Featuring Dow's exclusive interviews with Alcala's ex-girlfriend, girls Alcala had approached, investigators, and victims' family members, the season premiere will be presented by Harold's nephew, Jay Dow, of WCBS in New York and a contributing correspondent for CBS News.
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Harold Dow: 1947-2010
Rodney Alcala committed his first known crime in Sept. 1968, when Los Angeles Police Officer Chris Camacho was dispatched to a house where police suspected a little girl had been abducted. Inside, Camacho found 8-year-old Tali Shapiro battered, bleeding and barely alive with her throat constricted by a 10-lb steel bar. But while Camacho saved Tali's life, Rodney Alcala, the monster who was later proven to be responsible, slipped out the back door. The 25-year-old UCLA graduate and photographer eluded the authorities for three years. Finally, after the FBI put him on its Most Wanted List, he was found working as a counselor at a New Hampshire girls' camp under the alias "John Burger." He pleaded guilty in 1972 to a lesser charge of child molestation in the Shapiro case and was released after just 34 months. The now registered sex offender had no trouble charming his way back into the swing of things, attending school, working as a photographer and even appearing on the television show "The Dating Game."
Years later, in the spring of 1979, 12-year-old Robin Samsoe and her friend, Bridget Wilvurt, were approached by a photographer on the beach who wanted to take Robin's picture. "He honed in on us, like a shark in the water, honing in on a seal," Bridget says in an exclusive interview with "48 Hours Mystery." The girls managed to walk away, but later that afternoon Robin disappeared. Twelve days later her remains were discovered in a remote location more than 40 miles from where she was last seen. The pressure was on to find the killer.
"I really was the only person that could tell you the exact color of his eyes, the height of his cheekbones, the color of his skin, just every detail," says Bridget, whose description of the photographer resulted in a composite sketch that was released all over Southern California. Alcala's parole officer saw the sketch and called authorities, who arrested Alcala for Robin's murder. Then, as investigators worked feverishly to shore up what they knew was a shaky case against Alcala, they got an unexpected tip - from Alcala himself. In a taped jail visit with his sister, Alcala mentioned a storage locker in Seattle, Washington. Inside the locker police discovered a cache of photos of young vulnerable women in vulnerable positions. They also found a little silk bag filled with earrings, which contained a pair of studs that Robin's mother said looked like ones that belonged to her.
Alcala was twice convicted and twice sentenced to death for Robin's murder, but the verdicts were both overturned, infuriating Robin's still grieving family. But in the 30 years since Robin's murder, DNA technology had advanced and justice finally caught up with Alcala. He was linked to four other murders, giving weight to what investigators had suspected all along-he was a serial killer.
Los Angeles Prosecutors decided to combine the cases and Alcala stood trial for a third time. Finally, in March 2010, the 40-year saga came to a conclusion. The now 66-year-old photographer, who served as his own attorney, was sentenced to death for the murder, kidnapping and rape of five California women, including Robin Samsoe.
Yet the Alcala case continues today, as police across the country are still trying to identify hundreds of photographs of young women, and even some children, found in Alcala's storage locker. Already other murders in New York and California have been connected to Alcala, with perhaps more to come.