Pick Me Up! magazine asked for my professional opinion on Rodney Alcala, also known as ‘The Dating Game Killer,’ a convicted rapist and serial killer sentenced to death in California in 2010 for five murders. Here are my answers to their questions, published on 6th September 2012.
Rodney’s father abandoned him and his family at an early age. How would this have affected Rodney?
Being abandoned by a parent is one of the most devastating experiences a child can have. Often, the child does not understand why they have been abandoned and in an effort to make sense of their situation they blame themselves. They conclude that they were abandoned because of something they did wrong or because of something that is wrong with them. The scars of such trauma can be long-lasting, destroying self-esteem and making children feel unloved and unwanted. Many people who were abandoned as children go on to have abandonment issues in adulthood, making it very difficult for them to trust people or form relationships. Indeed, Rodney did have antisocial personality disorder, suggesting that his experience of abandonment had severely impacted his emotional health and well-being.
He was soon discharged after joining the military because he was diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder. What exactly is this? And how would it affect someone like Rodney on a day-to-day basis?
Antisocial personality disorder is characterised by a blatant disregard for others which manifests through violation of the rights of others. In order to be diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder, such traits need to have started in childhood or early adolescence, continuing into adulthood. Having this diagnosis would have affected Rodney on a day-to-day basis in a number of ways. His behaviour would have been to resist social norms and laws, and he would have been incredibly deceptive and impulsive. Despite a total disregard for the rights of others, Rodney would have experienced no remorse for his crimes.
Rodney was obsessed with film and photography. Is there any significance in this interest of his?
Photography became one way in which Rodney was able to lure in his victim. This has been the case for other serial killers, such as ‘The Measuring Man’ (Albert DeSalvo). This occupation allows these people to hide behind the camera and to obsess over their potential victims without raising any suspicions. In an even more sinister twist, photography became Alcala’s way of collecting mementoes of his crimes, which allowed him to prolong the pleasure of his monstrous acts.
Why was he so sadistic with his victims? He would strangle them to within an inch of their lives and then revive them, only to repeat the process.
There is no doubt that prolonging the suffering of his victims was how Alcala gained the most pleasure from his crimes. This was less about the killing aspect of his crime and more about having someone’s life in his hands. It is likely that he relished having them within an inch of their life and it being within his hands, literally, as to whether they lived or died. Therefore, he would create this aspect of his crimes again and again in order to meet his own sadistic needs.
He also occasionally put his victims in poses. Why would he have done that?
This is where the sexual aspect of Alcala’s crimes comes into play. All of his victims were carefully posed in sexually explicit ways. While murder provided Alcala with control and power, it is likely that continuing to manipulate his victims’ bodies after they were dead provided Alcala with sexual gratification.
His victims were either women or teenage boys? Why was this? Why not solely women, or solely boys?
It is relatively rare for a serial killer to choose such contrasting victims as opposed to having victim preference. It is important to note that Alcala also chose young girls as his victims, include 12-year old Robin Samsoe. For Alcala, this was less about women, boys or girls, and more about choosing victims he could overpower.
In 1978, Rodney applied to appear on a TV dating show. Why would a man like him do a thing like that?
Putting himself in the public eye is something that would have been very tempting for someone like Alcala. People with antisocial personality disorder thrive off lying and deception. What better way to manipulate others into thinking you are someone you are not than by appearing on TV and ‘acting’ like a relatively ‘normal’ male looking for love? For Alcala, it is also likely that he was deceiving himself and allowing himself some time to be a person he could never be.
On the dating show, he was rejected by his fellow contestant. How would rejection have affected Rodney?
Rejection would have revived feelings of abandonment Rodney experienced from his childhood, possibly making him angry and bitter towards his fellow contestant. For Rodney, this rejection was likely to justify his lack of trust further, as well as his increase his disregard for others.