Monday 17 November 2014

American Monsters Volume 3

The lives and horrifying deeds of 12 of America’s most horrific serial killers, including:

Rodney Alcala: who would have thought that the handsome, charming winner of The Dating Game was, in fact, a homicidal maniac. 

Robert Hansen: a big game hunter who turned his attention to hunting humans, turning them loose in the wilderness and telling them to run for their lives.

Kenneth Bianchi & Angelo Buono: two murderous cousins, working together to unleash a reign of unprecedented terror on the women of Los Angeles.

Henry Louis Wallace: the Charlotte Strangler murdered 9 women in a two-year spree that had even FBI profilers baffled.

H. H. Holmes: deadly doctor who built a vast torture castle in Chicago in the late 1800’s, then lured countless young women to their deaths.

Danny Rolling: a brutal bank robber who turned to murder in his spare time, literally tearing his eight victims apart.

Charles Cullen: convicted of 40 murders and suspected of as many as 400. Is he America’s most prolific serial killer?

Derrick Todd Lee: murdered at least seven Baton Rouge women. Amazingly, another serial killer was working the same turf at the time, killing to keep up with Lee’s body count.

Herb Baumeister: family man and successful businessman by day, deadly strangler of gay men by night.

Tommy Lynn Sells: for 20 years he traveled the country, killing at will, until the courage of a ten-year-old girl brought him to justice.

Wayne Williams: The Atlanta Child Killer murdered 29 black children, teenagers and young men over a bloody 23 months. Williams took the fall but doubts still persist over his guilt.

Hadden Clark: a cross-dressing cannibal who was convicted of two murders, but had a trophy stash that suggested many more.

Click the "Read More" link below to read the first chapter of

American Monsters Volume Three

Rodney Alcala

The Dating Game Killer

In September 1978, a handsome, young man by the name of Rodney Alcala appeared as a contestant on a popular TV game show. He was articulate and witty, his somewhat crude brand of humor perfectly suited to the new, racy format of The Dating Game. The smooth-talking Alcala won that episode of the show, earning him a date with bachelorette Cheryl Bradshaw. Wisely, she declined. By that time Alcala had already raped and murdered at least five women.

Rodney James Alcala was born in San Antonio, Texas, in 1943. His father abandoned the family while Rodney was still a boy and he and his two sisters were raised by their mother. The family moved to Los Angeles when he was 12 and he attended high school there, graduating at 17. 

After leaving school, the young Alcala opted for a career in the military and joined the Army, serving as a clerk. He served four years before suffering a nervous breakdown and earning a medical discharge. That was in 1964 and already the first warning signs had appeared. An army psychiatrist described Alcala as an anti-social personality type.

After he was discharged, Alcala returned to L.A. and decided to further his education. He enrolled at UCLA, earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree four years later in 1968. During this time, he also became interested in photography, something he’d soon put to sinister use.

The year after he graduated, Alcala had his first run-in with the law. A passerby spotted him luring an 8-year-old girl into his car, and followed him as he drove the child back to his apartment. After Alcala took the girl inside, the concerned citizen called the police. By the time officers arrived on the scene, Alcala had already knocked the girl unconscious with a metal pipe, and raped her. When they banged on his door, he climbed through a rear window and escaped, leaving the child lying on the bed, comatose and surrounded by photography equipment. She would almost certainly have died had the bystander not alerted the police.

Alcala fled to New York, where he adopted the name John Berger and soon took up with Manhattan’s in-crowd. He lived the life of a playboy, in between attending New York University, and taking a film class taught by acclaimed director Roman Polanski.

During his time in New York he also committed his first known murder. On June 12, 1971, he raped and murdered 23-year-old, TWA flight attendant Cornelia Crilley in her 83rd Street apartment. Police would later speculate that Alcala had befriended the young woman by helping her move into the building, but at the time, her boyfriend, Leon Borstein, was the main suspect. Alcala wasn’t going to stick around until police decided otherwise, he absconded for New Hampshire.

