Imprisoned serial killer charged in 30-year-old murder cold case in Wyoming

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SWEETWATER COUNTY, Wyo. (KSTU) - An imprisoned serial killer has been charged with murder in a 30-year-old cold case out of Sweetwater County, Wyo., authorities confirmed Tuesday.

Rodney James Alcala, 73, of California, convicted of killing seven people, is now being charged with first-degree murder in the death of 28-year-old Christine Ruth Thornton 34 years ago.

During the summer of 1977, authorities believe, Alcala murdered Thornton, of San Antonio, Texas, and dumped her body in a remote area northeast of Granger, a small rural community in western Sweetwater County, according to a press release from Sweetwater County Sheriff's Office.

Thornton's remains were not discovered until April 1982 and she was not identified until 2015.

Alcala, commonly known as the "Dating Game Killer" for his appearance on the popular television show, was convicted for the 1979 murder of Robin Samsoe in 1980.

See photos from the case:

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Serial killer charged in 30-year-old cold case
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In 2005, the release states, a California grand jury indicted Alcala for the murders of Jill Barcomb, Georgia Wixted, Charlotte Lamb and Jill Parenteau. Alcala was convicted for the women's murders in 2010 and sentenced to death.

Following his 2010 conviction, the release states, Huntington Beach Police Department Robbery-Homicide Unit released to the public a series of photos Alcala had in his possession in 1979 with the hopes of identifying other potential victims.

The pictures have been posted on the Southern California Public Radio site. Click here to see the photos.

The cold case investigation continued in Sweetwater County when detectives submitted a tissue sample of their victim's remains in 2013 to the University of North Texas Center for Human Identification for mitochondrial DNA analysis and the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System.

The system assists law enforcement agencies to identify missing people through various means, including comparison of DNA samples from unidentified and missing people and relatives of individuals who can submit their own samples for analysis.

Also in 2013, a relative of Thornton's viewing Alcala's photos found a picture of the victim, the release indicates. Thornton's family contacted Huntington Beach police and in 2014 Thornton's siblings submitted their DNA samples for inclusion in the system.

In July 2015, the release states, Sweetwater County detectives were contacted by the DNA system and alerted to the possible identification of Thornton.

"Detectives were able to determine that the photograph of Thornton in Alcala's possessions was taken a short distance from where her remains were found," the release states. "Other evidence discovered during the investigation linked Alcala to Thornton's homicide."

Alcala was also convicted in 2012 of two murders from the 1970s that occurred in New York. After given a lengthy prison sentence he was returned to California.

"While Alcala has been deemed a prolific serial killer, authorities don't know the full extent of his crimes, though they estimate he may have up to 130 victims across the United States," the release states.

If convicted, Alcala could face 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 call Sgt. Joe Tomich at 307-922-5295.

See photos of serial killers who were never caught:

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10 serial killers who were never caught
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10 serial killers who were never caught

West Mesa Bone Collector: The city of Albuquerque was shaken in 2009 when the bones of 11 women were found in shallow graves in the desert. No suspect has ever been identified, despite FBI and local police investigations. 

(AP Photo/Sergio Salvador)

The Cleveland Torso Murders: Upwards of a dozen victims of "the mad butcher of Kingsbury run" were always found between 1935 and 1938. This photo shows the investigation into a burned boxcar in which three bodies were found. 

(AP Photo/Bill Allen)

The Texarkana Moonlight Murderer: The killer, who was never identified, is credited with terrorizing the town of Texarkana, Texas in 1946 by attacking eight people in ten weeks, creating panic.
The Zodiac Killer: Here are three victims of the self-proclaimed "Zodiac" killer, who's connected to at least 5 murders in Northern California in the 1960s and 1970s, which he bragged about to the police, without ever being caught. 

The Monster of Florence: This killer linked to the murders of seven couples which were targeted after being found engaged in sexual acts in cars in the Italian city. Pictured here are Pia Rontini and Claudio Stefanacci, both shot to death in the seventh such double murder in the Florence area since 1968. The killer was known to mutilate the women.

(AP Photo)

Béla Kiss, the Vampire of Czinkota: This accused Hungarian serial killer is believed to have murdered at least two dozen women and kept their bodies in giant metal drums. He eluded police for years.

(Getty Images)

The Witch Doctor: Adolfo de Jesus Constanzo, known as "El Padrino" or "Godfather," is shown in this undated photo. Constanzo is the ring leader of a satanic cult that has killed at least 12 victims at a ranch near Matamoros, Mexico.

(AP Photo)

The Alphabet Murders: 10-year-old Carmen Colon, pictured here, is one of three girls believed to have been killed in the "double initial" killings in 1971 in Rochester, N.Y. The three girls killed all had first and last names that started with the same letter.

(AP Photo)

The Servant Girl Murders: Three years before Jack the Ripper began his deadly attacks across the ocean, a killer preyed upon the city of Austin, Texas in the 1880s. He would attack men and women in their beds, although not all of his victims died. According to reports more than 400 men were arrested over the years for the crimes, but no one was ever convicted.

(RapidEye via Getty Images)

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