So we’re deep into October and as well as the way too early Christmas decorations, we see shop aisles dedicated to one of my favourite holidays Halloween! The costumes, the skulls, black glitter, spooky musical decorations, and of course the horror movie marathons. I’m sure if you read true crime a part of you is a bit of a horror geek (like myself) so of course we’ll list some of the classics Halloween (1978), Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), Friday the 13th (1980), The Shining (1980), and of course one of the first horror movies I watched Scream (1996). This was a 90s classic, it continued into 4 sequels, each film would poke fun and point out the horror clichés, let’s not forget also Drew Barrymore was famously in the movie for around 10 minutes until she became the first victim of “Ghostface” (Skeet Ulrich, major DILF now btw). The reason I talk about Scream is because the film is inspired by the real life murders committed by “The Gainesville Ripper” Danny Harold Rolling.
Rolling was born in Shreveport, Louisiana on 26th May 1954. His father James Rolling worked as a Shreveport police officer and was often abusive toward Danny, his mother Claudia and his brother Kevin. He would often tell Danny that he was unwanted. In one abusive incident Claudia Rolling went to the hospital, she claimed that her husband had made her try to cut herself with a razor blade. After this she made repeated attempts to leave her husband, but always returned. Another serious incident involving Danny shows his father’s extreme sense of discipline, James Rolling pinned Danny to the ground like he would a criminal he was pursuing and then had police take his son away because he was “embarrassed by him”.
While he was young, Rolling was arrested numerous times for robberies in Georgia and was caught spying on women getting dressed. Rolling had trouble living in society and couldn’t hold down a job, although he did work briefly as a waiter at Pancho’s restaurant in Shreveport.
He attempted his first murder then in May 1990 when he tried to kill his father during a family argument, during this fight Rolling’s father lost an eye and ear, but did survive.
On 24th August 1990, Rolling broke into the apartment that two 17 year old university freshman Sonja Larson and Christina Powell shared. Powell was asleep on the downstairs couch when Rolling entered the apartment, he stood over her and did not wake her, he chose to go and explore upstairs finding Larson in her bedroom asleep. Rolling taped her mouth shut, and stabbed her death, her wounds showed she had died trying to fight Rolling off. Powell woke up hearing commotion upstairs, but Rolling went back downstairs before she could react and once again he taped her mouth shut, tied her wrists behind her back and threatened her with a knife. Rolling used the knife to cut Larson’s clothes off then raped her, she was then stabbed five times in the back after Rolling had forced her face down on the floor. Shockingly before leaving the apartment Rolling posed the bodies in sexually provocative positions.
Rolling struck again the following day, he broke 18 year old Christa Hoyt, he pried open a glass sliding door with a KA-BAR knife and a screwdriver. Hoyt was not home when he broke in so he hid in the living room and waited for her return. Hoyt did not return until the following morning at 11am, Rolling jumped out and surprised her from behind, he put her in a choke hold, once subdued he taped her mouth, bound her wrists and led her to the bedroom. Once there her cut her clothes off and raped her. He forced Hoyt face down onto the floor just like he did Powell and stabbed her in the back, rupturing her heart. Rolling displayed Hoyt’s body in an even more shocking manner, this time he decapitated her and displayed the head on a shelf that faced the body.
As the media interest around the murders grew, many students started to panic and take extra precautions such as sleeping together in groups and changing their daily routines. Some students were so unnerved and anxious about the murders that they withdrew enrolment or transferred to other schools.
The next murder took place on 27th August, and Rolling took his one and only male victim, 23 year old Manny Taboada. Taboada was sharing accommodation with 23 year old Tracy Paules. Using the same tools as all the other murders Rolling broke in by prying open a sliding glass door. He found Taboada asleep in one of the bedrooms, after struggling Rolling killed Taboada. Paules was asleep in one of the other bedrooms when she heard the commotion and went down the hall to investigate. Paules barricaded herself in her bedroom, but Rolling broke through the door and attacked her, he taped her mouth and bound her wrists behind her back, and cut off her clothing. Rolling raped Paules before also turning her over and stabbing her in the back. Interestingly, Paules’ body was left posed, but Taboada’s body was left as it was when he did.
Police were interested in one suspect, a University of Florida student with a history of mental illness and numerous scars on his face from a car accident. His appearance made him an easy target for the media when they talked about the murders and his photo was shown in media outlets. He was cleared of all charges after Rolling was arrested. With media and law enforcement focusing on the suspect in the media Rolling’s attempted to break into another property in Ocala, he was charged with burglary and during that investigation the tools he used for the burglary were matched to marks left on the entries of the other crime scenes.
Investigators went to a small camp where Rolling was living, it was located in a wooded area near an apartment complex that students would often frequent, including the victims. The investigators discovered recordings Rolling had made of himself singing country songs he had composed himself and audio diaries he made alluding to the murders.
Rolling’s arrest prompted Louisiana police to re investigate an unsolved triple murder in Shreveport from 4th November 1989, they alerted Florida police to the similarities in this case and the Gainesville murders. 55 year old William Grissom, his daughter 24 year old Julie and his 8 year old grandson Sean were attacked in their home as they prepared for dinner, Julie’s body had been mutilated and posed similarly to the Gainesville victims. Rolling never officially confessed to the Grissom murders, but he did write about the murders providing details that only the killer would know, in 1994 Shreveport police did obtain an arrest warrant, but Rolling was never stood trial for the killings.
He was charged for the Gainesville murders in November 1991 and brought to trial by Alachua County State Attorney. Rolling claimed he wanted to become a “superstar” like Ted Bundy. Just before his trial was set to start in 1994 Rolling unexpectedly pled guilty to all charges. He was sentenced to death on each count, Court TV did an interview with Rolling’ mother during the trial and in the footage his father could be heard shouting aggressively off camera.
On 25th October 2006, Danny Rolling was executed by lethal injection at Florida State Prison after a last ditch appeal was rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court, he was pronounced dead at 6:13 pm while his victim’s families looked on. Rolling also made a deathbed confession, he wrote a statement confessing to the Grissom family murders, despite not formally confessing before as mentioned. Rolling’s last meal was a lobster tail served with drawn butter, butterfly shrimp with cocktail sauce, a baked potato with sour cream and butter, strawberry cheesecake and sweet tea. He made no statement as “last words” but did sing a gospel hymn.
There is no other word to describe Rolling’s crimes other than horrifying, he was a without a doubt the “horror movie monster” that he inspired for the Scream franchise. His father’s abuse was a factor in how he behaved during the murders, Rolling’s targets were young women and he humiliated his victims just like his father would humiliate him and abuse them just like his father did to his mother. His view on women was obscured by the violence he witnessed against his mother as a result he just saw women as something to abuse and control to satisfy himself.
Rolling’s need for control was also apparent, with the Grissom murders and Taboada murder he took male victims, it’s obvious by the fact he just killed them and didn’t pose them shows he had no interest in them, they were killed because they were in his way and a threat to his control over his female target. This stems from Rolling having no control while growing up, because he was controlled by his father’s violence he sees violence as means to gain and maintain control.
Obviously, plenty of people grow up in similar environments to Rolling and don’t turn into violent criminals, but with Rolling’s father being a police officer and his first arrests for petty crimes he probably saw law enforcement or organisations/services that could help him while he was young as more people trying to obstruct and control him.