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For four decades, victims awaited justice for one of the most sadistic and prolific serial killers in American history.
The death last week of Rodney James Alcala, 77, in a California hospital was welcomed by victim advocates, though many considered Alcala's demise a mockery of the state's toothless death penalty.
Jurors on three occasions prescribed execution for Alcala, who was convicted of killing four women and a 12-year-old girl in California during the 1970s but is believed to have had many more victims.
“I’m glad he’s dead. Rodney Alcala is a monster, and if there is a hell, he is in the deepest, darkest part of it right now,” said former Orange County Deputy District Attorney Matt Murphy, who prosecuted Alcala in his final trial. "I heard he had a pacemaker and dementia."
“I just hope it was painful.”
Deputy District Attorney Matt Murphy in court. H. Lorren Au Jr./AP
Even after his conviction, Alcala refused to divulge clues to hundreds of unidentified female photographs found in a Seattle storage locker he rented. Authorities have long believed many of the girls and women in the photos were Alcala's victims.
"Though I consider it rude to speak ill of the dead, his passing on in to the gates of hell will be a well deserved journey," wrote Bruce Barcomb on Facebook. Alcala was convicted of killing Barcomb's sister, Jill Barcomb.
"This sociopath chose not to work with authorities for the betterment of society and his victims. MAY HE NOT RIP."
Like Alcala, fellow torture killers Richard "Night Stalker" Ramirez and Lonnie “Grim Sleeper” Franklin died of natural causes on death row. By some estimates, the trio killed more than 200 people — only to avoid the gallows.
Even though voters twice upheld capital punishment ballot measures, the state's last execution was in 2006. Current Gov. Gavin Newsom placed a moratorium on executions immediately after he took office in 2019.
“There really is no death penalty in the state of California — between the 9th Circuit, circuit and federal judges, the current governor, and weak anti-death penalty attorneys general,” said Steve Cooley, who served as Los Angeles County District Attorney from 2000-2012. "Someone like Alcala escaped true justice.”
Alcala, who was known as "The Dating Game Killer" for an appearance on the 1970s game show, frustrated police, victims, and justice itself during his life.
Deputy district attorney Matt Murphy reacts quietly after the jury recommended death in the penalty phase of the trial for convicted serial killer Rodney James Alcala Tuesday afternoon March 9, 2010 in Santa Ana, Calif. Relatives of four women and a 12-year-old girl who were brutally slain in the late 1970s exploded in applause Tuesday as the jury recommended death for Rodney Alcala, a convicted serial killer whose bizarre defense strategy included lyrics from an Arlo Guthrie song and showing an episode of "The Dating Game." (AP Photo/Sam Gangwer, Pool) SAM GANGWER/ASSOCIATED PRESS
His first verified victim was 8-year-old Tali Shapiro in 1968 in Los Angeles, who was raped and nearly beaten to death with a steel bar. He fled to New Hampshire and was captured when alert teenagers saw Alcala's photo on an FBI's Most Wanted List poster. He had been working as a girls day camp counselor.
Retired LAPD homicide detective Steve Hodel recalled bringing Alcala back to Los Angeles, where he was convicted in 1972 of attacking Shapiro.
Rodney Alcala California Dept. of Corrections
"No problem, he’s off the streets for at least 15-20 [years],” Hodel said he remembered thinking. But less than two years later, a prison psychologist determined Alcala was no longer a danger to society. He was released and promptly launched a murderous spree that lasted until his arrest in 1979.
Alcala's modus operandi was to tell young women and girls that he was a professional photographer to coax them into posing for him. Murphy said Alcala would typically beat and choke them until they blacked out. When they regained consciousness, he would repeat the process for hours until finally killing them.
His final victim was Robin Samsoe, a 12-year-old girl from Huntington Beach who disappeared on her way to ballet class. Her friends told police that a stranger had asked to take their pictures, and a sketch made from their descriptions led police to Alcala and the storage locker.
Alcala was convicted and received a death sentence in 1980, which was overturned by the California Supreme Court. It ruled jurors had been improperly told about a New York murder, evidence that would be admissible today.
In a 1986 retrial, Alcala was again convicted and sentenced to death. But the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the case because jurors weren't told of Alcala's claims that he was 10 miles away when the Samsoe killing happened, Murphy said.
Orange County moved for a third trial in 2003, adding four additional Los Angeles victims based on newly discovered DNA evidence. Alcala's lawyer's fought the new case all the way to the state Supreme Court, and the trial didn't get underway until 2010 — with Alcala acting as his own attorney, to the horror of victims forced to speak to him from the witness stand.
The jury convicted Alcala of all five murders, and in March 2010, he was again sentenced to death. Murphy accomplished what no other trial prosecutor could: He made the sentence stick.
Like 700 other inmates, Alcala was awaiting execution when Newsom suspended the death penalty.
Rodney Alcala final photo California Dept. of Corrections
"Nobody factors in what these families go through as these guys sit on death row and nothing happens," Murphy said. "For someone to be there, it's not a normal murder. The crimes are shockingly horrendous, and there is zero doubt they did it."
Two years after his latest conviction, Alcala pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life in prison for killing a flight attendant and an heiress in New York. And in 2016, prosecutors in Wyoming charged Alcala with murdering a pregnant woman in the desert based on photographs contained in his storage locker. The photos remain in the custody of Huntington Beach police and are considered open cases.
“He was a true monster," Hodel said. "He was an extreme sadist and enjoyed getting his hands bloody torturing people. They don’t get any worse than him, so I’m relieved his presence isn’t on this Earth anymore.”
Shapiro agreed that the world is a better place with Alcala dead, even though he wasn’t executed.
“At least he suffered in a not-so-nice jail," she said. "Karma is a b****.”
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Original Author: Tori Richards