In 1968, Rodney Alcala, better known as “The Dating Game Killer,” lured eight-year-old Tali Shapiro to his Hollywood apartment. Police were quick to arrive on the scene after a concerned motorist witnessed Alcala taking little Tali. The girl had been severely beaten and raped. Alcala fled before he could be apprehended and went to New York. His crime would catch up with him three years later, when the FBI placed him on their most wanted list. Alcala was extradited back to California, but Tali Shapiro’s family decided that putting her on the stand would only cause the child more trauma. Ultimately, Alcala was only charged for assault and spent as little as 34 months behind prison walls.
He was arrested two months later for the assault of a 13-year-old. This time Alcala would spend two years in prison, eventually released in 1977. Back out on the streets, Alcala became what investigators have called “a killing machine.”
Alcala was allowed to travel to New York by the California parole board in July of 1977, where some believe that he may have killed the goddaughter of Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr., Ellen Jane Hover, shortly after his arrival in Manhattan. Her remains were uncovered 11 months later.
In 1978, Alcala went back to California. During this time Alcala had worked as a freelance photographer and had taken hundreds of pictures of men, women, and children. Investigators have released some of these photos in hopes of finding more victims. It’s believed that he could have killed up to 130 people between 1978 and his arrest for the murder of Robin Samsoe in 1980, and at one point had been a suspect in the Hillside Strangler cases.
DNA connected him to several more victims in 2003, but investigators held out hope that Alcala’s photography would be able to link him to even more crimes. At least nine people came forward to identify themselves in some of Alcala’s photographs. It wouldn’t be until recently that the photographs have led to another possible victim.
Christine Ruth Thorton had been living in Sweetwater County, Wyoming during the summer of 1977 when she mysteriously disappeared. Though her remains were uncovered in 1982, she remained a Jane Doe until 2015, when DNA confirmed that the remains were Christine’s. She had been pregnant at the time of her murder, making the crime particularly heinous.
Alcala became a suspect when a photograph of Christine sitting on a motorcycle had been identified by family members within the batch of Alcala’s photography released by investigators. The terrain in the background made it appear that the photograph had been taken in the area Christine’s remains were later uncovered. Prosecutors say that other evidence was also uncovered linking Alcala to the murder. It is unknown whether or not Alcala will be extradited to Wyoming for trial.
Investigators say that while they have been successful in linking the photos to at least one other victim, there’s still the possibility that many more of the Dating Game Killer’s victims will be identified as a result of the photos.