I’ve just started work on the next Charlie George novel (I’ve just signed with Little, Brown in London to write the third and fourth books in the series.)
While researching it continues to astonish me the kind of real life crime stories that are out there.
Like the serial killer who won a TV dating show.
Back in the seventies, long before reality TV like The Bachelorette, Americans watched a different kind of dating show: The Dating Game. It featured a woman asking three men – who sat unseen on the other side of a screen – questions about themselves.
It was outrageously popular – Steve Martin, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ron Howard, Sally Field and even a young Michael Jackson all appeared on the show.
Then, on September 13, 1978, host Jim Lange introduced that day’s Contestant Number One, “a successful photographer, who got his start when his father found him in the darkroom at the age of 13, fully developed.”
He was good-looking with long dark hair, and in his mid-thirties. He was also supremely sure of himself. Before the show he told another contestant: “I always get the girl.’”
This show’s “girl”, Cheryl Bradshaw, asked him on camera: “I am serving you for dinner—what are you called, and what do you look like?”.
His answer: “I’m called the banana and I look really good … peel me.”
It might make you cringe now, but TV was different in those days. Cheryl thought his replies were funny and she chose him as her date.
What she didn’t know then was that her date’s name was Rodney Alcala – and he had just got out of prison following an horrific attack on an eight-year old girl.
For Cheryl, reality TV was about to become a little too real.
In 1968, ten years before appearing on The Dating Game, Alcala had lured eight-year-old Tali Shapiro into his Hollywood apartment. But luckily for her, someone saw him and called the police. By the time they arrived she was still alive – but only just.
Alcala fled to New York. Authorities finally tracked him down and extradited him to California to face court. But Tali’s parents, concerned for their daughter’s state of mind, refused to allow her to testify. Unable to convict him without their primary witness, prosecutors had to let Alcala to plead guilty to the lesser charge of assault.
After serving just thirteen months in jail, he was released and went on a killing spree that would make him one of the worst serial killers in US history.
It was nine months after his appearance on The Dating Game that he was finally caught. A pair of earrings found among Alcala’s possessions tied him to the murder of Robin Samsoe, a 12-year-old girl from Huntingdon Beach who had disappeared on her way to ballet class.
Alcala was tried, convicted, and sentenced to death, but the verdict was overturned on a technicality. It took 6 years to put him back on trial. He was convicted again but in 2001 an appeals court once more overturned the conviction on a further technicality.
Before a third trial could get under way, cold case investigations led to Alcala’s indictment for the murders of four other women in the late nineteen seventies. In February 2010, Alcala stood trial on the five joined charges.
In this third trial, Alcala elected to act as his own attorney, even questioning himself in a bizarre five-hour testimony in which he addressed himself as “Mr. Alcala” in a baritone, and then answered himself in a normal voice.
His theatrics couldn’t save him. In March 2010, Alcala was sentenced to death for a third time.
A year later, a Manhattan grand jury indicted him for the murders of Cornelia Crilley, a TWA flight attendant, in 1971 and Ellen Hover, the daughter of a popular nightclub owner and goddaughter of both Sammy Davis Jr. and Dean Martin.
Seattle police had already named Alcala as a “person of interest” in the unsolved murders of two other teenagers in the same period.
Other cold cases were reportedly targeted for re-investigation in California, New York, New Hampshire and Arizona.
Prosecutors now believe his actual number of victims – including young children – could exceed that of Ted Bundy.
And Cheryl Bradshaw?
After the show he promised her a date “she would never forget.” But something about him set alarm bells ringing. She changed her mind about her choice and later said she left the studio convinced she never wanted to see him again.
The decision almost certainly saved her life.
As for Alcala, he remains in California State Prison to this day awaiting yet further appeals of his death sentences.
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Love great crime stories?
“Lucifer Falls effortlessly merges a shocking serial murderer novel with a police procedural dripping with authenticity.
Packed full of characters you genuinely care about, when DI Charlie George, a richly drawn North London cop, goes toe-to-toe with the deranged killer I didn’t read the last few chapters, I devoured them.
An absolute triumph.” – M.W. Craven, bestselling author of ‘The Puppet Show’ and ‘Body Breaker’ … continue reading