A convicted serial killer charged last month in the 1977 killing of a woman in Sweetwater County will not travel from California’s death row to face his first-degree murder charge in Wyoming, Sweetwater County Attorney Daniel Erramouspe announced late Thursday.
Rodney Alcala is too medically frail to travel to Wyoming to face trial for the 1977 death of Christine Thornton, whose body was found on the remote plains northeast of Granger, Erramouspe said in a statement.
“The fact that this case will not be proven in court does nothing to dissuade me from knowing that Alcala murdered Ms. Thornton,” Erramouspe said.
Alcala, now 73, has been found guilty of killing seven people in two states, though authorities estimate he may have killed up to 130 victims across the U.S. He is known as the “Dating Game killer” for appearing on the popular television program in the late 1970s.
Alcala can no longer walk or leave the hospital wing of the Corcoran Penitentiary in California, where he’s held, without medical services, prison staff told Erramouspe.
Alcala was previously extradited to New York from a California prison in 2013 to face murder charges in the killings of two young women in the 1970s.
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Erramouspe charged Alcala with first-degree murder on Sept. 20 after decades of investigation by law enforcement and Thornton’s family.
A rancher discovered human remains near a two-track dirt road on public land outside of Granger in 1982, but it wasn’t until 2015 and a twist of fortune that the remains were identified as those of Thornton, court documents show.
“The solving of this cold case, with the random facts, indicates solid investigation and integrity by the Sweetwater County Sheriff’s Office...,” Erramouspe said Thursday. “It also shows the power of perseverance on behalf of Ms. Thornton’s family in never giving up the search for their sister.”
For decades, Thornton’s family searched for the missing woman without much luck. But in 2013, one of her sisters began looking through photos taken by Alcala that had been released by California investigators in hopes of finding more of his victims.
There, among the dozens of photos of women, the sister happened upon one of Thornton. In the photo, a smiling Thornton is astride a blue and white Kawasaki motorcycle in a yellow top, blue jeans and red flip-flops. She was also wearing a gold ring and a watch with a thin brown band.
After finding the photo, two of Thornton’s sisters submitted DNA samples to a database maintained by the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System. In July 2015, their DNA matched with a sample taken from the remains found in Sweetwater County.
Deputies from the county sheriff’s office began to investigate. The clothes in the photo of Thornton atop a motorcycle were similar to those found near her remains, including the gold ring and the watch. Investigators had found a blue and white Kawasaki motorcycle in Alcala’s Seattle storage locker. A deputy went to the spot where her remains had been found and compared it to the plains featured in the photo. The location was virtually the same, the deputy found.
Thornton’s family told investigators they had last seen her in August 1977 and that she had been pregnant at the time.
Alcala was on probation for an assault against an 8-year-old girl during the summer of 1977 when he was given permission by his parole officer to travel from Los Angeles to New York; Washington, D.C.; Illinois and Mexico. Investigators believe he killed Thornton during these travels.
Sweetwater County deputies and Erramouspe traveled to California last month to meet with Alcala at the Corcoran State Penitentiary, where he lives on death row.
When presented with the photo, Alcala said that he had taken the photo but that Thornton “was alive before I left her,” according to court documents.
Alcala has been convicted of killing four women in California, for which he received the death penalty, and two women in New York, for which he was sentenced to a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
Alcala was known to approach his victims pretending to be a photographer and ask them to pose for him, court documents show. He then killed them by strangulation or physical assault. All of his known victims were women.