“I’M called the banana and I look really good. Peel me.”
It was hardly the smoothest of chat-up lines . . . but it did the trick for Rodney Alcala.
The year was 1978 and the long-haired singleton was sitting behind a screen with two other men on TV’s The Dating Game, the US equivalent of Blind Date.
Alcala was “Bachelor No1”, a charming and intelligent photographer whose wit got him picked by the lady contestant.
But he was also a registered sex offender who murdered five women and had raped an eight-year-old girl.
Now The Dating Game Killer, a six-part podcast telling Alcala’s horrifying story, has become a must-listen for true-crime fans.
Alcala repeatedly raped, strangled and revived his victims before finishing them off.
He is known to have killed seven women in the 1970s but the true figure could be far higher.
Each body was carefully posed and photographed.
He sometimes took trophies such as jewellery.
Retired LAPD detective Bob Souza called Alcala “a psychopath of the first order”.
Alcala was 25 when he approached his first sexual assault victim, eight-year-old Tali Shapiro, on Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles, in 1968.
He lured her to his Hollywood apartment where he raped her and attacked her with a steel bar.
She was found, battered and bloodied, by police at Alcala’s apartment after LAPD cop Chris Camacho was alerted by a witness who saw Tali get into Alcala’s car.
Now retired, Chris said: “The image will be with me for ever. We could see in the kitchen there was a body on the floor, a lot of blood. We all thought she was dead.”
Alcala evaded capture, fleeing to New York and enrolling in a film school under the alias John Berger.
Three years later, two students spotted an FBI Most Wanted poster and were struck by the similarity between a picture of Alcala and a man they knew as “John Berger” — who taught photography at their girls-only summer camp.
They told police, who arrested him but — shockingly — Alcala struck a deal and pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of child molestation against Tali.
In prison he seemed a changed man. He behaved well, read avidly and was an attentive pupil in various classes. Less than two years into his sentence, he convinced a psychiatrist he was rehabilitated and was released.
He would soon reoffend — landing back in jail two months later after assaulting a 13-year-old girl.
Yet he retained the ability to pull the wool over people’s eyes, duping potential victims into posing for photographs.
Alcala enlisted in the Army at 17 but was discharged after a breakdown and diagnosed with “anti-social personality
disorder”. One symptom is the inability to feel guilt and empathy.
True-crime author Joan Renner said: “He thought he was smarter than everyone else. He used his personality to attract victims.
“He used the same game in prison. They thought he was cured.”
In fact, Alcala had already killed at least once.
In 1971, in New York, he murdered 23-year-old air hostess Cornelia Crilley, strangling her with a nylon stocking and stuffing it down her throat.
In 1977, now back on the streets of New York, Alcala murdered 23-year-old musician and artist Ellen Hover.
Her body was not found for almost a year but the disappearance was front-page news.
Ellen’s father owned the famous Hollywood nightclub Ciro’s, a favourite hangout with celebs including Dean Martin.
Ellen’s calendar for the day she disappeared showed an appointment with a John Berger, yet the connection wasn’t initially made.
By the time The Dating Game episode aired in September 1978, Alcala had murdered another three women — Jill Barcomb, 18, Georgia Wixted, 27, and Charlotte Lamb, 32.
Background checks were not carried out at the TV show and Alcala charmed contestant Cheryl Bradshaw with his odd banana answer to her question: “I’m serving you dinner. What are you called and what do you look like?”
But Cheryl refused to go on their date, a tennis lesson.
She said: “I started to feel ill. He was acting really creepy.”
Tracy Pattin, host of The Dating Game Killer podcast, said: “The most interesting part of the story, to me, was Alcala’s appearance on The Dating Game long after police were searching for him.
“Cheryl Bradshaw never went on the date because she had a bad feeling. Had she gone, she might have been another victim.”
Author Joan added: “Rodney Alcala is a malignant narcissist. Everything is ‘about him’. If you’re looking for a motive, it’s sexual gratification. He enjoyed it.”
The following year Alcala approached Robin Samsoe, 12, on a California beach and asked to take photos of her and pal Bridget Wilvurt.
Bridget described Alcala as “like a shark in the water, honing in on a seal”.
Robin later disappeared after riding off on her bike. Her body was found 12 days later.
Alcala was convicted of her murder in 1980.
But legal battles meant Robin’s mother Marianne Connelly, who would go on to campaign for victims of crime, had to endure the agony of THREE trials before Alcala was brought to justice once and for all.
She spoke of Alcala “blowing kisses at me across the courtroom”, adding: “I thought I was going to lose my mind.”
Tracy Pattin said: “This was one of the most compelling stories I have told.
“I was especially moved by Marianne Connelly and the incredible pain she suffered through the multiple court cases.”
At the third trial, DNA evidence linked Alcala to the murders of 18-year-old Jill Barcomb, Georgia Wixted, 27, and Charlotte Lamb, 32, along with Jill Parenteau, who was 21 when she died in 1979.
He was convicted of all five murders and in 2010 was handed the death penalty.
A surprise witness was his first victim — Tali Shapiro, facing Alcala for the first time since his savage assault decades earlier.
Marianne Connelly died last July, aged 75. “She could never find the peace,” said her daughter Taranne Mayes.
Alcala has since been convicted of killing Cornelia Crilley and Ellen Hover, totalling seven. But cops found 1,000 snaps he took of girls and women, many sexually explicit.
The family of Christine Thornton came forward to name her as one of the pictured women.
Christine, 28, was killed in 1982 in Wyoming.
Alcala was shown the picture of Christine while in a prison hospital bed, battling “borderline dementia”.
“He traced Christine’s body with his finger and tapped the photo but did not admit killing her,” said Tracy Pattin.
“He said, ‘She was alive when I last saw her’.
Detectives took that as a confession.”
Joan Renner is convinced some of the women pictured fell prey to Alcala.
She said: “There are definitely more victims.”
– The Dating Game Killer is out on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Wondery+.