On Sept. 25, 1969, second grader Tali Shapiro was walking to school along Hollywood's Sunset Boulevard when a car pulled up alongside her. The driver, 25-year-old UCLA fine arts student Rodney Alcala, asked her if she wanted a ride.
“I told him I didn’t talk to strangers,” said Tali about the Sept. 25, 1969 encounter. “That is when he told me he knew my parents. I really didn’t want to get into the car but I was raised to respect my elders. I didn’t know to fear people.”
The suspicious event raised the concern of a good Samaritan who saw Tali climbing into the vehicle with the shaggy-haired young man. The good Samaritan followed Alcala as he drove to his nearby apartment, and then the man called the police.
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When police arrived, Alcala didn’t answer the door until an officer threatened to kick it down. He then appeared at the window claiming he was in the shower. The officer busted down the door and found Tali, severely injured on the floor. Alcala was gone, escaping out the back door.
At the time, police didn't know they'd let a budding serial killer slip through their grasp.
The attack on Tali, who is featured this week on ABC’s 20/20 about the notorious serial killer, marked the beginning of Alcala’s reign of terror that spanned more than a decade. During that time, Alcala, who appeared in 1978 as Bachelor Number One on the hit show, The Dating Game, and won, preyed on young women, luring some of them by telling them he was a professional photographer who wanted to enter their pictures in a photography contest. After killing them, Alcala placed their bodies in grotesque poses, sometimes photographing them.
Alcala was convicted in 1980 for the murder of 12-year-old Robin Samsoe, who vanished on her bicycle on her way to ballet class and whose remains were found in the foothills above Sierra Madre, a city in Los Angeles County.
But his conviction was overturned twice on different technicalities before he was finally sentenced to death in 2010 for her murder as well as the 1970s rapes and murders of Georgia Wixted, Jill Parenteau, Charlotte Lamb, and Jim Barcomb.
While on California's death row, Alcala pleaded guilty in 2012 to the rape and murder of TWA flight attendant Cornelia Crilley and Ciro's nightclub heiress Ellen Hover, whose remains were found on the Rockefeller Estate in Westchester County in New York.
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Alcala was in the news again in 2016 when he was charged with murder in the death of 28-year-old Texas native Christine Ruth Thornton. Alcala met Thornton in San Antonio around August 1977 and then allegedly dumped her body on a ranch in Granger, Wyoming. She was strangled to death.
Alcala, 77, is currently being held at California State Prison, Corcoran.
The two-hour 20/20 airs on Friday, January 8 at 9:00 p.m. ET on ABC.
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