: Article | Daily Mail

Rodney Alcala: Article | NBC News

Rodney Alcala: Article | Washington Post

Rodney Alcala: Article | Crime + Investigation

The Killing Game | Book by Alan R. Warren

Rodney Alcala: Article | The Hollywood Reporter

Rodney Alcala | Wikipedia

Rodney Alcala | Murderpedia

Serial Killers of The 1970s | Book by Jane Fritsch

The Big Book of Serial Killers | Book by Jack Rosewood & Rebecca Lo

Rodney Alcala: The Dating Game Killer | ABC News Documentary

48 Hours Mystery: The Killing Game | CBS News Documentary

Rodney Alcala Dating Game Clip | Inside Edition

Rodney Alcala in Court | Orange County Register

Rodney Alcala: Article | Los Angeles Times

Rodney Alcala: Article | Sky News

I hope you will join me again in the next post in this series, if you would like to share your thoughts, please do so in the comments below, elsewhere on my socials or simply email me at Jo: 

If you would like to help support my blog/work, please consider making a small donation to my PayPal or buy me a coffee on my kofi  page where you will also find regular updates on my posts.

Much love & stay safe! x 


  1. Good evening Jo,

    I just finished your latest True Crime case, the first one of your new series. Obviously, I’m looking forward to read your entire series on serials killers of each decade.

    I know who that monster was but I wasn’t aware of all the crimes that he had committed. Thank God, this evil monster is gone now. Rodney Alcala was a dangerous manipulative narcissist and one of the most vicious murderers I read about. I didn’t know his background and I didn’t know that he studied under Roman Polanski.

    I can’t believe what he has done to Tali Shapiro. I can’t imagine the trauma that the young girl has suffered through the years. I was shocked to learn that Rodney Alcala has only served 34 months for his horrendous attack on Tali. She was so strong and courageous to face him many years later during the trial.

    Again, the legal system was a joke, releasing him twice. It’s so scary to see his appearance on “The Dating Game” knowing that he was a monster.

    I was glad to read that he was sentenced to the death penalty but as usual, he was able to manipulate the legal system and he gained time. He destroyed so many lives. The legal system was a disgrace. I completely agree with you, he escaped his death penalty like the coward that he was. It’s awful that he was able to manipulate the system like that. At least, this evil monster is gone.

    My thoughts are obviously with the families of the victims. I’m also thinking about the families of all the unknown victims and the women that survived his cruel sexual and horrendous attacks.

    RIP to all the women who had lost their lives to this evil man. This is heartbreaking.

  2. What a truly insane case! I don't even know where to begin!

    First let me say that again you've written a truly incredible and thought provoking and riveting case! And as always your reverence to the victims and victims families should be noted and credited!

    Having grown up in the 70's and 80's this kind of case is something that just blows me away. Seeing how things have changed and how the abilities of being able to disappear and in essence reorganize oneself like you could in the 70's and 80's made detective work so difficult back then. While the modern computer age has at times made life more difficult it has reduced the ability of these monsters from pulling what is in reality a Houdini trick and disappearing.

    And again having grown up in the 70's in a very hippy style household I was taken aback in regards to the fact that Rodney played Arlo Guthrie's "Alice's Restaurant". Growing up this was a household staple that was played quite frequently and one that I have very fond memories of as a child. And it's heartbreaking to think that a song that was meant to be a protest song against the Vietnam War was played by this monster during his closing argument. One can only venture to imagine what Arlo Guthrie must of thought and felt about this happening.

    One thing that completely dropped my jaw was what Tali Shapiro endured, such a truly horrifying situation to endure and survive at such a young and truly fragile age. And to be able to find that inner strength to testify against this horrific creature speaks volumes about how truly incredible her resilience and inner strength really is.

    To think that this monster thought that he could get away with his crimes by being clever and manipulative is astounding. The fact that he got away with such light sentences for his crimes once again just leaves a bad taste in my mouth in regards to lawyers, prosecutors and judges. Our judicial system is a travesty and a complete joke!

    And in closing I hope that the video that you shared will help possibly solve some of these cases that maybe unsolved or unknown, but an even greater hope is that some of these women in these photos are found to be alive and well.

    Such a brilliant case and I must say thank you for covering it, you really taught me a lot about what had happened and I found this to be truly insightful! 🙏

  3. Thank you so much! I remember you requesting this case quite a while ago so thank you and I appreciate you taking the time to read this post and comment x