11:58 AM EDT, March 20, 2010
Santa Ana -- Nine women have been identified through photographs found in a storage locker owned by convicted serial killer Rodney Alcala so far, and all of them are alive.
Huntington Beach police Capt. Chuck Thomas said one of them told authorities that Alcala molested her, but he added that the statute of limitations in that case has expired.
There are also reports by at least 6 families who believe some of Alcala's pictures show loved ones who disappeared years ago and were never found.
The photos had been in the possession of Rodney Alcala, who has been in custody since 1979 and was recently convicted of murdering four young women and a 12-year-old girl.
Jurors recommended the death penalty this month.
Prosecutors say Alcala used his camera to lure his victims, and he was seen taking pictures of the girl before she disappeared.
They fear some of the unidentified people in the photos released last week may have fallen victim to Alcala as well.
The photos are just a fraction of the more than 1,000 images investigators found in Alcala's storage locker when he was arrested for the 1979 murder of 12-year-old Robin Samsoe in Huntington Beach.
Detectives have withheld about 900 pictures because they are too sexually explicit, while others have been cropped for release, Thomas said. He said he didn't know why his predecessors didn't release the photos years ago.
Releasing the pictures during Alcala's recent trial could have influenced the jury pool or could have jeopardized the verdict and death penalty recommendation on appeal.
Alcala was previously convicted and sentenced to death twice for the murder of Samsoe, but both convictions were overturned on appeal.
In 2006, investigators refiled the case and linked Alcala to four previously unsolved murders from Los Angeles County using DNA technology and other forensic evidence.
During the latest trial, prosecutors outlined Alcala's penchant for torturing his victims: One had been raped with a claw-toothed hammer, another had her skull smashed in with a 7-inch rock and one was strangled so fiercely the pressure broke bones. Several of the victims were posed nude in sexual positions after their deaths.
A jury convicted Alcala, a 66-year-old UCLA graduate, of five counts of first-degree murder last month and took just an hour to return a recommendation of death after the penalty phase earlier this month.
Alcala, who represented himself at trial, did not respond to a request for a jailhouse interview about the newly released photos.
Police are now chasing leads from Seattle to Phoenix to Orange County, Calif. Even before the photos were released, Alcala was a suspect in several cases in New York City, where he lived from 1968 to 1971, and in New Hampshire, Murphy said. So far, they have not confirmed that any missing or murdered people are among those in the photos.
Dozens of police departments across the U.S. are also combing through cold cases, looking for similarities between their unsolved murders or missing persons reports and Alcala's victims.
Liane Leedom, a 48-year-old psychology professor and author, is one of those women. She had insomnia earlier this week and was watching CNN at 2 a.m. when she saw herself at age 17 in Photo No. 123. In the picture, Leedom poses in a white, strapless summer dress with a gold cross around her neck, looking down and away from Alcala's camera with a faraway gaze.
Alcala lived down the street from Leedom with his mother and befriended her in June 1979 - the same month he killed Samsoe, who disappeared while riding a friend's bike to ballet class.
Leedom said Alcala gave her a ride to work once and invited her to his mother's home to look at dozens of pictures he'd taken of other teenagers before asking to photograph her at her parents' house.
"I was a 17-year-old girl and I said, 'Oh, a professional photographer wants to take my picture! Of course I'll do it,"' she recalled.
Alcala bragged about how he was a member of Mensa, the organization for people with a genius IQ, and always wore a medallion around his neck that he said signified his membership in the group, she said.
"I think he was grooming me. He showed me all these pictures he had taken.
He showed me pictures of nude boys and some of them were so striking that they stick in my mind today," Leedom said.
A neighbor saw Leedom getting out of Alcala's car and told her parents, who ordered her not to see him again. The adults around the neighborhood knew he had already served prison time for an attack on an 8-year-old girl and was awaiting trial on charges of raping a 15-year-old.
"It was super lucky," Leedom said in a phone interview from her Connecticut home. "I'm determined to do good things with the life I've been blessed with."
If you know who these women are, contact Huntington Beach Police Detective Patrick Ellis, at 714-375-5066, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.