September 21, 2016
Convicted California serial killer Rodney Alcala was charged with murder Tuesday in the cold case slaying of a Wyoming woman nearly four decades ago.
Alcala, a former photographer and typesetter for the Los Angeles Times, was previously convicted of the strangulation murder of a 12-year-old ballet student in Huntington Beach, California, as well as four Los Angeles-area women. He was nicknamed the "Dating Game Killer" because he was the winning contestant on the ABC prime-time game show in 1978 during his reign of terror.
A smooth talker with a near-genius IQ, Alcala preyed on young attractive women, luring some of them by telling them he was a professional photographer who wanted to enter their pictures in a photography contest. After killing them, Alcala placed their bodies in grotesque poses, sometimes photographing them.
On Tuesday, prosecutors said Alcala is responsible for the murder of 28-year-old Texas native Christine Ruth Thornton. Alcala met Thornton in San Antonio around August 1977 and then allegedly dumped her body on a ranch in Granger, Wyoming. She was strangled to death.
"All of this was before the 1978 appearance on The Dating Game," Sweetwater County and Prosecuting Attorney Danny Erramouspe tells PEOPLE. "I think the last thing he would have guessed is that somewhere up in Wyoming a case like this would be solved."
A rancher found Thornton's body in a field in 1982, but her identity remained a mystery for more than three decades. She was finally identified in 2014 after DNA linked her to her sister.
"Fortunately Ms. Thornton's sisters had provided their DNA to the CODIS system and they were able to get an identification because her sisters never gave up looking for her," says Erramouspe. "If it wasn't for Christine's family continuing to look for her … we wouldn't be here.