The Alphabet Killer

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The Alphabet Killer
File:Alphabet killer mp.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Rob Schmidt
Produced by Tom Malloy
Isen Robbins
Aimee Schoof
Russell Terlecki
Daniel Sollinger
Written by Tom Malloy
Starring Eliza Dushku
Cary Elwes
Michael Ironside
Bill Moseley
Carl Lumbly
Meltem Cumbul
Tom Noonan
and Timothy Hutton
Music by Eric Perlmutter
Cinematography Joe DeSalvo
Edited by Frank Reynolds
Distributed by Anchor Bay Entertainment
Release dates
November 7, 2008
Running time
100 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $33,975 (INT)[1]

The Alphabet Killer is a 2008 thriller-horror film, loosely based on the Alphabet murders that took place in Rochester, New York between 1971 and 1973. Eliza Dushku stars as the main character, alongside Cary Elwes, Michael Ironside, Bill Moseley and Timothy Hutton. The film is directed by Rob Schmidt, director of Wrong Turn also starring Dushku and written by Tom Malloy, who also acted in a supporting role.


Megan Paige (Eliza Dushku) is an investigator for the Rochester Police Department investigating the murder of a young girl named Carla Castillo. Her body was found in the nearby village of Churchville, New York with white cat hair on it. Against opposition of her colleagues and boyfriend Kenneth Shine (Cary Elwes), Megan insists that the murder is a work of a serial killer. Despite Megan’s considerable efforts she fails to catch the killer. Stress and obsession of the investigation causes Megan to hallucinate the victim's image. She ultimately has a nervous breakdown after being kicked off the case and tries to commit suicide.

Following two years of medical treatment and attending a support group headed by a wheelchair-bound man named Richard Ledge (Timothy Hutton), Megan rejoins the police department in an office job. Following a similar murder of another young girl, Wendy Walsh, whose body is found in Webster with some white cat hair on it, Megan successfully lobbies to rejoin the investigation. Partnered with Steven Harper (Tom Malloy), they try to find links between the girls. Then another girl, Melissa Maestro, is killed in Macedon. They find a number of commonalities between Wendy and Melissa, but fail to connect these to the first victim. The Webster Police Department, which has jurisdiction over the latest murder but are uncooperative, receive a call from 19-year-old Elizabeth Eckers who is being held hostage in a house. Megan is convinced the suspect is not the Alphabet Killer and breaks procedure to preempt a police raid. Megan defuses the situation, but an officer shoots the suspect through a window and kills him. Webster police declare that the Alphabet Killer is dead and announce the discovery of white cat hair in the house. Megan spirals into another nervous breakdown.

Certain that the Webster police planted the evidence in order to justify killing an innocent, Megan continues the investigation on her own. Megan discovers that all three girls attended St. Michael's Church in Rochester. Still suffering from hallucinations of the victims, Megan visits the church and tries to question the pastor, but suffers another breakdown and is hospitalized. Megan flees from the hospital and takes refuge in Ledge's home. There, she finds out that he used to work as the math teacher for the St. Michael's Church which finally reveals that he is the killer. Before she can act, he leaps from his wheelchair - having only pretended to be disabled - and attacks her. Ledge knocks her unconscious and drives to a remote spot near the Genesee River to kill her. Before Ledge can inject her with a sedative and dump her in the river, Megan breaks free and shoots him with his own gun. Ledge falls into the river just past a large waterfall - though it's unclear if he is dead. Unsure whether Ledge is dead and confused by her surroundings, Megan is driven by the intense situation to another, longer breakdown.

Megan is hospitalized and kept under intensive psychiatric care. The final scenes of the film show Megan heavily sedated and strapped to a bed in a psychiatric ward. There is no one else in the room, but in her state, she envisions the spirits of the victims waiting for her to return and seek justice for them.

The final scenes of Megan are intercut with scenes of Ledge who, having survived Megan's attempts to kill him, has altered his appearance. He is shown in church, receiving communion and exchanging glances with a potential victim. It is unclear if these scenes of Ledge are actually occurring or are part of Megan's psychosis.

A title card announces: "In 2006, police exhumed a fireman's body and posthumously cleared him as a suspect. To date, the Alphabet Killer has not been found."



From 1970 to 1973, three girls in and around Rochester, New York were brutally raped and strangled, their bodies dumped in neighboring villages. Each girl's first and last names started with the same letter and matched the initial of the name of the village where their body was found. The film deviates significantly from established facts, most evident with the setting in modern time. (See Cheri Farnsworth's book, Alphabet Killer: The True Story of the Double Initial Murders for a detailed look at the real Alphabet murders.)[2][3] In the movie, the filmmakers chose to focus on the personal aspect of the story and its impact on the lead character, instead of police procedure in the investigation.[4] Writer Tom Malloy developed the script with the help of a homicide investigator who had worked on the original case. The writer noted that he saw the film as a cross between A Beautiful Mind and Zodiac.[5]

Dushku was an immediate choice for the lead role.[4] The filmmakers also deliberately chose certain actors who had earlier played the role of a killer in other films. The film was shot in and around Rochester. The climactic scene was shot near the High Falls of Genesee River.[5]



The film was screened at multiple film festivals, including European Film Market and Screamfest Horror Film Festival. The film had a limited theatrical release in the United States on Friday, November 7, 2008 when it was released in 2 theaters, only in New York.[6] As of December 14, 2008 the film's domestic earnings are $29,784 while it grossed $4,191 in the foreign markets for a worldwide total of $33,975.[1]

Critical response

The film received negative reviews from critics, earning a 14% "Rotten" rating on Rotten Tomatoes.[7] Gary Goldstein of the Los Angeles Times commended the actors' performances but thought the end was very unsatisfactory.[8] LA Weekly's Luke Thompson said the plot was quite predictable, but said that the presence of multiple supporting characters keeps viewers guessing, which made the film very interesting.[9] Jeannette Catsoulis of The New York Times praised Dushku's skills and Schmidt's interest in "facts than in frights".[10] Andy Klein of Los Angeles CityBeat bemoaned the "preposterousness of the mystery's solution".[11]


  1. 1.0 1.1 "The Alphabet Killer (2008)". Box Office Mojo. 2008-12-14. Retrieved 2015-10-05.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Gary, Craig. "New book delves deeper into Rochester unsolved Double Initial murders". Democrat and Chronicle. Retrieved 2010-09-07.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Cheri, Farnsworth (2010). Alphabet Killer: The True Story of the Double Initial Murders. Stackpole Books. ISBN 978-0-8117-0632-2.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. 4.0 4.1 "Exclusive Interview : Rob Schmidt". Moviehole. Retrieved 2008-12-24.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. 5.0 5.1 "'The Alphabet Killer': Thriller depicts Rochester slayings, toll on detective". The Buffalo News. Trading Markets. 2008-11-28. Retrieved 2008-12-24.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. "The Alphabet Killer (2008)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2008-12-24.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. "The Alphabet Killer (2008)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2015-10-05.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Goldstein, Gary (2008-11-14). "'The Alphabet Killer' issues go unsolved". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2008-12-24.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Thompson, Luke (2008-11-12). "Film Reviews: Antarctica, The First Basket". LA Weekly. Retrieved 2008-12-24.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Catsoulis, Jeannette (2008-12-12). "Movie Review -The Alphabet Killer-Murder by the Letter". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-12-24.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. [1][dead link]

External links