A DATE WITH DEATH
“Love, the priceless possession I try to find. It’s not in my body, it’s in my mind.”-Jill Barcomb, murdered by Rodney Alcala
GROWING UP ALCALA
Rodrigo Jacques Alcala Buquor was born August 23, 1943, in San Antonio, Texas. He is infamously known as Rodney James Alcala. His parents, Raoul Alcala Buquor and Anna Maria Gutierrez, had four children. When Rodney was eight, the family relocated to Mexico. Raoul abandoned his wife and children in 1953. When it became clear that Raoul would not return, Anna and her children moved to Los Angeles to build a better life.
Rodney joined the U.S. Army when he was 17-years-old. He worked there as a clerk until he had a nervous breakdown. During his mental break, he went AWOL and hitchhiked to his mother’s home. Once the Army caught up with him, they performed a psychological evaluation and diagnosed Rodney with Antisocial Personality Disorder
Tali Shapiro was eight years old and walking to school in Hollywood. A man driving a beige car approached and asked if she needed a ride. She told the man that she doesn’t talk to strangers. He convinced her that he knew her family and that he was safe. Tali got into the stranger’s car against her better judgment. That stranger was Rodney Alcala.
Unbeknownst to Rodney, a neighbor was watching this interaction. This suspicious citizen followed the car to Rodney’s Hollywood apartment and watched as the little girl followed him in. He called the police.
Tali has no memory of what happened inside of that apartment, but LAPD Officer Chris Comacho will never forget. When he knocked on the door, Rodney poked his head out of a side window and said he was showering. “You have ten seconds!” Camacho warned. On the 11th second, Camacho kicked the door open. A pair of white Mary-Jane shoes rested on the floor next to a little girl who appeared dead. Tali lay in a pool of her blood with a metal bar across her neck. Assistant District Attorney Matt Murphy remarked that the amount of blood was appeared to be more than that small girl could have had in her entire body. Suddenly, Tali coughed. She was rushed to the hospital in a coma but recovered physically. Tali was brutally raped, beaten, and strangled. Detective Steve Hodel found Rodney’s identification from UCLA and contacted the FBI.
LIFE AS JOHN BERGER
By the time the officers entered his home, Rodney had escaped through the back door and disappeared. He fled to New York and assumed the name, John Berger. He enrolled in NYU Film School in 1968 and studied under Roman Polanski. By this time, the FBI added Rodney to their most wanted list. Still, Rodney was able to move through life freely as John Burger. He even gained employment as an art and drama counselor at an all-girls summer camp.
He graduated from NYU in June of 1971 and began his third year at the summer camp. In New York, Rodney experimented with photographing young women. An FBI poster with his picture circulated eastward. Kids at the camp recognized the man in the poster as John Berger. The camp director called the FBI and told them that the man listed as Rodney Alcala on their poster was his employee.
The FBI arrested Alcala without delay. They had all the evidence they needed to convict him on child molestation, rape, and attempted murder. However, the Shapiro family moved their daughter to Mexico to shield her from any further pain a trial might cause. She was unavailable to testify. Rodney accepted a plea deal and served three years for child molestation. In August of 1974, he was released.
After prison, Rodney got a job as store photographer throughout Los Angeles County. Two months after his release, he abducted a 13-year-old girl and forced her to smoke marijuana with him. This time he was caught by a park ranger who arrested him. He served time for violating parole and contributing to the delinquency of a minor. June 6, 1977, he was paroled again.
Rodney was paroled again on June 6, 1977, and found work with L.A. Times as a typesetter. 18-year-old Jill Barcomb of In Oneida, NY, graduated high school that year. Her aunt, Arlene, remembers Jill as a bubbly little girl, with an emphasis on the word little; she couldn’t have weighed more than 90lbs. She decided to move to California. November 10, 1977 police found her remains near the “Hollywood” sign. She was in a seated position, knees to chest and nude from the waist down. She was raped, beaten, and strangled with blue pants. Police made a quick identification but didn’t know who killed her.
December 16, 1977, a woman from Malibu, CA, was found dead in her home. Like Jill, she had been beaten, raped, and strangled to death. Her name was Georgia Wixted.
June 24, 1978, police found Charlotte Lamb murdered in the laundry room of an apartment building in El Segundo, CA. She was raped and strangled with a shoelace.
Almost exactly a year later on June 14, 1979, Rodney strangled a woman named Jill Parenteau inside of her apartment in Burbank, CA.
Six days later, Rodney visited Huntington beach. Robin Samsoe and her friend Bridget, both age 12, were sitting on a cliff overlooking the beach. He approached the girls and asked to photograph them. They were thoroughly put off by the strange man with long curly hair and scraggly clothes.
A neighbor, Jackelyn Young, was at the beach also and witnessed the interaction. When she asked the girls if they were alright, Rodney panicked and darted away. Jackelyn was unsettled, so she walked the girls back to Bridget’s apartment. Robin had ballet practice anyway. Bridget lent Robin her bike and told her to leave and not stop for any reason. Robin never made it to ballet class.
