There were already four bodies to his name when he popped up on national TV, smiling with perfect hair. Rodney Alcala, one of the most infamous serial killers in U.S. history, would eventually be arrested and sentenced to death in 1980 for the murder of 12-year-old Robin Samsoe. (He remains in prison in California.) While Alcala’s body count is unknown, police estimate the now-73-year-old man killed at least dozens of women, with some counts running as high as 130 – and there are still over 100 photographs of unidentified women who may have been his victims.
But in 1978, two years before the murder conviction, there he was: Bachelor Number One. He had somehow got on the popular game show The Dating Game despite a 1972 conviction for raping an eight-year-old girl. Tali Shapiro was raped and beaten with a steel bar, but because her parents refused to let her testify at Alcala’s trial, he was paroled in 1974 after spending 34 months in jail on a lesser charge of child molestation.
It would be the first horrific crime of many. Alcala enjoyed photographing his victims – mostly attractive young women – after murdering them and putting their corpses in distorted, grotesque poses. But now donning a sharp, brown suit and butterfly collar, Alcala had other things on his mind: Winning the affection of bachelorette Cheryl Bradshaw.
Watching the clip today, knowing that Bachelor Number One would go on to repeatedly choke his victims to unconsciousness and wait until they came to before killing them, their banter is more terrifying preview than goofy innuendo.
After host Jim Lange introduces “successful photographer” Alcala (“You might find him skydiving or motorcycling!”), Bradshaw asks him, “What’s your best time?” “The best time is at night,” he replies, smiling. “That’s the only time there is. [Morning and afternoon] are okay, but nighttime is when it really gets good.”
The convicted child rapist, then a typesetter at the Los Angeles Times, goes on to do a chilling impression of a “dirty old man.” He also answers a question about what he would be called if he were a meal by stating, “I’m called ‘The banana’ and I look really good. Peel me.” Bradshaw erupts into laughter as the crowd applauds.
Alcala won the game, hardly surprising given his unbridled outward charm. Bradshaw recalled the experience in 2012, telling The Sunday Telegraph that she hoped the game show would lead her to true love. Backstage after the show, however, she saw the real Alcala. The couple won tennis lessons and a trip to Magic Mountain, but Bradshaw declined to go on the date. “I started to feel ill. He was acting really creepy,” she said. “I turned down his offer. I didn’t want to see him again.”
Thirty years after the show aired, Alcala’s competitors both recalled the serial killer’s odd demeanor. “He was kind of a creepy guy,” Jed Mills, the bachelor next to Alcala, said in 2010. (In another insane twist, Mills would go on to play the fat-free yogurt shop owner on Seinfeld.) “The people [in the audience] were actually snickering and even low-murmuring boos as to his answers,” bachelor number three Armand Cerami recalled that year, as well.
Alcala’s death sentence in the Samsoe murder was overturned twice. But in 2010, he was once again sentenced to death for the murder of five women, though authorities have still been unable to pin down a precise victim count. Last month, Alcala, who is currently held at California State Prison, Corcoran, was charged in the 1977 cold case murder of Christine Ruth Thornton.
At the beginning of the Dating Game episode, Lange asks Alcala to say hello so Bradshaw can hear his voice. With a confident tone and wide smile, Alcala tells her, “We’re gonna have a great time together, Cheryl.”
Watch 21st century serial killers you’ve never heard of.