NEW YORK – The killings made headlines, spurred extensive investigations and frustrated authorities for decades: A flight attendant found raped and strangled with a pair of stockings in her Manhattan apartment in 1971; a Hollywood nightspot owner's daughter whose remains were found in the woods in 1978 after she disappeared in Manhattan the previous year.
Long after the cases went cold, a convicted California serial killer who had been suspected for years has been indicted in the New York cases, prosecutors said Thursday.
Though he remains on California's death row for now, Rodney Alcala is expected to be brought to New York to face murder charges in the deaths of Cornelia Crilley and Ellen Hover. Alcala, 67, was convicted last year of strangling four women and a 12-year-old girl in California in the 1970s, in killings prosecutors said were laced with sexual abuse and torture.
The New York charges open a new chapter in the convoluted, sometimes bizarre bi-coastal saga of authorities' pursuit of Alcala, a former amateur photographer and TV dating-show contestant with an IQ said to top 160. His last year came after a series of trials and reversed convictions that spanned 30 years and culminated in a trial in which he acted as his own lawyer.
"Cold cases are never, ever forgotten cases," Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. said at a news conference Thursday. "We do not ever give up."
When reached Thursday, Hover's cousin, Sheila Weller, said was gratified by the news, but she did not want to comment further.
Crilley and Hover were both 23, living in Manhattan apartments. Crilley worked for Trans World Airlines.
Hover, who had gotten a college degree in biology with a minor in music, was looking for work as a research analyst, a private investigator for her family said at the time. Her father, comedy writer Herman Hover, had been an owner of the one-time Hollywood hotspot Ciro's.
Alcala had been eyed as a suspect in Hover's death since at least 1979. Prosecutors in Orange County, Calif., even sought unsuccessfully to mention her killing in the first of Alcala's several trials in the 12-year-old's death, in 1980. His name also has been floated in connection with Crilley's killing for at least a few years.
After the verdict against Alcala last year, authorities released more than 100 photos of young women and girls found in the amateur photographer's storage locker, and prosecutors said authorities were exploring the possibility of tying Alcala to cases in several other states including New York. Prosecutors in Orange County have helped New York authorities with their case for the last few months, deputy district attorney Matt Murphy said.
New York officials said a combination of new technology, information that emerged in the California trial and combing back through evidence collected over decades finally enabled them to put together a case against Alcala. Authorities did new interviews with more than 100 witnesses in the last year.
New York detectives investigating the Crilley slaying had gone 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, according to a law enforcement official who was not authorized to speak publicly and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.
Alcala initially denied he ever visited New York, but after police showed him the warrant, he said, "What took you so long?" said Paul Browne, the NYPD's chief spokesman.
NYPD cold-case detectives also learned while investigating Crilley's slaying that Alcala had used the name John Berger while living in New York — a name also in the Hover case file, Browne said. The family's private detective had said at the time of her disappearance that she had a lunch date with a photographer with a similar name.
It's not uncommon for serial-killing suspects to be linked to crimes that span wide geographic ranges, said Casey Jordan, a Western Connecticut State University professor who has done research on serial killing. In a notorious example, before Ted Bundy was executed for raping and murdering a 12-year-old girl in Florida, he confessed to about 20 slayings in states as far-flung as Utah, Colorado, Idaho and Washington.
In custody since his 1979 California arrest, Alcala was convicted and sentenced to death twice in the 1980s for the 12-year-old girl's 1979 murder, but the verdicts were overturned on appeal. Drawing on DNA samples and other evidence, prosecutors refiled charges in her death and added the four other murder charges in 2006.
His trial last year was both gruesome and surreal. Prosecutors portrayed him as a killer with a penchant for torturing his victims, raping one with a claw-toothed hammer and posing several victims nude in sexual positions after their deaths.
Alcala, representing himself, offered a rambling defense that included questioning the mother of one of his victims, playing Arlo Guthrie's 1967 song "Alice's Restaurant" and showing a TV clip of himself on a 1978 episode of "The Dating Game."
The announcement of his new indictment came on the same day that authorities in California said they were reinvestigating another alleged serial killer who also possessed a stash of photos of possible victims. Police are looking into whether the man charged in the "Grim Sleeper" case killed two other women in the 1990s.
Associated Press writer Colleen Long and researcher Susan James contributed to this report from New York. Associated Press writer Gillian Flaccus contributed from Los Angeles.
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