March 17, 2010— -- Dozens of families have called California police to say they recognize missing loved ones in nearly 2,000 photos taken by convicted serial killer Rodney Alcala.
Three photos reportedly show people who have been missing for decades, and police are trying to determine if foul play is involved.
The photos -- many sexually graphic -- were part of a stash of images found in 1979 that may help police solve scores more unsolved murders committed by the so-called "Dating Game" killer.
Alcala was convicted Feb. 25 in the 1979 rape and murder of 12-year-old Huntington Beach ballet student Robin Samsoe, and the strangulation of four other women between 1970 and 1979.
Police released the photos March 10 to the Orange County Register in an effort to find out if there were more victims.
The photos were found more than 30 years ago in a storage locker in Seattle that had been rented under Alcala's name. They included dozens of subjects, most of them women and young girls in candid and posed shots, sometimes engaging in sexual acts.
"The calls are basically along two lines," Huntington Beach Police Detective Patrick Ellis told ABC's Seattle affiliate KOMO. "No. 1: 'Yes, that's my photograph. I am alive and well,' and giving us details of Mr. Alcala way back when, 30 years ago.
"Or, the calls saying, 'Hey, my sister, mother ... was reported missing back then, and I think her photograph is on the Web site,' and they're providing us with information as far as the person's name, where they were last seen alive," he said. "Some people aren't positive, but they're pretty sure.
"Until we talk to the victims' families, get other photographs for comparison purposes and more details on where their bodies were recovered -- if they were recovered at all -- we can't really say at this point," Ellis said. "We just don't know."
Police recovered the stash of photos in 1979 but were unable to release them until now because of legal proceedings.
Rodney Alcala Was 'Dating Game' Winner
Alcala, who had a fine arts degree from UCLA, took the photos before his first arrest in 1979.
Some show remote settings similar to the region where Samsoe's body was found. A few of the photos are of men.
Police say Alcala thought of himself as a skilled photographer and may have used the camera to lure his victims.
Alcala had traveled across the country several times when he was studying film at New York University in the 1970s, even working briefly with director Roman Polanski.
Steve Hodel, a retired detective with the Los Angeles Police Department, told ABC's Nightline that Alcala could have killed as many as 20 to 30 more victims between the East and West Coasts.
In 1978, when he was 35, Alcala appeared as a contestant on the popular television series "The Dating Game," charming his date and winning the show.
But since his conviction, Alcala has more often been likened to the notorious serial killer Ted Bundy.
During the trial in the Orange County Criminal Courthouse in Santa Ana, Calif., four witnesses recalled Alcala trying to get them to pose for him in their bikinis on the beach the day Samsoe disappeared.
The young girl was kidnapped while riding her bicycle to ballet class in Huntington Beach. Her body was found 12 days later in the Angeles National Forest, where it had been mutilated by wild animals.
Alcala is charged with killing Jill Barcomb, 18, Georgia Wixted, 27, Charlotte Lamb, 32, and Jill Parenteau, 21.
Alcala Enjoyed Inflicting Pain
Prosecutors said that Alcala's method of killing was to choke his victims with his bare hands until they were unconscious and then to allow them to regain consciousness.
"He gets off on the infliction of pain on other people," said prosecutor Matt Murphy at Alcala's trial.
Serial killers are "always on the hunt, looking for potential victims," said John Douglas, a former FBI agent who was one of the pioneers of criminal profiling in the 1970s and author of "Mind Hunter."
Douglas, now 64, has helped hunt down some of the nation's most famous predators, including Wayne Williams, the convicted Atlanta child murderer; Gary Ridgway, the "Green River Killer;" and David Carpenter, San Francisco's "Trailside Killer."
Douglas said he agreed with California police who say Alcala's photos may well have been "trophies" of his victims.
"Once they feel safe, they go back and only act," he said. "They're not sloppy or careless. They can't control themselves, and in the break between these crimes, they fuel their fantasies by taking mementos."
"But because they keep a photograph of the victim doesn't mean every one was a victim, especially if he thought someone could trace it back," said Douglas. "Maybe when he was starting, some of them were legitimate and he only killed those he could get away with."
Serial Killers Use Fantasy Victims
Douglas said investigators may later find serial killers have more items stashed away, such as notes and diaries of their victims.
"Their wish is to spend hours, days, months, a lifetime with the victim," he said. "But it never works out that way. In the fantasy, everything works perfectly."
Now, Alcala could face the death penalty.
During the six-week trial the graying and curly-haired Alcala served as his own defense lawyer, playing his music and episodes from the "The Dating Game" in court.
Alcala was convicted of the five murders in February, and Samsoe's relatives broke into applause when jurors recommended the death penalty for the crimes of rape, torture and kidnapping.
According to local reports, Alcala walked out to Arlo Guthrie's 1967 hit, "Alice's Restaurant," which was left playing in the courtroom.
"I want to see blood and gore and guts and veins in my teeth," Guthrie sings, portraying a Vietnam draft dodger trying to convince a psychiatrist that he is unfit for the military. "Eat dead burnt bodies. I mean: kill, kill, kill, kill."
If you know who these women are, contact Huntington Beach Police Detective Patrick Ellis, at 714-375-5066, or e-mail him at email@example.com.