Yesterday, serial killer Rodney Alcala was sentenced to death for the third time for the 1979 murder of 12-year old Robin Samsoe. He was also sentenced for the torture-killings of four other women.
Today, the media is reporting brief, painful snippets about the five victims. Many other victims are believed to exist.
Tomorrow, Alcala will undoubtedly begin appealing the sentence again. Why not? The taxpayers of California pay his legal bills: his lawyers have grown fat over the past three decades, helping a serial killer play games with the appeals process. The victims have spent lifetimes sitting in courtrooms watching him toy with their loved ones’ memories.
Perhaps the worst part of this story is the role played by certain culturally powerful people who knew about some of Alcala’s most vicious crimes but still allowed him get out of prison or provided him with the cover of social credibility.
Had Alcala been put away for life after he was caught, in 1968, in the act of raping and beating an 8-year old girl, his later victims — Georgia Wixted, Jill Parenteau, Charlotte Lamb, Jill Barcomb, Robin Samsoe, and others — would be alive today. But in 1971, at his sentencing, the state of California decided that Alcala deserved another chance. They gave him to just a handful of months for the crime, practically letting him walk free for the near-murder of an 8-year old. The child survived only because police broke into Alcala’s house while he was beating her head in with a steel pipe.
This sentence is a perfect illustration of the theory that, until recently, predators actually received lesser sentences when they sexually violated their victims. I believe Alcala would have gotten a much longer sentence if he had merely tried to kill the child, without raping her, too. In the therapeutic environment of the 1970’s justice system, being a sexual offender was literally an excuse for lawbreaking. Sex offenders were to be pitied, if not slyly admired.
Anybody care to challenge that?
Now for the weighty hangover of such indulgences. Investigators are asking anyone missing loved ones to look at this gallery of photographs that were in Alcala’s possession. It’s not known how many women and girls he killed, so the photos may lead police to more victims.
You have to wonder why this wasn’t done decades ago. The photographs have been in the possession of authorities since around 1979. Perhaps if the state were not so strapped from subsidizing Alcala’s relentless manipulation of the courts, they would have a little more cash on hand to look for more of his victims:
Alcala has spent his time behind bars penning You, the Jury, a 1994 book in which he claims his innocence and points to a different suspect; suing the California prisons for a slip-and-fall claim and for failing to provide him a low-fat diet; and, according to prosecutors, complaining about a law that required he and other death-row inmates to submit DNA mouth swabs for comparison by police against unsolved crimes. . . He has a talent for mining legal technicalities and has repeatedly enjoyed success with appellate judges.
Astonishingly, after being convicted of the vicious rape and attempted murder of an 8-year old, making the FBI’s ten most wanted list, absconding, being sent to prison, being released, then getting packed off to prison again for abducting a 13-year old girl, Alcala landed a job at the Los Angeles Times. The newspaper is being quite circumspect on the whole serial killer recruitment snafu thing, but it was reported in L.A. Weekly.
You might think a whole building full of investigative reporters would have betrayed a little curiosity when a two-time convicted child rapist started flashing home-made child porn around their water cooler, particularly considering the fact that he was also under investigation for the Hillside Strangler killings at the same time.
You’d think so, but you would be wrong. From the L.A. Weekly:
Even as the L.A. Times was publishing sensational articles in the late 1970s about the mysterious Hillside Strangler, who terrorized much of L.A. at that time, Alcala, who worked typesetting articles for that paper, was being questioned by the LAPD in relation to those very murders. In an interview with the [L.A.] Weekly, Alcala’s former Times colleague Sharon Gonzalez remembers: “He would talk about going to parties in Hollywood. It seemed like he knew famous people. He kept his body in great shape. He was very open about his sexuality. It was all new to me.” He brought his photography portfolio to show his Times workmates, she says, and the photos were “of young girls. I thought it was weird, but I was young, I didn’t know anything. When I asked why he took the photos, he said their moms asked him to. I remember the girls were naked.”
You don’t want to seem like you’re judging the man.
Gonzalez adds that she wasn’t “smart enough or mature enough to know” that she was looking at child porn. Yet incredibly, she describes how L.A. Times‘ management in the 1970s had a golden opportunity to turn Alcala in, but did nothing: “There were other people in the department who were in their 40s and 50s. The [Times] supervisor at the time — she saw it.” Instead, the reaction at the newspaper was, “We thought he was a little different. Strange about sex.”
Which L.A. Times managers knew about Alcala’s record? His impromptu workplace polaroid shows? Good for Gonzalez for coming forward: does anyone else have a conscience? Considering the paper’s current editorial stance opposing sentencing enhancements and measures to monitor sex offenders, it would be illuminating to know if any current editorial board members were among those who knew him back then.
Of course, doing nothing to stop child rape was in at the time.
It is actually hard to believe that Alcala was given a job at the Times despite his heinous record. Was he given the job because of it? There is no way they couldn’t know about his past: he was a registered sex offender, had made a daring escape and had been, you know, in the papers. Were journalists actually so besotted with ideas about the illegitimacy of incarceration that they bought the idea that he had been . . . rehabilitated?
Had Maileresque outlaw mentality really eroded such giant chunks of the ethical hive?
Alcala studied film-making under Roman Polanski, too. I wonder what other passions they shared.
Hollywood pedophiles, media crusaders, rapist-loving parole boards, lenient judges, hip defense attorneys, art-world glitterati, The Dating Game (also post-child rape): this guy was the Forrest Gump of sexual torturers.
The most painfully comprehensive coverage of the Alcala saga is Christine Pelisek’s excellent series of articles in L.A.Weekly. Read them and weep:
Tomorrow: Rodney Alcala’s Criminal Appeals