A prolific serial torture-slayer dubbed “The Dating Game Killer” died Saturday while awaiting execution in California, authorities said. Rodney James Alcala was 77.
He died of natural causes at a hospital in San Joaquin Valley, California, prison officials said in a statement.
Alcala was sentenced to death in 2010 for five slayings in California between 1977 and 1979, including that of a 12-year-old girl, though authorities estimate he may have killed up to 130 people across the country.
Alcala received an additional 25 years to life in 2013 after pleading guilty to two homicides in New York.
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California’s death row is in San Quentin State Prison near San Francisco, but for years Alcala had been housed more than 200 miles away at a prison in Corcoran where he could receive medical care around the clock.
Prosecutors said Alcala stalked women like prey and took earrings as trophies from some of his victims.
“You’re talking about a guy who is hunting through Southern California looking for people to kill because he enjoys it,” Orange County, California, prosecutor Matt Murphy said during his trial.
Investigators say his true victim count may never be known.
Alcala was brought to New York to face charges in 2012 where he pleaded guilty so he could get back to California to pursue an appeal there. The New York charges stemmed from a flight attendant's strangling death in 1971 and the death of a former nightclub owner's daughter.
Alcala had long been suspected in at least one of the Manhattan cases. But he was indicted only in 2011 after the Manhattan district attorney's cold-case unit re-examined the cases, looked at evidence that emerged during the California trial and conducted new interviews with more than 100 witnesses. California authorities had said they were exploring whether Alcala could be tied to cases in New York and other states, and they had released more than 100 photos, found in his storage locker, of young women and girls.
One of the women, Cornelia Crilley, a flight attendant for Trans World Airlines, was found, strangled with a stocking, in her Manhattan apartment in 1971.
The other woman, Ellen Hover, also was living in Manhattan when she vanished in 1977. Her remains were found the next year in the woods on a suburban estate. Hover had a degree in biology and was seeking a job as a researcher, a private investigator for her family said at the time.
Her disappearance and Crilley's death made headlines and spurred extensive searches. TWA offered a $5,000 reward for information about Crilley's killing. Hover's relatives papered walls and kiosks with posters.
A note in Hover's calendar for the day she vanished showed she planned to have lunch with a photographer she had recently met, according to the family's private detective and news reports at the time. Her lunch date's name, authorities later said, was an alias that Alcala used.
Alcala also had been eyed in Crilley's death for at least several years. NYPD detectives investigating her killing went to California in 2003 with a warrant to interview Alcala and get a dental impression from him. A forensic dentist later found that a bite mark on Crilley's body was consistent with Alcala's impression, a law enforcement official has said. The official was not authorized to speak publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Alcala has been behind bars since his 1979 arrest in one of the California killings. Before that arrest, he also served a total of about 4 ½ years in prison on convictions of furnishing marijuana to a minor and kidnapping and trying to kill an 8-year-old girl.
He also had attended college and worked briefly as a typist at The Los Angeles Times, according to a 1979 story in the newspaper.
And he had made his way onto a 1978 episode of "The Dating Game."
Introduced as a photographer with a yen for motorcycling and skydiving, the long-haired, leisure-suited Alcala won the contest. But the woman who chose him over two other contestants ultimately didn't go on a date with him, according to news reports.
Unbeknownst to the TV audience, Alcala was a killer whose attacks were accompanied by sexual abuse and torture, prosecutors would later say.
His conviction in 2011 came after a series of trials, overturned convictions and strange courtroom moments. Acting as his own lawyer, Alcala — whose IQ is said to top 160 — offered a rambling defense that included questioning the mother of one of his victims, showing a clip of his appearance on "The Dating Game" and playing Arlo Guthrie's 1967 song "Alice's Restaurant."