(The picture of Christine Thornton from Rodney Alcala’s collection. Image source)
Kathy Thornton first saw this photograph online while browsing through a collection of over 100 scanned photographs taken by convicted serial killer Rodney Alcala. The images had been found in a storage shed belonging to the killer and the Huntington Beach police department had released them to the public in 2010, in the hopes of identifying further victims. The catalogue of women and children was extensive, apparently there were many more images but the police found them inappropriate for public viewing. This suggests to me that they were probably of a sexual nature or possibly disturbing.
Kathy Thornton, who had been searching endlessly for her sister since she went missing in the seventies, finally had an answer to the question she had been asking for the past 38 years- What happened to Christine Ruth Thornton?
She had sought help from every agency and authority she could think of in the hopes that it would help her locate her sister. She scrolled through Rodney Alcala’s portfolio, skipping past pictures of smiling women and children who were unknowingly posing for the killer behind the camera. She wasn’t expecting anything to come of it, when suddenly she saw a familiar face staring back at her.
The photograph showed a brunette woman in her twenties, dressed in a long sleeved yellow kaftan shirt, flared blue denim jeans and a pair of beat-up red thong sandals.
She was sitting on a Kawasaki H1 Mach III motorcycle, smiling, the background was a vast stretch of isolated desert terrain, the motorcycle appeared to be attached by a length rope to the bumper of a yellow car that poked out of the bottom left hand corner of the photograph.
A gold ring and leather strapped watch decorated the woman’s left hand that clutched at the handle of the bike. It wasn’t evident from looking at the picture, but the woman was pregnant.
As a final confirmation, Kathy enlarged the image and moved her eyes to the sandals. She noticed that the woman’s pinky toe protruded out and overlapped the one next to it.
It was Christine.
(Rodney Alcala on “The dating game”. Image source)
Alcala, dubbed by the media as “The dating game killer” received the death sentence in 2010 for several murders committed throughout the seventies. He got his morbid nickname after participating in an episode of “the dating game” in 1978. He had the rape of a little girl and two murders under his belt at the time, and was actually picked as the winner of the show. The scheduled date never actually happened, as the bachelorette, Cheryl Bradshaw, pulled out due to how “creepy” she found Alcala backstage. The incident serves as a reminder to always follow your intuition. Good call, Cheryl.
You can watch the video in full here [X]
(Rodney Alcala on “The dating game”. Image source)
It turned out that Christine had fallen prey to Alcala and was murdered by him in 1977. His MO was rape and strangulation, and although Christine’s cause of death was never determined, it was considered a homicide. The dating game killer did not admit to the murder, but couldn’t deny that he had taken the photograph, as it was found in his storage shed and it was his motorcycle pictured.
Rodney Alcala is generally listed as having between 8 – 130 victims, so it’s not a stretch to believe that there are at least a handful of unidentified victims still out there. Only time will tell.
According to a NAMPG profile for Christine, her mother had actually reported her as a missing person in 1977, but the authorities dismissed it and stated that she was an adult and was missing of her own accord. It is true that the 28 year old woman had set off intentionally, leaving San Antonio with plans to travel to Montana with her then boyfriend. Christine failed to keep in contact with her family, stirring suspicion that she had met with foul play.
The couple had planned to pan for gold out in Montana but got into a spat somewhere along the way and broke up. The last time Christine’s boyfriend had seen his pregnant girlfriend was Green river in ’77 where they parted ways. Kathy revealed this information in an article from LMT online as she had originally suspected the boyfriend and tracked him down for answers.
The skeletal remains of Christine and her unborn child had actually been discovered by a dirt road in early April of 1982 in South West Wyoming. The rancher who stumbled upon them had reported his findings to the police in Sweetwater County, but the problem was that they went unidentified for over 30 years.
When a relative of Kathy sent her a link to Alcala’s photograph collection in 2013 Christine would finally get back her name. Kathy submitted a DNA sample to the FBI’s database and it was an action that paid off, as investigators handling the cold case had also submitted samples of the remains and were able to test the two against each other resulting in a positive match.
Alcala was charged with the murder of Christine Ruth Thornton late 2016.
(Photo booth picture of Christine. Image source)
A strange extra detail I found while reading about this case was that in 2014, after Christine had been identified in the photograph, a woman called the police department claiming to be her. I found a blog ran by Kathy where she sends out a message to her missing sister asking her to make contact.
The post reads as follows:
“Christine Ruth Thornton - we stumble upon your picture...sitting on a motorcycle...one of Rodney Alcala's victims. How can this be?!? The Huntington Beach Police Dept. detectives say that you called them and identified yourself as the woman in that picture. How can that be?!? You have been missing since 1977. You have never contacted your family. You have been missed... The HBPD can't give any proof that you actually contacted them. Are you truly out there? There are no records available (and believe me I've searched) attached to your name or your social security number. Have you changed your identity completely? Or is the HBPD wrong? If you're out there, please contact me. If you're out there, it has been too long... your loving sister, Kathy Thornton” (source)
My first thought is why would somebody do this?
Either it’s a very cruel prank, or someone was intending to assume the missing woman’s identity for their own benefit. What do you think the point of this misleading call was?
Thank you for reading, and don’t forget to check back for new posts. Stay safe out there. Until next time friends.
Other sources not linked in article: