The case that would finally break Rodney Alcala’s killing spree was that of 12-year-old Robin Samsoe. She’d disappeared from Huntington Beach, California on her way to ballet class on June 20, 1979.
Samsoe’s friends said that a stranger approached them on the beach and asked if they’d want to do a photoshoot. They declined and Samsoe left, borrowing a friend’s bike to hurriedly get to ballet. At some point between the beach and class, Samsoe disappeared. Nearly 12 days later, a park ranger found her animal-ravaged bones in a forested area near the Pasadena foothills of the Sierra Madre.
Upon questioning Samsoe’s friends, a police sketch artist drew up a composite and Alcala’s former parole officer recognized the face. Between the sketch, Alcala’s criminal past, and the discovery of Samsoe’s earrings in Alcala’s Seattle storage locker, police felt confident that they had their man.
But beginning with the trial in 1980, Samsoe’s family would have to follow a rather long and winding road to justice.
The jury found Alcala guilty of first-degree murder and he received the death penalty. However, the California Supreme court overturned this verdict due to the jury being prejudiced, they felt, by learning of Alcala’s past sex crimes. It took six years to put him back on trial.
At the second trial in 1986, another jury sentenced him to death. This one didn’t stick either; a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals panel overturned it in 2001, LA Weekly wrote, “in part because the second trial judge did not allow a witness to back up the defense’s claim that the park ranger who found Robin Samsoe’s animal-ravaged body in the mountains had been hypnotized by police investigators.”
Finally, in 2010, 31 years after the murder, a third trial was held. Just before the trial, Orange County Senior Deputy District Attorney Matt Murphy told LA Weekly, “The ’70s in California was insane as far as treatment of sexual predators. Rodney Alcala is a poster boy for this. It is a total comedy of outrageous stupidity.”
During the years he spent incarcerated, Alcala self-published a book called You, the Jury in which he proclaimed his innocence in the Samsoe case. He hotly contested the DNA swabs done on prisoners periodically for the police department’s evidence bank. Alcala also brought two lawsuits against the California penal system; one for a slip and fall accident, and another for the prison’s refusal to provide him with a low-fat menu.
Alcala announced to much surprise that he would be his own lawyer in his third trial. Even though now, 31 years after Samsoe’s murder, investigators also had concrete evidence against him on four different murders from decades past — thanks to the prison’s DNA swabs. The prosecution was able to combine these new murder charges along with Robin Samsoe in the 2010 trial.