Still using the John Berger alias, he took a job as a counselor at a drama camp near Lake Sunapee. Unfortunately for Alcala, a chance set of circumstances was about to unmask him. During a summer storm, two teenaged camp attendees took shelter from the rain in the local post office. There they saw a wanted poster for a man named Rodney Alcala. It struck the girls that Alcala bore an amazing resemblance to their counselor, John Berger. They reported their suspicions to police, and Alcala was taken into custody.

Alcala was extradited back to California to stand trial for the kidnapping, rape and assault of the 8-year-old. He was found guilty, but the sentence hardly fit the crime. At the time California lawmakers adopted the attitude that sex offenders should be helped rather than incarcerated. For the brutal rape that no doubt scarred his young victim for life, Alcala served just 34 months.

Back on the streets, he was soon up his old tricks again. In 1974, he kidnapped a 13-year-old girl, drove her to an isolated spot near Bolsa Chica State Beach, forced her to smoke marijuana and then tried to rape her. The girl escaped and called the police. Alcala, still on parole for his previous attack on a minor, got another lenient sentence - just two years.  

When he got out, Alcala charmed his parole officer into allowing him to visit relatives in New York. This was in the summer of 1977, the summer of Sam, when David Berkowitz was creating havoc on the streets of New York City. Alcala added his own brand of mayhem to the mix.

During the summer he spent in New York, Ellen Hover, 23, a Manhattan socialite and heiress disappeared. Ellen, daughter of Herman Hover, the owner of legendary Hollywood nightclub, Ciro’s was last seen on July 15, 1977. Her datebook for that day showed that she had an appointment to meet with “John Berger.” 

Ellen Hover’s family hired a private investigator to find her and also took out an ad in the New York Times, asking for information about the mysterious “John Berger.” But, by this time, Alcala had already returned to L.A., and was working as a typesetter for the Los Angeles Times and using his own name again.

It wasn’t until a year later that the FBI got an anonymous tip reminding them that someone by the name of “John Berger” had been arrested in New Hampshire a few years before. Following this lead, the FBI finally tracked Alcala to Los Angeles, and he readily admitted to knowing Ellen, but insisted he had nothing to do with her disappearance. Without evidence to the contrary, investigators had no option but to let him go.

(Ellen Hover’s body would eventually be found on the Rockefeller estate in North Tarrytown, New York, just yards from where Alcala had once held a photo shoot with an aspiring model)

Back in Los Angeles, Rodney wasn’t the only predator on the streets. This was at the height of the Hillside Strangler murders, and Alcala’s next murder was at first blamed on the strangler. 

Jill Barcomb was an 18-year-old runaway, originally from Brooklyn, New York. At barely five-feet tall and weighing less than 100 pounds she looked younger than her age, and perhaps that is what attracted Alcala to her. He picked her up on Sunset Boulevard and drove her into the Hollywood Hills. There he raped her, beat her on the head with a rock, and finally strangled her to death. Then he posed her in a kneeling position. Her body was discovered by a film crew in November 1977.

Just a month later, Georgia Wixted, a 27-year-old nurse, was discovered dead in her Malibu apartment. The previous evening, she’d driven a co-worker home from a bar. When she didn’t show up for work the next day, the co-worker reported her missing. Police arrived at her apartment to find signs of forced entry, and found Wixted posed naked on her bedroom floor. She’d been strangled, and her skull had been caved in with a hammer. She’d also been sexually assaulted and her genitals had been mutilated.

Six months later, Alcala struck again. In June 1978, Charlotte Lamb, an attractive, 32-year-old legal secretary from Santa Monica, was found dead in the laundry room of her apartment building. There were many similarities to the Wixted homicide. Lamb had been raped, beaten and strangled, and was posed with her hands behind her back.

Alcala had been interviewed by the Hillside Strangler Task Force just weeks before he raped and killed Charlotte Lamb. The questioning was routine - they were interviewing all known sex offenders in the area. While Alcala wasn’t considered a suspect, the officers did find him in possession of marijuana and he served a short prison term on the drugs charge.

He was out in time to make his appearance on The Dating Game in September.

