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'Dating Game' Serial Killer Rodney Alcala Charged with Two Manhattan Murders

By DNAinfo Staff on January 27, 2011 10:01am  | Updated on January 27, 2011 7:26pm

By Shayna Jacobs

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

MANHATTAN SUPREME COURT — Convicted serial killer Rodney Alcala, who is on death row in California, has been indicted on new charges he brutally murdered two Manhattan women in the 1970s, Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr. announced Thursday.

Alcala allegedly raped and strangled Cornelia Crilley in her Upper East Side apartment in 1971 and is also believed to be responsible for the 1977 disappearance of Ellen Hover, whose remains were found in Westchester County.

Both victims were "bright and lively" 23-year-olds when they were allegedly murdered by the former photographer, the DA said.

Eerily, Alcala had appeared as a handsome young contestant on "The Dating Game" around the time he reportedly lured his victims to their death by inviting them to be his subjects in racy photo shoots.

Convicted serial killer Rodney Alcala sits in Orange County Superior Court in Santa Ana, California on January 11, 2010.
Convicted serial killer Rodney Alcala sits in Orange County Superior Court in Santa Ana, California on January 11, 2010.
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AP Photo/Nick Ut

Crilley was a flight attendant from Queens living with two roommates, fellow stewardesses, in a Yorkville apartment. She was strangled with a stocking and found with "clothing stuffed into her mouth" at her 427 East 83rd Street apartment, according to a New York Times report from June 26, 1971. 

Hover was the daughter of Ciro's club owner Herman Hover, who was photographed with Marilyn Monroe and Betty Grable at the legendary Los Angeles club he ran.

The Beaver College graduate was believed to have been kidnapped from her 686 Third Avenue walk-up apartment building where she lived by herself. Her anguished mother, Yvonne Schwartz, reported her disappearance after friends said Hover was a no-show to a dinner date they'd scheduled, according to archived reports. 

"You can't make the assumption that no new is good news in this situation," Schwartz told the Times in 1977. "I don't know if she's alive or dead and I'm so terribly frustrated because there is nothing we can do."

A private investigator hired by Schwartz found a calendar in Hover's apartment showing she had a July 15 lunch date with photographer John Berger. 

John Berger is one of the aliases the grisly killer used when he lived in New York City in the 1970s, prosecutors said Thursday.

Despite the cache of clues that grew over three decades and the suspicions of many that Alcala murdered two promising young women, authorities did not have the evidence to prosecute until recently, Vance told reporters at Thursday's news conference. 

Prior to Thursday's announcement, "critical evidence eluded the police and prosecutors and no suspect had been charged," Vance said.

The case became a priority for the DA's cold case unit, which took on a re-examination of these two homicides last year.

"We simply, as a matter of policy, as a matter of doing our job do not turn our back on a murder case," Vance said.

Vance would not confirm whether Alcala was a suspect in other cold case Manhattan homicides, but did not rule out the possibility. He did not say whether DNA evidence matched Alcala to either of the victims.

"We have not yet closed any book with this defendant," the DA said.

Prosecutors and police collaborated on the new investigation, pooling evidence and resources. They interviewed more than 100 witnesses nationwide and used information from his California murder trial to re-approach witnesses, a law enforcement source said.

Alcala, 67, is currently on death row in California for murdering four women and a 12-year-old girl. Alcala also allegedly sexually tortured his victims before murdering them, according to reports.

In 2003, the NYPD reportedly matched a bite mark on Crilley's body to Alcala's dental impression but it remains unclear why the charges were not brought sooner. 

Last year police released more than 200 photographs of mostly women and children believed to be photographed by Alcala in the Greenwich Village area. He lived in Manhattan while he studied film from 1970-71 and again in 1977, the same years as the alleged murders. Members of the public are asked to notify the NYPD’s CrimestoppersHotline at 1-800-577-TIPS if they recognize any individuals in the photographs.

It is not known whether Crilley and Hover were among his youthful female photography subjects.

Vance made the announcement of Alcala's indictment alongside NYPD Chief of Detectives Phil Pulaski on Thursday afternoon.

Pulaski said a tireless team of detectives and the department's cold case unit have been working closely with prosecutors.

Last year, Vance said he was opening investigations into 3,000 cold case homicides dating back to the 1970s, including the Crilley and Hover cases.

It could be weeks before Alcala is extradited to appear in a Manhattan courtroom to face these charges.

He is not believed to have a New York lawyer at this time and previously represented himself at trial in California.