Photographer and onetime Dating Game contestant Rodney Alcala has been on death row in California since 1980 for murdering a 12-year-old girl and four other women. And now a grand jury has indicted him for killing two New York women — Ellen Jane Hover and Cornelia Michel Crilley. Crilley was a TWA flight attendant who was raped and strangled in 1971, and Hover was an aspiring orchestra conductor who disappeared in 1977. Her remains were found a year later.
Their murders were unsolved for decades, but a break in the case came in 2003, when police traveled to California to interview Alcala, who lived in New York in the seventies under the name John Berger and attended New York University. After taking a dental impression from Alcala, police matched bite marks on one of the victims. When they presented him with a warrant, Alcala reportedly said, “What took you so long?”
It’s not clear why the investigation stalled after the dental match, but it was restarted as part of District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr.’s cold-case squad, established in 2010. The squad discovered Alcala’s use of the Berger alias and last year released a trove of photos he had taken of young women.
Hover’s case drew attention at the time of her disappearance, in part because her father was a former nightclub owner with celebrity friends. Sammy Davis Jr. and Dean Martin
were her godfathers.
Perhaps the most terrifying part of the story: In 1978 — after he had already committed several murders —Alcala appeared on The Dating Game and won. On the show he uttered lines like “The best time is at night. That’s the only time there is. That’s when it really gets good.” The woman who picked him on the show later opted out of going on a date with him because she found him creepy. Good call.
This post has been updated with additional information.