In September of 1978, 37-year-old actor Jed Mills took a one-day gig that paid well. His role was playing Bachelor Number Two on the ABC hit "The Dating Game." Although Mills wasn't picked by bachelorette Cheryl Bradshaw, he did make a fast $400.
The winner was Bachelor Number One, a handsome professional photographer named Rodney Alcala, and at the time a typesetter with the Los Angeles Times. He was not an actor getting paid for the episode but a guy looking for a date.
"I was really surprised he won," recalls Mills, the actor who later played the fat-free yogurt shop owner on "Seinfeld," now 69 and living in Valley Village. "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."
Mills, who also made guest appearances on television shows "Baretta" and "Laverne & Shirley," said he spent more than two hours with Alcala sitting in ABC's "green room," drinking soft drinks and trading stories with him and the other bachelor. He recalled Alcala as a man of few words.
"Rodney was kind of quiet," he said. "I remember him because I told my brother about this one guy who was kind of good-looking but kind of creepy. He was always looking down and not making eye contact. Every once in awhile he would spit out things then go back to his aloofness. He was a kind of a creepy guy."
Wells had no idea just how creepy.
Today, Alcala, 66, is on trial in an Orange County Superior courtroom for the rape murders of 12-year-old Huntington Beach ballerina student Robin Samsoe, teen runaway Jill Barcomb, Santa Monica legal secretary Charlotte Lamb, Burbank keypunch operator Jill Parenteau and Malibu nurse Georgia Wixted. So sly was Alcala that prosecutors believe that he brutally murdered them within months of his appearance as winning Bachelor Number One on "The Dating Game."
Barcomb,18, was found rolled up like a ball in a ravine off Mulholland Highway on November 10, 1977. Wixted, 27, was found badly beaten to death in her Malibu apartment on December 16, 1978. Lamb, 32, was found in a laundry room in El Segundo on June 24, 1978. Parenteau, 21, was killed in her Burbank apartment on June 14, 1979.
Police believe he raped, beat and strangled the victims using a pant leg, stockings or a shoe lace, and then posed their bodies in carefully chosen positions.
Ballerina Samsoe disappeared on June 20, 1979. Her animal-ravaged remains were found nine days later. Alcala was arrested for Samsoe's murder on July 24, 1979 at his mother's home in Monterey Park and has been twice sent to Death Row for her murder, but escaped execution and won appeals both times.
Prosecutors say that Alcala was linked through blood and DNA evidence with the Los Angeles County victims starting in 2003.
"I didn't get he was a killer, but I certainly got that he wasn't one of the boys," said Mills, who then joked. "I don't remember what he said. If he told me he was a killer I would have remembered that."
On February 9, a segment of "The Dating Game" was played in the Santa Ana courtroom by Alcala. Alcala, who is representing himself against a potential death penalty conviction, is trying to cast doubt on the prosecution's contention that Robin Samsoe's earrings were found hundreds of miles away from her home, in his Seattle locker. Alcala this week cautioned the jury to watch closely the clip that shows a young Alcala, dressed in a brown polyester suit with a white shirt, whipping his hair back like Farrah Fawcett to blow a kiss to the audience before he begins disco dancing with bachelorette Bradshaw on "The Dating Game."
The point? He is trying to prove that he often wore gold earrings -- even on "The Dating Game" -- and that the earrings found in his Seattle locker are his. If he was wearing gold earrings as Bachelor Number One, it was impossible for audience members at the trial to see them.
"I do not remember him having earrings on," said Mills, of the time he spent with Alcala on stage and in ABC's green room. "If he had earrings on I would have noticed them on him. I fancied myself as being the person who started the tradition of wearing an earring."
Mills said he pierced his own ear after watching a movie where the main character had his ear pierced. Before that "I had never seen a man with an earring in his ear. Anytime I subsequently saw a man with an earring I would say 'I was the man who started men wearing earrings.' Him and I never had that conversation. That would have been the first thing I would have said to him."
Mills, who appeared February 11 on "Inside Edition" to talk about his weird brush with Alcala, said he is mortified that the man he spent a few hours with 32 years ago is on trial for several murders. "The fact that I sat next to him and socialized a bit is kind of morbid. Bizarre."
But as a comedian and actor, he's looking on the bright side. "I have aged a bit, but I don't look as bad as Rodney."
View this clip of Jed Mills on "The Dating Game" in 1978. Watch the full episode with Alcala here.