Serial Killer Charged With Murder In 30-Year-Old Sweetwater County Cold Case
A California man nicknamed "The Dating Game Killer" is charged with killing a Texas woman in Sweetwater County in 1977, according to the county Sheriff’s Office and the county Attorney’s Office.
Tuesday, Sheriff Mike Lowell and County Attorney Dan Erramouspe said first-degree murder charges were filed against Rodney James Alcala, 73, after a 34-year investigation.
It is unknown when Alcala, a condemned California Department of Corrections inmate, will be returned to Wyoming to answer the charges against him.
Authorities believe he murdered Christine Ruth Thornton, 28, of San Antonio and disposed her body in a remote area northeast of Granger, a small community in western Sweetwater County.
A local rancher found her remains in April 1982. Evidence at the scene was dilapidated, but it was determined that the individual was the victim of homicide.
In 2013, Detective Jeff Sheaman opened the cold case and continued the investigation.
A tissue sample from the remains was submitted to the University of North Texas Center for Human Identification for mitochondrial DNA analysis and inclusion into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUS).
NamUS helps law enforcement agencies identify missing persons through various means. For example, it compares DNA samples from unidentified and missing persons and their relatives who can submit their own DNA samples for analysis.
Meanwhile, Alcala was tried and convicted in 1980 for the 1979 murder of Robin Samsoe. In 2010, he was convicted at trial and sentenced to death for the murders of Jill Barcomb, Georgia Wixted, Charlotte Lamb, and Jill Parenteau in California.
After that, the Huntington Beach Police Department Robbery-Homicide Unit made public photographs found in Alcala’s possession in 1979 with the hope of identifying other potential victims.
In 2013 a relative of Thornton reviewed the Alcala photographs and found one of her. Thornton’s family contacted the Huntington Beach Police Department.
In 2014, two of Thornton’s siblings submitted their DNA samples for inclusion into the NamUS system.
In July 2015, NamUS contacted Sweetwater County detectives about the possible identification of Thornton.
Detectives with the help of the Wyoming Crime Lab positively identified Thornton's remains. Detectives determined the photograph of Thornton was taken a short distance from where her remains were found. Other evidence has linked Alcala to Thornton’s homicide.
Alcala, commonly known as the “Dating Game Killer” for his 1978 appearance on the popular television show, also was linked to two murders in New York in the 1970s.
He was charged and convicted of these crimes in 2012 and given a lengthy prison sentence before being returned to California.
Authorities don’t know the full extent of his crimes. They estimate he may have up to 130 victims across the United States.
If convicted of Thornton's murder, Alcala could face punishments of death or life in prison in Wyoming.
Alcala is presumed innocent until proven guilty.
Anyone with information about case, particularly anyone in contact with Thornton or Alcala during 1977, is encouraged to contact Sgt. Joe Tomich at (307) 922-5295.