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Rodney Alcala: The Forrest Gump of Sex Murder. And What That Says About the Rest of Us.

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?

Rodney Alcala

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:

Dating Game Serial Killer Suspect Cross-Examines Himself Over His Hair

Orange County Prosecutor: Suspected Serial Killer and Dating Game Contestant Rodney Alcala Savagely Killed His Victims Because “He Enjoyed It.”

Rodney Alcala’s Final Revenge: Begged to Spare Victims’ Families At Trial, The Alleged Serial Killer Ratchets Up The Suffering

Rodney Alcala: The Fine Art of Killing: One Man’s Murderous Romp Through Polite Society

Orange County Judge Sentences Serial Killer and Dating Game Winner Rodney Alcala to Death

~~~

Tomorrow: Rodney Alcala’s Criminal Appeals

7 Responses to Rodney Alcala: The Forrest Gump of Sex Murder. And What That Says About the Rest of Us.

  1. JP says:

    Well if he did not already exist as an exemplar, we’d suspicious of anyone trying to make this stuff up.

    But Forrest Gump this guy was not. He was not stupid, nor ‘inordinately simple & honest’ like that well known fictional character. He was, is & remains evil though & through. But dumb he was not, he’s a UCLA Fine Arts Grad. Age and whatever else is addling his mind have taken it’s toll obviously, but this was once a well functioning smart & devious ‘college boy’ whose natural good looks & presence on the ‘Art beat’ got him plenty of cachet & into many places in LA & elsewhere. And hey, you know what? That sort of thing is still going on, today. Here from the other ‘photo-galleries’ of the LAWeekly is a good example of the genre: [entitled: ‘F*ck me I’m famous!”: http://www.laweekly.com/slideshow/cobrasnake-fck-me-im-famous-29571329/%5D. Yeah, we almost all wish we were there. Almost.

    And no, I don’t blame the LATimes for their lack of a ‘felony check’ on typesetters. That would only become vaguely standard for White collar jobs some 2 decades hence. And ‘ace’ reporters are still dodging drug tests we hear. The child porn? Yeah, always troublesome, and actionable always, we hope. But again plenty of fine folks are still defending the ancient arts of pederasty, or at the very least covering it up:

    http://thinkprogress.org/2010/03/31/catholic-league-pope/

    “Of course, doing nothing to stop child rape was in at the time.”

    No not even at the time. Typically, all the time & currently. But it seems to wax & wane in popularity.

    But this bit from the 1-21 LAWeekly story? Belies the fact that this sadistic killer is any Forest Gump:

    “With a near-genius IQ of 135, 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.”

    Winston Groom for one would be appalled at his non violent gentle ‘Southern simpleton’ creation being compared to this monster.

    And yes, for me this is one of the prime examples of a rich murderous psychopath being able to ‘get away with it’ due to their position & standing & influential friends. Not precisely due to efforts of the entire ‘therapeutic community’ which you seek to repeatedly indict. I’m certain they did not help society here, but that’s a larger argument still. Bottom line? He got away with it for all the time honored traditional reasons. He was smart, cunning, well educated, middle class/rich, and could afford decent counsel. And seemingly, again & again stacked against those odds, our justice system often breaks down & otherwise fails. It’s not a unique failure, just one of a type too. But thanks for the case. I’m betting there were dozens more like him littering the landscape. Just perhaps not as prolific in their murderous sprees.

    The photos via the LATimes were interesting. Many were of the same gals in similar settings. The same 2-3 apartments. Some travel pics too & some obvious ‘naturalist’ shots. This guy was again, no shy, secluded, ‘unconnected’ loner with little or no female attention. He may be some addled looking freak now @ 66, but he’s still no Forrest Gump! JP

  2. Tina says:

    JP, take a look at the other serial sex offenders mentioned on this site — in Cleveland, in Los Angeles, in Atlanta — these guys are neither rich nor, in many cases, white, yet they were treated in precisely the same way by the system, thus enabling them to continue raping and killing with impunity, for decades.

    There are a million versions of leniency infecting our justice system.

    And this has been the case for fifty years now, for all offenders, not just the ones from certain zip codes. An interesting, if wrongheaded, illustration of the subject is Fox Butterworth’s All God’s Children, which documents the extraordinary yet completely routine failure to stop a particularly murderous multi-generational family of offenders, offenders who were essentially pandered to by an army of social workers and judges and lawyers and parole officers, rather than stopped before they killed — again and again and again for decades.

