Four Notorious Killers Who Were Contestants on Game Shows
We in the non-violent population have more in common with cold-blooded murderers than we like to think. For one thing, we all like to be on TV and potentially win large sums of money for not a lot of work. For that reason, a disturbing number of people who turned out to be vicious killers have graced our screens during what is supposed to be one of the safest, grandparentest hours of television.
John Cooper, aka The Bullseye Killer
The Bullseye Killer didn’t get his nickname from any unusual archery-based M.O. In fact, Cooper is the rare serial killer who got two nicknames, the other being the Pembrokeshire Murderer for the robbery, sexual assault and shooting of a married couple in the area just a month after appearing on a British game show called Bullseye in 1989. It was depressingly popular despite being based entirely on the game of darts.
In fact, it was his appearance on the show, which matched a contemporary sketch drawn from a witness’ description, that helped police identify him in the late 2000s. (He had long since given up the Welcome Back, Kotter look.) It turned out he’d also been responsible for another double murder six months earlier during a robbery and arson, 30 additional robberies and the sexual assault of two teenage girls. Eerily, on the show, he mentioned his passion for scuba diving in the area of the Pembrokeshire Murders. To think so much suffering could have been avoided if only Cooper had been better at darts or scuba diving.
In 1989, apparently a big year for game show killers, Curry won Jeopardy! twice, walking away with more than $24,000 until eventually botching a final question about Ulysses S. Grant. (Pro tip: It’s always Ulysses S. Grant.) Curry’s thirst for easy money wasn’t limited to trivia, though. The same year, he met Linda Kinkade, married her in 1992 and immediately began pressuring her to put her financial assets in his name and get life insurance. Anyone who’s consumed any amount of true crime knows this is when you should run screaming to your nearest podcaster.
But the genre hadn’t taken off yet and Kinkade trusted the man she’d been with for three years, so she did as he asked and soon began experiencing bizarre bouts of illness that her doctors couldn’t explain, to the point that they thought she might be faking it. You know how broads are sometimes (this was when people still called women “broads”). Even after a nurse discovered her IV bag had been tampered with and Kinkade told police Curry was the only one who had motive to kill her, they were still like, “Well, we’re ‘90s cops, so unless there’s a bloody glove somewhere, our hands are tied.”
Kinkade succumbed to her mysterious illness in 1994, and Curry got away with it until 2002, when it was discovered that his previous wife also suffered unexplained symptoms and had been rejected for life insurance. On a hunch, knowing that the most common reason people are rejected for life insurance is claiming to be non-smokers but testing positive for nicotine, investigators referred back to Kinkade’s toxicology report, which revealed she had 50 to 100 times more nicotine in her system than a regular smoker, which she wasn’t. It’s believed that Curry mixed tobacco into her food and injected her with it in her sleep.
Trivia giveth, and trivia taketh away.
Rodney Alcala, aka The Dating Game Killer
Unlike most game-show killers, Alcala wasn’t in it for the money, so you’d think he’d try to keep a low profile during his 1970s killing spree that left at least eight women and one girl dead, but the lure of bright lights and lame innuendo was apparently too strong. At the time of his 1978 appearance on The Dating Game, he’d already killed six women, one of them only three months earlier, and even been convicted of child molestation. Game-show producers didn’t really check on these things back then — they only cared how hard you could rock some bell bottoms.
Amazingly, Alcala won a date with the featured bachelorette despite giving strange, nonsensical answers to her questions because, if the audience’s reactions are anything to go by, people were easily distracted by anything that sounded vaguely dirty. When she spoke to him after the show, though, she felt “weird vibes coming off him” and asked the producers if she was legally obligated to go on a date with this creep. Luckily, the answer was no, and she avoided the fates of his final victims. He was arrested less than a year later, died in prison in 2021 and potentially murdered 130 people in all. Imagine how those other contestants must feel.
Edward Wayne Edwards
The producers of What’s My Line? and To Tell the Truth, on the other hand, were well aware of Edwards’ criminal past when they booked him. In fact, that was his main draw as a contestant. Edwards had been on the FBI’s Most Wanted List after spending almost a decade robbing gas stations in the 1950s and 1960s, then wrote a bestselling book about his reformation in prison and became a motivational speaker. He was a combination Jesse James/Jordan Belfort. You have to admit, that’s a hard one to see coming on a show whose premise boils down to “guess my job.”
But his reformation didn’t last long, and it turned out he also had something of a David Berkowitz in him. In 1977, he killed a young couple in Ohio, another in Wisconsin in 1980 and his own foster son in 1996. It was his adult daughter who figured it all out after she started looking into his past, and when he was arrested in 2009, he decided, um, to tell the truth. He probably knew he wouldn’t be punished for long — he was already 75 years old, and sure enough, he died of natural causes in prison in 2011. One researcher believes — without almost any evidence, to be clear — he may be responsible for everything from the Zodiac killings to the murder of JonBenet Ramsey.
Now that would be a twist worthy of a game show.