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NY Post
New York Post
9 Sep 2023

NextImg:The true story of how an active serial killer appeared on ‘The Dating Game’

It was supposed to be just another silly episode of “The Dating Game.”

At a taping of the popular TV show in 1978, host Jim Lange introduced three male suitors who were there to be cutely questioned by a single woman, Cheryl Bradshaw, sitting on the other side of a partition.

She was looking for love in all the wrong places.

The studio lights came up on a long-haired man with sunken eyes and a wide grin, who the audience could see but Bradshaw could not.

“Bachelor No. 1 is a successful photographer who got his start when his father found him in the dark room at the age of 13 fully developed,” Lange quipped on the sexually charged ABC hit. “Between takes you might find him skydiving or motorbiking. Please welcome Rodney Alcala!”

Skydiving and motorbiking weren’t the half of it. 

Unbeknownst to Lange, Bradshaw, and the game show’s producers, 35-year-old Alcala was secretly a murderer in the midst of a prolific killing spree across New York, California, and Wyoming. 

Serial killer Rodney Alcala made an appearance on a 1978 episode of “The Dating Game,” and was the chosen bachelor in the end.

Between 1971 and 1979, he took the lives of at least eight people — including children and a pregnant woman — but authorities estimate the actual number of his victims to be more than 100. 

Bradshaw very nearly could have become one. The woman actually chose to go on a date with the monster at the end of the episode.

A new movie about Alcala, his grizzly crimes, and his unusual TV appearance, had its world premiere Friday night at the Toronto International Film Festival. 

Rodney Alcala's victims
Eight of Alcala’s victims are known, but authorities estimate that the man killed over 100 people.
Corbis via Getty Images

Called “Woman of the Hour” and directed by and starring Anna Kendrick, the film should bring renewed attention to the deviant who slayed his many victims during the same decade as Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacy’s more infamous rampages.

“When you go back and look [at the ‘Dating Game’ video], what’s most fascinating is he had already committed a crime,” criminal profiler Pat Brown told CNN. “Raped a little girl. Here is a man portraying himself as a desirable young man when he is a violent sexual predator of children.”

How did a serial killer wind up on a good-time national game show? 

Rodney Alcala on "The Dating Game"
Alcala (left) appeared on “The Dating Game” at the height of his ongoing murder spree.

In the days before the internet, talent background checks were difficult and a basic Google search was impossible. Even so, the husband-and-wife producing team of Mike and Ellen Metzger disagreed about casting Alcala at first. 

Ellen thought the man was attractive and charming, but Mike recalled feeling uneasy about the situation. 

“He had a mystique about him that I found uncomfortable,” Mike told ABC’s “20/20.” 

He was overruled, though, and Alcala made the cut. While the killer’s on-air answers to Bradshaw were typical for the double-entendre-stuffed program, they are chilling in retrospect. 

Cheryl Bradshaw and Rodney Alcala on "The Dating Game."
Cheryl Bradshaw blind-picked Alcala to go on a date with at the end of her episode of “The Dating Game,” but after meeting him decided not to pursue it.
Anna Kendrick
Anna Kendrick plays Bradshaw in “Woman of the Hour,” which she also directed.

“I’m serving you for dinner. What are you called and what do you look like?” the woman asked.

“I’m called the banana and I look good,” Alcala replied. “Peel me.” 

Alcala didn’t lie during his “Dating Game” interview, though. He really was a photographer. What he left out of his biography was that he used his profession to lure unsuspecting women and men into his home and then would brutally kill and sometimes rape them after the photo shoots. 

Born in San Antonio, Texas, and raised in Mexico and California, Alcala is remembered as outgoing and having many friends by those who knew him.

Cornelia Crilley and Ellen Hover
At least two of Alcala’s victims, Cornelia Crilley and Ellen Hover, were murdered in New York State.
Kristy Leibowitz

According to the book “The Dating Game Killer: The True Story of a TV Dating Show, a Violent Sociopath, and a Series of Brutal Murders,” a professor at UCLA, where Alcala was once a student, told the cops that he “wouldn’t hurt a fly.”

Like Bundy, Alcala hid his true tendencies with charisma.   

His earliest known crime was the gruesome assault of 8-year-old Tali Shapiro. He abducted the girl outside her temporary family home at the Chateau Marmont in 1968 by lying that he was a friend of her parents.

At his apartment, he took her picture, brutally bashed her head in, and nearly strangled her to death with a barbell. Thanks to a tip, the police discovered the girl barely alive.

Robin Samsoe
Alcala is said to have lured 12-year-old Robin Samsoe to her death by offering to take her picture while she was biking to ballet class.
Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
Jill Parenteau
Typist Jill Parenteau, 21, was one of Alcala’s victims.

She survived, and her family relocated to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. But Alcala escaped out the back door and soon fled to New York where he applied at NYU under the fake name John Berger. There he studied film under director Roman Polanski.

While living in Manhattan, he raped and murdered TWA flight attendant Cornelia Crilley at her apartment on East 83rd Street. 

Added to the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted List for assaulting Shapiro, Alcala was spotted and arrested in New York and then extradited to California. Despite all that, he was paroled due to an issue with a witness and allowed to leave the state. 

Back in New York in 1977, he killed Ellen Hoover, the 23-year-old daughter of the owner of Ciro’s in West Hollywood. One newspaper headline read “Nightclub Heiress Goes Missing.”

Her bones were found 11 months later in Westchester near the Rockefeller estate.

Rodney Alcala
Alcala would lure unsuspecting men and women to his home by offering to take their photos, before killing them.
MediaNews Group
Rodney Alcala
Alcala died in a California prison in 2021 of unspecified natural causes at age 77.
Bettmann Archive

Alcala’s trail of blood intensified in the late ’70s. In California, he murdered 18-year-old Jill Barcomb, 27-year-old nurse Georgia Wixted, 31-year-old legal secretary Charlotte Lamb, 21-year-old typist Jill Parenteau, and 12-year-old Robin Samsoe. Alcala, police learned, approached Samsoe, who was biking to ballet class, with an offer to take her picture.

After the 1978 “The Dating Game” filming, Bradshaw was saved by her own instincts.

“She said, ‘Ellen, I can’t go out with this guy,” Ellen Metzger recalled to “20/20.” “There’s weird vibes that are coming off of him. He’s very strange. I am not comfortable. Is that going to be a problem?’ 

Daniel Zovatto
Actor Daniel Zovatto plays Alcala in “Woman of the Hour.”
Getty Images

Bradshaw decided to not go through with the date, and only one year later Alcala was charged with the death of Samsoe. He was found guilty in 1980. That verdict was later overturned, the case was retried and then affirmed numerous times, and the killer always remained behind bars. 

The true extent of his horrors only became known beginning in 2003, when investigators started tying Alcala’s DNA to unsolved murders. In addition to his death sentence in California, he was given 25 years to life in 2013 for his New York killings.

Alcala died in a California prison in 2021 of unspecified natural causes at age 77.

Matt Murphy, former Sr. Deputy District Attorney of Orange County, Calif., summed up the surreal ordeal on “20/20.” 

“Looking back it is chilling to realize that this iconic show celebrating love and romance would unknowingly feature a remorseless killer,” he said.