    Look at the behavior of the Fulton County courts, if you’re in Atlanta — they can’t even keep track of the murder defendants they’ve cut loose.

    Plenty of stupid, poorly educated, poor people using public defenders get away with crime every minute of every day in this country.

    The Forrest Gump reference had more to do with the extraordinary confluence of people this guy encountered. A lukewarm metaphor, I agree.

  3. JP says:

    Serial sexual predators? Sure. All types & kinds, and certainly often in familial settings tragically. Serial killers who are often sexual predators also? Plenty of the same coddled White middle class psychopaths as described above. I think Wayne Williams stands out as the outlier here, but also shared some of the same family characteristics.

    Alcala was & remains that ever so gregarious, smart, charming, smooth, oleaginous Class A con man in type & form. Only about the most radical extension of same most will likely ever encounter. That had much more to do with the ‘extraordinary confluence of people this guy encountered’ & manipulated & used for his deadly ends.

    But yes, serious serial sexual offenders have always been a special & unique problem for the justice system for any myriad of reasons. We can imagine and make the argument that the acknowledgment of this fact has slightly helped along the process along at the margins, but it’s been a very long haul. The principal example here might be the Catholic Church, which despite all claims & denials to the contrary, continues as a matter of course & policy to deliberately cover up criminal acts & the criminal miscreants that perpetrate them not for years, but often for decades, until they either died or retired. And in fact still does.

    But you imagine that this ‘misapprehension’ has only been going on for 50 years too. No doubt under the widely reviled & ‘universally baleful’ influence & effects of that neatly constructed shibboleth the ‘lib. therapeutic community’. You’d be wrong of course in that supposition. Before that stood the religiously inspired, often evangelical reformers of the 18 & 19th c. And before that? Children & wives were of course ever more firmly regarded as a species of property, and no one much gave a damn unless you killed them in due course. And then this was often only actionable if someone higher ranking in the social pecking order chose to make it a legal case. Often as much the miscreant in question would slink away to another jurisdiction, rarely to be troubled again by either conscience or the law about his despicable actions. Well sort of like what the Church does to their ‘misbehaving priests’ to this day. Tradition dies hard in some places. Hope for justice sadly dies last.

    So yes, ‘Plenty of stupid, poorly educated, poor people using public defenders get away with crime every minute of every day in this country.’ They’ve been doing that essentially long before Gideon too. It just depended more on luck and quicker ‘exits’ and the ‘law of the lynch’ too.

  4. JP says:

    More on serial sexual predators here: [AP News]:

    http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5h9O9pDzoOP4MhFpu2FhO326s_y8wD9EPSB980

    “1963 letter indicates former pope knew of abuse

    By GILLIAN FLACCUS (AP) – 1 day ago

    LOS ANGELES — The head of a Roman Catholic order that specialized in the treatment of pedophile priests visited with the then-pope nearly 50 years ago and followed up with a letter recommending the removal of pedophile priests from ministry, according to a copy of the letter released Wednesday.

    In the Aug. 27, 1963 letter, the head of the New Mexico-based Servants of the Holy Paraclete tells the pope he recommends removing pedophile priests from active ministry and strongly urges defrocking repeat offenders.

    The letter, written by the Rev. Gerald M.C. Fitzgerald, appears to have been drafted at the request of the pope and summarizes Fitzgerald’s thoughts on problem priests after his Vatican visit.

    A message left with the Paraclete order at one of their two existing facilities in Missouri was not returned. A number for the second facility was disconnected.” [More @ Link while it lasts…] JP

  5. Amy says:

    Serial sexual predators? Sure. All types & kinds, and certainly often in familial settings tragically. Serial killers who are often sexual predators also? Plenty of the same coddled White middle class psychopaths as described above. I think Wayne Williams stands out as the outlier here, but also shared some of the same family characteristics.

