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Notorious 'Dating Game Killer' Linked To 1977 Murder Of Pregnant Woman

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Rodney Alcala was one of Southern California's most notorious serial killers, in part for his creepy appearance on The Dating Game. Though Alcala was convicted of five murders in Southern California, then pleaded guilty to two more in New York, it's never been clear how many people Alcala really killed. Now, thanks to a tip from the victim's sister, police may be able to close a cold case from nearly 40 years ago.Alcala, now 73 year old, has been charged with the murder of Christine Ruth Thornton. Thornton was 28 years old and six months pregnant when prosecutors say she encountered Alcala while on a road trip in Wyoming in 1977, the OC Register reports. Alcala allegedly murdered Thornton, then buried her body at a ranch in Granger, Wyoming. A rancher found Thornton’s body in 1982, but the killing has only recently been linked to Alcala. In 2010, investigators released a database of photographs Alcala had taken of various people. The photos were found in a Seattle storage locker, which police learned about via a receipt they found in his home and when Alcala asked his sister to clear out the locker when she visited him in jail. Huntington Beach police put the photos online, hoping some of the people could be identified and accounted for.

In 2013, Thornton's sister, Kathy Thornton, was browsing the collection and recognized a photo of her sister. In the photo, her sister was sitting on a motorcycle in a bright yellow shirt. Alcala has not admitted to the slaying, saying that Thornton was "alive before I left her." At least 40 other people in Alcala's photo collection have been identified and were found to be alive, but Huntington Beach police Detective Patrick Ellis said, "There are thousands out there that are unidentified. Now, there's one less." (You can see a number of the photos here.)

Rodney Alcala was born in Texas, but grew up in Los Angeles. He studied at the UCLA School of Fine Arts, but fled Los Angeles after raping and beating an 8-year-old girl. He assumed a false name in New York and worked as a camp counselor until two of the children at the camp recognized him from an FBI Most Wanted poster. Alcala was arrested and transported back to California. Because the girl’s family had moved to Mexico and refused to testify, Alcala was able to plead guilty to a less significant change and was free in less than three years. Though he immediately assaulted another young girl, he was released, once again after only two years.

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Alcala took a job as a typesetter at the L.A. Times and in his free time, coerced various people into allowing him to take their photograph, saying he was a fashion photographer. Despite the fact that Alcala had been to prison twice, he scored himself a role as Bachelor #2 on a 1978 episode of The Dating Game. He was introduced as a “successful photographer” and actually managed to win, landing a date with the eligible bachelorette. She, however, determined he was “creepy” and never went on the date. She was right: at that moment in time, Alcala had already murdered at least four women, and would go on to kill more.

Actor Jed Mills, a fellow contestant, recalled meeting him. He told LA Weekly, “I didn’t believe his smile. I didn’t believe his charm and I didn’t like him. I was surprised that I wasn't picked because I know the other guy [Bachelor Number Three] didn't do well, and I didn't like what Rodney did.”

Alcala was caught after murdering a young Huntington Beach girl in 1979. His probation officer suggested it might be Alcala after looking at a composite sketch of the killer, and a police investigation found the girl’s earrings in Alcala’s possession. Since then, DNA evidence has linked Alcala to numerous other crimes. He may be extradited to Wyoming to face trial for Thornton's murder, but either way, Alcala will remain behind bars for life.