One of the scariest thing about serial killers, those predators who lurk about on the periphery preying on their own kind, is just how normal some of them seem on the surface. Indeed, some of the most successful and notorious serial killers of history are notable for just how personable and amiable they were in person, this superficial charm helping them immensely in their grim work. By all accounts such infamous monsters as Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer were very charming and easy to talk to in life, far from the cold-eyed, deviant creep one might suspect when making their acquaintance. These deviants could be anyone, and seem to be able to blend into society perfectly. One case of this that has managed to become quite an unsettling example is the time a very prolific serial killer and complete monster managed to get onto one of the most popular dating shows on the planet, and not only that, he won.
The man born as Rodney James Alcala is maybe not as well known as some of the more notorious serial killers such as Ted Bundy or Jeffrey Dahmer, but he is certainly just as bad. Throughout the course of his grim killing spree he would ruthlessly rape, torture, and murder at least seven young women in California and New York under the guise of being a professional photographer, quite possibly dozens more. He was known as being particularly sadistic in his killings, often strangling a woman until she passed out, reviving her, and then starting the process over again, until she was dead. He was a cold hearted monster, but by all accounts a very personable and charming fellow to those who had no idea of his secret life, and this is probably best illustrated by the time he turned up on an episode of The Dating Game.
For younger readers and those who don’t know, The Dating Game was a gameshow that ran from the 1960s through the 1980s, and which usually involved a panel of three male bachelors vying for the attention of a single female “bachelorette.” The bachelors were typically hidden from view behind a partition and the bachelorette would ask them various questions, ranging from the mundane to the decidedly saucy, and based on their answers she would choose one of them to go an on all expense paid date with. On some occasions the roles were reversed, but it was always mostly the same format. The show was typically saturated with innuendo, and would over its run attract excellent ratings, and was also frequented by a whole host of people who would go on to become famous, including such names as Farrah Fawcett, Suzanne Somers, Yvonne Craig, Lindsay Wagner, Leif Garrett, Tom Selleck, Lee Majors, The Carpenters, Jackson Bostwick, Michael Richards, Joanna Cameron, Andy Kaufman, Steve Martin, Burt Reynolds, John Ritter, Phil Hartman, Jennifer Granholm, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. In this case, it would have someone who would go onto be famous for decidedly more nefarious reasons.
Rodney Alcala appeared on a September 13, 1978 episode, looking just about as dapper and cheesy as one could imagine for the time period. The host introduces him as “a successful photographer, who got his start when his father found him in the darkroom at the age of 13, fully developed.” It was typical fare for the program at the time, and it went on as usual, with the bachelorette, Cheryl Bradshaw, firing off questions such as “I am serving you for dinner—what are you called, and what do you look like?” to which Alcala responded, “I’m called the banana and I look really good… Peel me.” Cue laughter from the audience. It is all very inappropriate for modern times and completely cheesy, but all in good fun and harmless unless you remember that by the time he appeared on this show Alcala, unbeknownst to anyone, had already killed at least four women and was well into his murder spree. You can see his appearance here. What makes it even more amazing is that, while not known as a serial killer yet, he was already a convicted rapist and registered sex offender on parole at the time, making one wonder how he managed to squirm his way onto the show to begin with.
By all accounts Alcala was perfectly witty and funny during his exchanges with Bradshaw, utilizing the same superficial charm that made him such a successful killer, and the lively atmosphere of the show and old fashioned cheesy vibe only serve to add a layer to the unsettling creepiness of it all. Alcala would eventually charm his way into Bradshaw’s heart, and he ended up winning the show and the date, in victory saying, “We’re going to have a great time together, Cheryl.” However, Bradshaw had second thoughts after actually talking to him backstage, and backed out of the date, saying “I started to feel ill. He was acting really creepy. I turned down his offer. I didn’t want to see him again.” Other contestant bachelors shared this sentiment, with one of the other contestants, Bachelor number two Jed Mills saying of Alcala, “He was a real creepy guy, a real idiot. This creep comes up and he puts his face practically in my face, and he says: ‘I always get the girl.”
It is lucky that Bradshaw turned him down, because it seems by all accounts that she very well could have turned up his next victim. In fact, police believe that being spurned by the bachelorette upset Alcala so much that he would take out his wrath by murdering a further three victims after the appearance on the show. He would eventually be captured and convicted for the murders of several women, receiving a life sentence, but authorities think there are likely many, many more. Making it even more ominous is that Alcala was found to be in possession of a vast collection of over 1,000 photographs of many largely anonymous women and teenaged girls, of which some were found to have been victims of Alcala. Many of these people have still not been identified, nor has it been established just what his relationship to them was, making it all rather ominous.
Alcala would eventually be arrested and charged in 2010 after decades of other trials in which he had managed to get off the hook through appeals, and he was subsequently sentenced to the death for five counts of first-degree murder, including that of 13-year-old Robin Samsoe, and there have been new charges since, as police go through his mysterious macabre photo collection. To this day Alacala’s true total victim count remains unknown, but is possibly well over 100 between the years of 1978 and his capture, and it is quite possible the full extant of his depravity remains largely hidden. By some accounts he might very well be one of the most prolific serial killers in history. His appearance on such a famous show would earn Alcala the nickname “The Dating Game Killer,” and it is truly a sobering thought that this human monster could manage to end up on such a well-viewed venue without anyone being none the wiser. It just shows that these vile individuals can manage to infiltrate everyday life with a cunning efficiency that is truly frightening, and you never can be too sure just who is a psycho murderer. The story of the Dating Game Killer is a sobering one, and definitely a true historical oddity.