Convicted Calif. serial killer in NYC to face case

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By JENNIFER PELTZ, Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — His twisted saga has taken him from a stint on a dating show to California's death row, where he has spent the last two years as a convicted serial killer who murdered five women and girls more than 30 years ago.

Now, Rodney Alcala is poised to face another chapter in law enforcement's long campaign to hold him responsible for a bi-coastal string of killings. After decades of suspicion, an indictment last year and 18 months of legal maneuvering over extraditing him, he was brought to New York City on Wednesday to face charges of killing two women here in the 1970s.

Flown in on a U.S. Marshals Service plane, Alcala was being held in police custody overnight for an arraignment Thursday in the Manhattan cases: a flight attendant's strangulation in 1971 and the death of a former Hollywood nightclub owner's daughter whose body was found in 1978 after she disappeared the year before.

It was unclear who would represent Alcala in New York or even whether he would have a lawyer. A former photographer with an IQ said to top 160, Alcala represented himself at a bizarre 2010 California trial that ended with his convictions in the strangulations of four women and a 12-year-old girl in the 1970s. He had previously been convicted but gotten the verdicts overturned — twice — in the girl's killing.

Sentenced to death, he is appealing.

Alcala had long been suspected in at least one of the Manhattan cases. But he was indicted only last year, after the Manhattan district attorney's cold-case unit re-examined the cases, looked at evidence that emerged during the California trial and conducted new interviews with more than 100 witnesses. California authorities had said they were exploring whether Alcala could be tied to cases in New York and other states, and they had released more than 100 photos, found in his storage locker, of young women and girls.

"Together with our partners in law enforcement, we are making sure this case and others like it get the attention they deserve, because no one is entitled to a free murder. They shouldn't get away with it," District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. said Wednesday evening at an unrelated event.

One of the women, 23-year-old Cornelia Crilley, a flight attendant for Trans World Airlines, was found, strangled with a stocking, in her Manhattan apartment in 1971.

The other woman, Ellen Hover, also 23, was living in Manhattan when she vanished in 1977. Her remains were found the next year in the woods on a suburban estate.

Hover had a degree in biology and was seeking a job as a researcher, a private investigator for her family said at the time. A talented pianist, Hover was "enamored of the counterculture of the 1960s," cousin Sheila Weller wrote in a 2010 Marie Claire magazine piece about Hover's death. Weller has said she's gratified by his indictment in her cousin's death; she declined Wednesday to elaborate.

Hover's father, comedy writer Herman Hover, had been an owner of the one-time Hollywood hotspot Ciro's.

Her disappearance and Crilley's death made headlines and spurred extensive searches. TWA offered a $5,000 reward for information about Crilley's killing. Hover's relatives papered walls and kiosks with posters.

A note in Hover's calendar for the day she vanished showed she planned to have lunch with a photographer she had recently met, according to the family's private detective and news reports at the time. Her lunch date's name, authorities later said, was an alias that Alcala used.

Prosecutors in Orange County, Calif., sought unsuccessfully to mention Hover's killing in the first of Alcala's several trials in the 12-year-old's death, in 1980.

Alcala also has been eyed in Crilley's death for at least several years. New York Police Department detectives investigating her killing went to California in 2003 with a warrant to interview Alcala and get a dental impression from him. A forensic dentist later found that a bite mark on Crilley's body was consistent with Alcala's impression, a law enforcement official has said. The official was not authorized to speak publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Alcala, now 68, has been behind bars since his 1979 arrest in one of the California killings. Before that arrest, he also served a total of about 4 ½ years in prison on convictions of furnishing marijuana to a minor and kidnapping and trying to kill an 8-year-old girl.

He also had attended college and worked briefly as a typist at The Los Angeles Times, according to a 1979 story in the newspaper.

And he had made his way onto a 1978 episode of "The Dating Game," the innuendo-filled matchmaking show that was a hit in its era.

Introduced as a photographer with a yen for motorcycling and skydiving, the long-haired, leisure-suited Alcala won the contest. But the woman who chose him over two other contestants ultimately didn't go on a date with him, according to news reports.

Unbeknownst to the TV audience, Alcala was a killer whose attacks were accompanied by sexual abuse and torture, prosecutors would later say.

His conviction last year came after a series of trials, overturned convictions and strange courtroom moments. Acting as his own lawyer, Alcala offered a rambling defense that included questioning the mother of one of his victims, showing a clip of his appearance on "The Dating Game" and playing Arlo Guthrie's 1967 song "Alice's Restaurant."

Alcala fought his extradition to New York, saying he needed to stay in California to attend court hearings and do other preparatory work on his appeal. The California Supreme Court rejected his argument last month.

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