1865: Paul Bogle 2000: Yopougon Massacre

2006: Danny Rolling, the Gainesville Ripper

October 25th, 2012 Headsman

During the first week of classes in August 1990 at the University of Florida’s city of Gainesville, five college students were brutally murdered during a terrifying burglary-rape-murder spree.

On this date in 2006, serial killer Danny Rolling finally paid for the murders.

The face of evil in our community” and Florida college towns’ most infamous serial killer since Ted Bundy made the FSU Chi Omega sorority his last port of call, Rolling was a 26-year-old with sociopathy born of an abusive home life. (Here’s a pdf profile of the guy.)

After shooting his hated father in the face — the Shreveport, La., policeman lost an eye but lived — Rolling headed east to Florida. He would later say that he aspired to become a “superstar” criminal — just like Bundy.*

Little did anyone know that Rolling was already a murderer. Only after his grisly turn in Gainesville was he linked back to a theretofore unsolved 1989 Shreveport triple homicide that saw a man, his daughter, and his son stabbed to death. Rolling had posed young Julie Grissom for investigators.

It was a signature behavior the Gainesville police were about to know all too well.

Out of nowhere, the horror murders leaped onto Florida front pages: 18-year-old Sonja Larson and 17-year-old Christina Powell, stabbed to death on August 24, 1990 (Larson was raped, too): both girls’ bodies theatrically posed.

The very next day, 18-year-old Christina Hoyt raped, stabbed to death, and decapitated — the severed head positioned as if scrutinizing its former torso.

Terrified students began taking what protective measures they could against the hunter in their midst, but just two days later 23-year-old Tracy Paules was raped, knifed, and posed … after Rolling also killed the boyfriend that she had staying over for safety.

Arrested soon thereafter on an unrelated burglary, Rolling’s campsite turned up the evidence linking him to the Gainesville Ripper’s predations. Superstardom was on the way: Rolling’s murders helped inspire the Wes Craven slasher classic Scream.**

When the much-delayed case finally came to trial in 1994, Rolling unexpectedly pleaded guilty without any deal to avoid the death penalty. Why dilute his infamy by denying it? “There are some things you just can’t run from, this being one of those,” Rolling told the judge in his singsong drawl.

Maybe had he come of age just a few years later, the Gainesville Ripper might have scratched that itch for notoriety holding forth on the coming age of new media channels instead of butchering humans.

Certainly Danny Rolling, arranger of mutilated corpses, had the character of a performer; recordings of his own renditions of folk songs were among the artifacts police recovered from the killer’s campsite. Later, in prison, Rolling became a prolific death row artist and his “murderabilia” art can be found for sale on the Internet.

He also personally illustrated The Making of a Serial Killer, a book about his crime spree that Rolling co-authored with Sondra London — a true crime author who fell in love with her subject.

A few books about (and by) Danny Rolling

Whatever charms people perceived in Danny Rolling have understandably been lost on those who survived the victims. And Rolling’s wicked “superstardom” remains yet a sensitive subject in Gainesville, where many residents still remember those days of panic the Gainesville Ripper sowed in 1990.


Memorial to Danny Rolling’s victims painted on Gainesville’s 34th Street Wall. Image (c) hecht 801 and used with permission.

* There was a more direct link between Bundy and Rolling as well: (non-death-row) murderer Bobby Lewis, who became Bundy’s friend while the latter was in prison, later also befriended Danny Rolling, even acting as a go-between for Rolling’s dealings with investigators.

** There’s also a 2007 (posthumous to Danny) horror film directly about the Gainesville murders.

Also on this date

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Florida,History,Lethal Injection,Murder,Rape,Serial Killers,Sex,USA

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8 thoughts on “2006: Danny Rolling, the Gainesville Ripper”

  1. Fiz says:

    One less monster on the earth to worry about.

  2. JCF says:

    Executions create MORE “monsters”. Killing-> more killing.

  3. Kevin M. Sullivan says:

    May we never give up the right to execute the evil among us, once they’ve been convicted in a court of law and had the proper appeals. This is both good and fair, and to not do so is a slap to the face of the families of the victims.

  4. Richard A. Duffus says:

    I agree JCF. According to trial testimony, Rolling came to Florida to kill so he could become a “criminal superstar.”

    When Ted Bundy asked attorney John Henry Browne in what state people would most likely be executed, Browne’s answer was that, “It’d probably be Florida now.” Journalist Richard Larsen questioned whether Ted Bundy went to Florida “to play his thrilling drama on the most ominous of stages.” Bundy’s interviews with Dr. Ronald M. Holmes, Professor Emeritus of Justice Administration at the University of Louisville, verified Larsen’s suspicion when Bundy “said that the reason he went to Florida was that he knew Florida had the death penalty, and if he was caught for his crimes he would be executed. He added ‘the greater the risk, the greater the thrill.’” Michael Mello, internationally recognized authority on the death penalty and capital punishment issues, believed that, beyond the risk attraction, “if caught, he [Bundy] wanted the celebrity of a high-profile trial and execution.”

    Dr. Katherine van Wormer, who studied suicide-murder (suicide by capital punishment), says “Within prison and without, there are certain disturbed individuals—mostly men and mostly whites—for whom the prospect of execution was highly appealing.” She cites “22 cases of murderers in the U.S. who killed in hopes of getting themselves executed.”

    States with capital punishment put their citizens at risk by attracting killers.

  5. JCF says:

    “May we never give up the right to execute the evil among us”

    Oh, I’m all for executing evil: I try to execute the evil within me everyday.

    I conscientiously object to executing HUMAN BEINGS, however: human beings, who are ALWAYS a mixture of good & evil, to those who know them best.

    Some of us have evil from which society should be PROTECTED (i.e., imprisonment or secure mental hospitals). That doesn’t require killing. Execution just lets loose our invididual evils to merge into collective state-sanctioned homicide. If we want less violence in our society, just say NO MORE EXECUTIONS!

  6. Kevin M. Sullivan says:

    Dear JCF:

    “Execution just lets loose our invididual evils to merge into collective state-sanctioned homicide. If we want less violence in our society, just say NO MORE EXECUTIONS!”

    You are exceedingly confused. You have no idea what drives people to murder, or apparently, why the average person never commits murder. You have an exceedingly simplistic view of morality in general, and you know nothing of truly wicked individuals who need to be relieved of their breath.

  7. Richard A. Duffus says:

    Just because somebody disagrees with you, Kevin, they are not necessarily confused, uninformed, simple-minded, or, as you have often said of me, delusional. Your comments are nothing more than a personal attack.

  8. The man was mental he should
    Have been cut up slowly “living with mammy and daddy”divvy eh

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