    Alcala was & remains that ever so gregarious, smart, charming, smooth, oleaginous Class A con man in type & form. Only about the most radical extension of same most will likely ever encounter. That had much more to do with the ‘extraordinary confluence of people this guy encountered’ & manipulated & used for his deadly ends.

    But yes, serious serial sexual offenders have always been a special & unique problem for the justice system for any myriad of reasons. We can imagine and make the argument that the acknowledgment of this fact has slightly helped along the process along at the margins, but it’s been a very long haul. The principal example here might be the Catholic Church, which despite all claims & denials to the contrary, continues as a matter of course & policy to deliberately cover up criminal acts & the criminal miscreants that perpetrate them not for years, but often for decades, until they either died or retired. And in fact still does.

    But you imagine that this ‘misapprehension’ has only been going on for 50 years too. No doubt under the widely reviled & ‘universally baleful’ influence & effects of that neatly constructed shibboleth the ‘lib. therapeutic community’. You’d be wrong of course in that supposition. Before that stood the religiously inspired, often evangelical reformers of the 18 & 19th c. And before that? Children & wives were of course ever more firmly regarded as a species of property, and no one much gave a damn unless you killed them in due course. And then this was often only actionable if someone higher ranking in the social pecking order chose to make it a legal case. Often as much the miscreant in question would slink away to another jurisdiction, rarely to be troubled again by either conscience or the law about his despicable actions. Well sort of like what the Church does to their ‘misbehaving priests’ to this day. Tradition dies hard in some places. Hope for justice sadly dies last.

    So yes, ‘Plenty of stupid, poorly educated, poor people using public defenders get away with crime every minute of every day in this country.’ They’ve been doing that essentially long before Gideon too. It just depended more on luck and quicker ‘exits’ and the ‘law of the lynch’ too.

  6. Richard says:

    More on serial sexual predators here: [AP News]:

    http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5h9O9pDzoOP4MhFpu2FhO326s_y8wD9EPSB980

    “1963 letter indicates former pope knew of abuse

    By GILLIAN FLACCUS (AP) – 1 day ago

    LOS ANGELES — The head of a Roman Catholic order that specialized in the treatment of pedophile priests visited with the then-pope nearly 50 years ago and followed up with a letter recommending the removal of pedophile priests from ministry, according to a copy of the letter released Wednesday.

    In the Aug. 27, 1963 letter, the head of the New Mexico-based Servants of the Holy Paraclete tells the pope he recommends removing pedophile priests from active ministry and strongly urges defrocking repeat offenders.

    The letter, written by the Rev. Gerald M.C. Fitzgerald, appears to have been drafted at the request of the pope and summarizes Fitzgerald’s thoughts on problem priests after his Vatican visit.

    A message left with the Paraclete order at one of their two existing facilities in Missouri was not returned. A number for the second facility was disconnected.” [More @ Link while it lasts…] JP

  7. Tony says:

    More on serial sexual predators here: [AP News]:

    http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5h9O9pDzoOP4MhFpu2FhO326s_y8wD9EPSB980

    “1963 letter indicates former pope knew of abuse

    By GILLIAN FLACCUS (AP) – 1 day ago

    LOS ANGELES — The head of a Roman Catholic order that specialized in the treatment of pedophile priests visited with the then-pope nearly 50 years ago and followed up with a letter recommending the removal of pedophile priests from ministry, according to a copy of the letter released Wednesday.

    In the Aug. 27, 1963 letter, the head of the New Mexico-based Servants of the Holy Paraclete tells the pope he recommends removing pedophile priests from active ministry and strongly urges defrocking repeat offenders.

    The letter, written by the Rev. Gerald M.C. Fitzgerald, appears to have been drafted at the request of the pope and summarizes Fitzgerald’s thoughts on problem priests after his Vatican visit.

    A message left with the Paraclete order at one of their two existing facilities in Missouri was not returned. A number for the second facility was disconnected.” [More @ Link while it lasts…] JP

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