It’s been nearly four decades since the body of a pregnant woman was found on a ranch in Wyoming. Prosecutors have finally found the missing link connecting her death to one of California’s most notorious serial killers, Rodney Alcala.
Prosecutors in Sweetwater County, Wyoming, have charged Alcala on Tuesday with the 1977 killing of Christine Ruth Thornton following the discovery of a photo that Alcala took of her before her death. The faded photograph was retrieved among the killer’s possessions by Huntington Beach California officials, yet it was only recently that the sister of Thornton recognized the victim.
— Todd Harmonson (@tharmonson) September 21, 2016
The Los Angeles Times gives a description of the photo and how photography links the killings by Alcala to one another.
“The photo shows a smiling woman in jeans, a yellow blouse and flip-flops sitting atop a Kawasaki 500 motorcycle in a sage-studded desert. The photo was among several publicized by Huntington Beach detectives after Alcala was sentenced to death in 2010 for killing four women and a 12-year-old in the late 1970s. The photo was spotted by Thornton’s relatives in 2013.”
Alcala, who was known as the “Dating Game” killer, due to appearing on the popular TV show decades prior, was a photographer who has also been convicted of killing two women in New York and is believed to be responsible for the deaths of many more women. Photos taken by the 73-year-old were made public with the hopes that they would result in leads on other murders.
It was at California’s Corcoran State Prison that prosecutors questioned Alcala about the photo he took of Thornton. While interviewing the killer, he insisted that Thornton was alive and well when he parted ways with her.
When questioned as to whether he killed the 28-year-old, the murderer’s responded, “You’re crazy.”
However, Dan Erramouspe, the Sweetwater County attorney, shares that Alcala did divulge details that tie him to the murder during the chat.
“The picture, even if you don’t recognize her, is a distinct part of Wyoming recognizable to anyone from here, But he said some things that help tie him to the murder. He likes to talk.”
— 48 Hours (@48hours) September 21, 2016
The body remained unidentified for decades. Thornton’s family had no idea what had happened to the pregnant woman but contacted the authorities of Huntington Beach when they saw her photo on the television. At this point, two of Thornton’s siblings sent DNA samples to a database for missing person’s, which housed the DNA of the Wyoming body. It was in July of 2015 that an identity was matched and the discovery was made that the deceased was, in fact, Thornton.
Additional DNA of a Latino male was recovered from the body. Erramouspe stated that the samples are being sent to the FBI to see if there is a match to Alcala. He intends to bring Alcala to Wyoming to seek justice in the 1977 killing, but there is no set date for the proceedings against the suspect.
Alcala’s crimes go back nearly a decade from the Wyoming killing to 1968 when he was convicted of raping and beating an 8-year-old girl. The women he was convicted of killing in California include Jill Barcomb, 18, Georgia Wixted, 27, Charlotte Lamb, 32, Jill Parenteau, 21, and Robin Samsoe, 12. All victims were strangled to death between the years of 1977 and 1979.
Detectives who have been involved in the cases linked to Alcala’s murders are certain Thornton will not be the last victim tied to the serial killer.
Retired cold case detective Cliff Shepard shared the relief that such a prolific killer has been behind bars since 1979.
“Him being behind bars since 1979 probably saved a lot of lives.”
[Feature Image by David Handschuh/AP Images]