In February 1979, Rodney Alcala picked up a 15-year-old hitchhiker in Riverside County. He took her to his apartment where, according to his later confession, they had consensual sex. The next morning, he drove with her into the mountains where he took some nude photographs of her. But something made the girl panic and as she tried to get away from him, he beat and then raped her. Inexplicably, given Alcala’s M.O., he later drove the girl back to Riverside and released her. She immediately reported the abduction and rape to the police. Alcala was arrested and then bailed by his mother.

Awaiting trial on the rape charge, Alcala committed two more murders in June 1979. The first was Jill Parenteau, last seen alive when she left work early to attend a baseball game. When she didn’t show up the next day, friends reported her missing. Police checking on her apartment found the 21-year-old dead on her bathroom floor. She’d been sexually assaulted, beaten and strangled. Her assailant had posed her body suggestively, using pillows to prop her up. There were signs of forced entry to the apartment and her killer had cut himself climbing in through a window. Blood evidence matching only 3% of the population did not finger Rodney Alcala as the perpetrator, but it didn’t rule him out either.

Just weeks later, on June 20, 1979, 12-year-old Robin Samsoe from Huntington Beach, disappeared on her way to a ballet class. Earlier in the day, Robin’s neighbor, Jacky Young, had chased a man away who’d been pestering Robin and a friend, trying to get them to pose for him in their swimsuits. Several other teenaged girls testified that a man had approached them on the beach that day asking them to pose for photographs. They later identify that man as Rodney Alcala.

Twelve days after Robin Samsoe disappeared, William Poepke, a park ranger, found her decomposing remains in the foothills of the Sierra Madres. A kitchen knife was found nearby but the level of decomposition meant it was impossible to determine whether she’d been raped. 

With positive identification from several witnesses putting Alcala at the scene of Robin Ramsoe’s abduction, police moved in and arrested him on July 24, 1979. They then obtained a search warrant for his mother’s house where they found a receipt for a storage locker in Seattle. Inside the locker they found hundreds of photographs of young girls. They also found a pair of gold earrings allegedly worn by Robin Samsoe on the day she went missing. A second pair of earrings, would be traced to Charlotte Lamb, and would later prove to carry traces of her DNA.

With the evidence from the storage locker and the testimony of several eyewitnesses, prosecutors brought Alcala to trial for the murder of Robin Samsoe. Alcala claimed an alibi, one that was backed up by his mother and two sisters. He claimed that he was at Knott’s Berry Farm that day, applying for a job as a photographer. Phone records were produced to prove that a call had been made from that location to his mother’s house, but there was no proof that he’d been the one who’d actually made the call. And anyway, the jury wasn’t buying it. They found Alcala guilty of first-degree murder, and recommended the death penalty.

However, the story doesn’t end there, because Alcala’s conviction was overturned by the California Supreme Court in 1984. He was then retried for the same offence, again found guilty and again overturned - this time by the U.S. Supreme Court of Appeals.

Alcala must have thought he had a charmed life, must have thought (like many serial killers) that he was invincible. However, unfortunately for Alcala, his earlier crimes were about to catch up with him.  

At the time that he committed the Barcomb, Wixted, Lamb and Parenteau murders, DNA technology was not yet available as an investigative tool. Now though, investigators were able to process trace elements collected from those scenes and positively link them to Rodney Alcala.

In 2010 he went on trial for the murders of Robin Samsoe, Jill Barcomb, Georgia Wixted, Charlotte Lamb and Jill Parenteau. Alcala conducted his own defense and produced some bizarre evidence, including a video of his appearance on The Dating Game, and an extract from Arlo Guthrie’s song, “Alice’s Restaurant Massacre.” He also urged jurors not to seek the death penalty. “You know I’ll fight it,” he said. “A life sentence will probably be easiest for everyone.” 

The jury disagreed. On February 25, 2010, he was found guilty on five counts of first-degree murder and sentenced to death for each of the crimes.  

He remains a “person of interest” in the murders of Ellen Hover and Cornelia Crilley in New York in the 1970s. Police in several states including Washington, and New Hampshire are looking into unsolved homicides committed there, which bear Rodney Alcala’s unique signature.

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