Robin’s mother reported the missing girl to police, and a search followed. Bridget described the stranger who took their photo to a forensic artist. Detectives distributed the composite sketch widely to the media and other police stations.
June 20, 1979, United States Forestry worker, Dana Crappa, noticed a blue Datsun F10 parked at a turnout off of Santa Anita Canyon Road. She witnessed a slender man with long curly hair pushing a young blonde girl toward a dry creek bed. She made eye contact with him as she rounded the curve, but didn’t intervene. The next day, she drove to her barracks as usual.
The Datsun F10 was back. The man was there also and leaning against a boulder. His clothes appeared dirty, but again, she remained silent.
Dana returned to the location five days later. The stench of death struck her the instant she exited her vehicle. Dana walked toward the dry creek bed and noticed articles of clothing on the ground. Then she found Robin’s mutilated body. She didn’t report this finding either and left Robin’s remains where they laid.
On day 12 of the search, Dana’s coworker stumbled across Robin’s remains, which were then only bones. The police took these bones into evidence along with a blood-stained tennis shoe with the name “Robin” on it, and some bloody leaves and rocks. They also located a kitchen knife at the scene, brand name Kane Kut. The remains were too decomposed to distinguish Robin’s cause of death or tell if she was raped. Robin suffered a severe beating. Her broken teeth indicated a hard blow to the mouth. There was no evidence, at the time, that connected her murder with Rodney.
NEW YORK VICTIMS
June 24, 1971, Cornelia Michel Crilley was found deceased in her Manhattan Apartment. She was 23 years old.
Rodney was not permitted to leave the state of California as a parolee in 1977. Still, he desired to return to New York to continue his work photographing women. His parole officer wouldn’t allow it but did approve his request to visit relatives in New York City during the summer of 1977. That July, a woman named Ellen Hover was missing. She was last seen alive with a photographer named John Berger.
Police connected the names and asked Rodney to take a polygraph test. He refused. Later, another model surfaced. Rodney, posing as Berger, had taken her photograph too. And where did he take her? To Rockefeller Estate, within 100 feet of where Ellen’s bones would be found 11 months after her disappearance.
A DATE WITH DEATH
September 13, 1978, Rodney was in between the murders of Charlotte Lamb and Jill Parenteau. On this day, he made an appearance on “The Dating Game” as bachelor number one. The bachelorette, Cheryl Bradshaw, picked Rodney as the winner. After spending time backstage, Cheryl declined the date. Some have commented that this rejection caused him to commit the next series of murders. Truthfully, Rodney was a murderer before the show and remains one today. Women are not obligated to date weird men to prevent them from killing others. Her instincts likely saved her life.
Rodney transformed himself after the murder of Robin. He cut his trademark hair and told his girlfriend he wanted to move to Texas to start a photography business. Rodney left to Seattle and rented a storage locker. When he returned, he refused to tell anyone where he’d been. Rodney convinced his girlfriend he was going to Texas but said to other friends his destination was Chicago. On July 14, 1979, police finally arrested Rodney before he vanished again.
Police impounded his car and searched his residence. They found a receipt for his storage unit. They didn’t seize the receipt but copied down the information it contained. They returned the next day to confiscate it, but it was gone. The most damning evidence they found was a set of Kane Kut Knives.
Law enforcement obtained a warrant to seize the storage locker in Seattle. They used a key discovered in Rodney’s car to open the padlock. Inside, they found box upon box of unnerving photographs of women and children, some of a sexual nature.
Photos found in Rodney Alcala storage locker
Deputy District Attorney Matt Murphy is asking for the public's help in identifying the women, young men, and children…
There was also a box of used earrings that Rodney kept as trophies. Robin’s mother claimed a pair of gold ball earrings he had were her own. Robin wore them frequently, and she had been unable to find them since the day she went missing.
On July 28, 1979, Rodney was arraigned in Orange County, California for the murder of Robin Samsoe. He pled innocent to all charges and was held without bail. The Samsoe hearing started in September, and he was convicted. Rodney was sentenced to die in California’s gas chamber in 1980.
The California Supreme Court overturned the verdict because the prosecution showed jurors evidence regarding Rodney’s previous sexual offenses. He was tried a second time in 1986, past crimes omitted. The judge, again, sentence Rodney to death; a decision the Supreme Court upheld unanimously.
In 2001, Rodney’s death sentence was overturned a third time. This time, by a federal appellate court who thought significant evidence had been held back during the previous two trials. As preparations were underway for a new trial, investigators were busy sequencing Rodney’s DNA. His DNA was matched to biological material at the scene of four more murders: Jill Parenteau, Charlotte Lamb, Georgia Wixted, and Jill Barcomb.
There would be one trial for these five murders. Rodney was allowed to represent himself. He asked and answered questions in two different voices, submitted his memoir as evidence, and played clips of himself on The Dating Game. In 2010, Rodney was convicted. Again. Sentenced to die. Again.
A box of photographs sits in an evidence room in Huntington Beach, CA. The subjects beg to be identified.