39 Year Old Murder Case Solved

156909_alcala_AJS_AJSA California man has been charged for his involvement in a 1977 Sweetwater County homicide.

Murder charges have been filed against 73 year old Rodney James Alcala from California, following a 34 year investigation by the Sweetwater County Sheriff’s Office.  Alcala, a condemned California Department of Corrections inmate, has been charged with first degree murder, though it is unknown when he will be returned to Wyoming to answer for the charges.

It’s believe that during the summer of 1977 Alcala murdered Christine Ruth Thornton, 28, of San Antonio, Texas and disposed of her body in a remote area northeast of Granger,  in western Sweetwater County.  In April 1982, Thornton’s remains were located by a local rancher, but would remain unidentified until 2015 despite efforts by the Sweetwater County Sheriff’s Office and Wyoming State Crime Laboratory. Though evidence located at the scene was dilapidated, it was determined that the individual was the victim of homicide.

In 2013 Detective Jeff Sheaman picked up the cold case and continued the investigation. A tissue sample from the remains was submitted to the University of North Texas Center for Human Identification for mitochondrial DNA analysis and was included into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System. The system assists law enforcement agencies in the identification of missing persons through various means, including comparison of DNA samples from unidentified and missing persons and relatives of these people who submit DNA samples for analysis.

Alcala was tried and convicted for the 1979 murder of Robin Samsoe in 1980, and in 2005 was indited by a California grand jury for the murders of Jill Barcomb, Georgia Wixted, Charlotte Lamb, and Jill Parenteau. Alcala was convicted at trial of all four murders in 2010, and sentenced to death by a California jury. Following Alcala’s 2010 conviction, detectives released  a series of photographs that were found in Alcala’s possession in 1979 in hopes of identifying other victims.

Though unknown to Sweetwater County detectives, Thornton’s family had been searching for her since her disappearance from the San Antonio area in 1977, and in 2013 a relative was reviewing the Alcala photographs and found a photograph of Thornton. Thornton’s family contacted the Huntington Beach Police Department detectives and reported their findings.  In 2014 two of Thornton’s siblings submitted  DNA samples for inclusion into the NamUS system. In July 2015 Sweetwater County detectives were contacted by NamUS and alerted to the possible identification of Thornton.

Detectives continued their investigation, and positively identified the remains as those of Thornton. Detectives were also able to determine that the photograph of Thornton in Alcala’s possessions was taken a short distance from where her remains were found.

Alcala, commonly known as the “Dating Game Killer” for his 1978 appearance on the popular television show, was also linked to two additional murders in New York in the 1970’s. Alcala was charged and convicted of these crimes in 2012 and given a lengthy prison sentence before being returned to California. While Alcala has been deemed a prolific serial killer, authorities don’t know the full extent of his crimes. It is estimated that Alcala may have up to 130 victims across the United States.

If convicted, Alcala could face punishments of death or life in prison in Wyoming.

Anyone who has further information on the case, particularly anyone in contact with Thornton or Alcala during 1977, is encouraged to contact Sergeant Joe Tomich at 307-922-5295.

Pictured James Alcala.

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