Could the trial of alleged “Dating Game” serial killer Rodney Alcala possibly get any stranger? Yep, it can. Alcala, who is representing himself as he faces the possible death penalty in an Orange County court, took the stand Tuesday and began asking questions of himself, in third-person, about the 1979 murder of 12-year-old Robin Samsoe, who he has twice been convicted of killing.
The bizarre self-questioning unfolding in Santa Ana this week had been anticipated with dread by horrified family members of his victims, who the Weekly interviewed extensively before the trial began. A contingent of reporters displayed something closer to fascination, as the packed courtroom watched Alcala play a video portion of the hit 1970's ABC game show “The Dating Game” on which Alcala appeared and was chosen as the winning “Bachelor Number One.”
Alcala, who was wearing a red plaid shirt, blue tie, hiking boots and the same beige jacket he has donned since the trial began three weeks ago, started his interrogation by asking himself a series of questions — about his hair.
“Rodney will you please tell us about your hair?” he said in a deeper, more authoritative tone than he has typically used in his trial. He gave a lengthy answer in which he tried to establish that the thick, wavy, dark hair he sported in 1979 looked different from a composite sketch Huntington Beach police released the dayafter Samsoe disappeared.
He then continued, “Ok, Mr. Alcala, can you tell us what you did June 15?” Alcala, a former UCLA fine arts student and photographer who studied film for a time under Roman Polanski, spent the full day explaining in painstaking detail to the jury what he claims he was doing the day before, the day of, and the days following the murder of the tiny Huntington Beach ballet student, Samsoe.
Orange County Superior Court Judge Francisco Briseno had warned the jury that Alcala's insistence on acting as his own attorney in this trial for his life would create situations that were “tad awkward.''
How true that proved.
It is hard to imagine a more twisted serial killer case than the one unfolding in Santa Ana. Alcala was a convicted child rapist who somehow got a job as a Los Angeles Times typesetter, where he was working when the LAPD questioned him in the 1970s as a possible Hillside Strangler suspect. Even as the Times was publishing its sensational 1970s-era articles about the mysterious Hillside Strangler who terrorized much of Los Angeles, Alcala was being questioned by the LAPD in those murders.
Court onlookers surmise that Alcala was quite possibly setting the type of breaking-news headlines about the Hillside Strangler, later identified as Kenneth Bianchi and Angelo Buono, while police were actively considering Alcala as a suspect.
Alcala is not only being tried for a third time for the brutal murder of Samsoe, but he is also defending himself against new charges as a previously undetected serial killer who allegedly murdered key punch operator Jill Parenteau, runaway Jill Barcomb, legal secretary Charlotte Lamb and Malibu nurse Georgia Wixted between 1977 and 1979 in Los Angeles County.
New York City detectives believe the 66-year-old, bespectacled Alcala is also responsible for the cold-case murders of flight attendant Cornelia Crilley and Manhattan socialite Ellen Jane Hover, whose disappearance decades ago sent fear through the jet sets in New York City and Los Angeles among whom Hover traveled.
On Tuesday, Alcala focused on building his alibi for the Samsoe killing and did not tell the jurors his whereabouts on the days that Parenteau, Barcomb, Lamb and Wixted were found savagely killed.
Alcala claimed that on June 20, 1979 – the day Samsoe disappeared – he stopped by a friend's house in Seal Beach who wasn't home, drove to Sunset Beach where he took photos of a bikini-clad teenager on roller skates around 19th Street and Pacific Coast Highway, then returned to his friend's house. Later, he claimed, he made his way to Knott's Berry Farm where he applied for a job as a photographer at a disco contest. After that, he spent the rest of the day and night at his mother's house in Monterey Park.
The day before Samsoe's disappearance, Alcala testified he was focused on a typical day involving his sister's children: “I dropped off the kids and my sister wasn't ready, so I took the kids to McDonald's.” He then asked with conviction, “Mr. Alcala, what did you do after you left?”
Amateur defense attorney Alcala stumbled several times, mixing up exhibit numbers and delving into minute details about camera lenses and camera speeds. He pulled out old copies of the Recycler classified ad circular, and read aloud ads in which he claims he was selling barbells, a film processor and bedroom furniture.
His point, he said, was to prove that he was planning to leave California before Samsoe's murder and that's why he rented a storage locker in Seattle soon after she disappeared. (Police followed a trail of clues to the Seattle locker, where they discovered hundreds of photos of naked women and girls as well as a “trophy” pouch that police allege contains the earrings of several women he killed.)
Alcala also spent court time talking about how he calculated the sun's angle to pinpoint the exact time he took photographs of the roller-skating teenager the day Robin Samsoe vanished nearby. He told the judge he was qualified to make such a calculation because he took geometry and trigonometry in high school and a math class in college. “I got good grades in math…It takes no expertise and is well within my range of technology,” he said to the judge.
Orange County Senior Deputy District Attorney Matt Murphy objected but withdrew it when Alcala put himself at the beach at 2:22 p.m., within a hour of Samsoe's time of disappearance, and just a few miles from where she vanished while riding a borrowed bicycle.
Close to 4 p.m. on Tuesday, Alcala played a portion of “The Dating Game” to show the jury that he was wearing gold earrings. He has continuously argued that the earrings found in the “trophy pouch” were his, and were not owned by Robin Samsoe's mother — who testified earlier in the trial that the gold earrings found by police in the Seattle locker were hers.
If you haven't seen Alcala charming the contestant on The Dating Game, here you go: