According to Sweetwater County officials, a relative of Thornton who had been searching for her since her 1977 disappearance was looking through those photographs in 2013 when they recognized the young woman.
Nearly four decades after a pregnant woman’s body was found on a Wyoming ranch, prosecutors have connected her death to one of California’s most prolific serial killers, Rodney Alcala.
Detective Pat Ellis told CBS News in 2010 that police received a tip when Alcala's sister visited him in jail, and he mentioned a storage locker in Seattle, Washington, which ‘the cops don’t know about’.
Alcala has spent three decades tangling with California authorities in a series of trials and overturned convictions.
THE PHOTOS In 2013, Thornton’s sister, Kathy Thornton, saw an online display of photos taken by Alcala decades earlier, and recognized the subject of one of those photos as her sister.
After that, investigative work by police in Huntington Beach and Wyoming – and a link to a federal database, Nam US, which matches DNA evidence to remains of unidentified people – helped connect the alleged crime to the picture.
By the time they arrived, Alcala had struck Shapiro with a steel rod and raped her.
Picture now identified as Christine Ruth Thornton, released by the Huntington Beach Police Department after it was found among a series of photographs in the possession of serial killer Rodney Alcala It was one of the photographs of women found with the personal belongings of death row inmate Rodney Alcala, 73, that helped link him to the 1977 killing of Christine Ruth Thornton, sheriff’s officials and prosecutors in Sweetwater County, Wyoming said Tuesday.
While pursuing an appeal in California, Alcala also indicted in the killings of two women in New York City in the 1970s, to which he pleaded guilty.
Alcala is a former photographer and a one-time dating-show contestant, sometimes known as the “Dating Game Killer,” who has been behind bars since 1979.
Though evidence located at the scene was dilapidated, it was determined that the woman had been a murder victim, Sweetwater County officials said.
Alcala was found guilty in 2010 of killing four women and a 12-year-old girl in Southern California in the 1970s.