A RETIRED police office who played an instrumental role in capturing the real-life killer who inspired the film Scream film said the “heinous” murder spree continues to haunt him more than 30 years on.
Don Maines, now 70, was a special agent in late August 1990, when five students were brutally murdered by the so-called Gainesville Ripper across four horrifying days near the University of Florida campus.
The horrific murder spree began on the evening of August 24, days before the fall semester was due to begin, when a crazed killer broke into the home of UF freshmen Christina Powell, 17, and Sonja Larson, 18 at the Williamsburg Apartments complex.
The murderer, who wouldn’t be unmasked for several months, had broken into the teens’ apartment via a back door in the dead of the night, using a screwdriver and a knife to prise it open.
He slinked into the apartment to find Powell asleep on the downstairs couch, standing over her briefly before making his way upstairs.
There, he found Larson asleep in her bed. The killer taped her mouth shut to stifle her screams. He then raped her and stabbed her to death.about:blank
An unsuspecting Powell met the same tragic fate just moments later. She also had her mouth taped shut and her hands bound behind her back as the killer cut off her clothes.
Powell was raped and then forced face-down onto the floor where she was fatally stabbed five times in the back.
‘MONSTER ON THE LOOSE’
The gruesome discovery wouldn’t be made for another two days when Powell’s parents stopped by their daughter’s place after growing concerned that they couldn’t get ahold of her.
When nobody answered the door, the parents contacted building management, who advised that they should wait for the police to arrive.
Inside, Larson was found nude and lying on her back on her bed. Her legs were draped over the side of the bed, with her hands above her head and her hair fanned out.
Powell’s body was found in a similar position downstairs.
Both of the victims’ bodies had also been mutilated. Powell’s nipples had been cut off with a knife.
Maines described the scene to The Sun as “gruesome”, adding that the two girls’ bodies had been posed by their killer in a sexually suggestive manner.
On further investigation of the murder scene, police found a paper towel in the corner of the kitchen with the killer’s ejaculate in it. Behind the apartment, in nearby woods, the suspect had also secreted himself.
“It would later develop as a pattern,” the veteran cop told The Sun, “but the heinous way in which the girls had been killed was so striking.
“The murder of students at the University of Florida was unique enough, but then we had someone who had gone into an apartment, killed two girls, and mutilated and raped them.
“That was the striking part of it all – and that’s what sent out the initial shock among the local community.”
DECAPITATED AND DISEMBOWELED
Within eight hours of Powell and Larson’s bodies being found, police would make a third gruesome discovery at the apartment of a Santa Fe Community College student two miles away.
Inside, investigators found 18-year-old Christa Leigh Hoyt decapitated and disemboweled inside her bedroom.
Hoyt’s severed head had been placed on a shelf, positioned to face her body which had been propped up on her bed in a sexual pose.
An aspiring police officer, Hoyt was found dead by some of her colleagues at the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office, where she worked as a part-time records clerk, after failing to show for her shift.
Maines said Hoyt’s body had been deliberately arranged in such a way to provide a “shock value for whoever was to enter that room.”
“It quickly became apparent that we were dealing with a serial killer, as crimes like these don’t typically take place within the city of Gainesville, particularly so near the campus,” Maines said.
“Immediately there was a concern that we had a monster on the loose, and we knew we had to capture him as quickly as possible before he could strike again.”
But strike again the killer did.
Just 48 hours later, 23-year-old UF students, Manuel Taboada and Tracy Paules were found butchered inside of the apartment they shared.
Defensive wounds found on Taboada’s body showed that he had attempted to fend off the man who would later become known as the Gainesville Ripper, but was ultimately overpowered before being stabbed to death.
During the struggle, Paules had run to her bedroom and locked the door. However, Rolling was able to breakthrough.
Like Larson, Powell, and Hoyt before her, Paules was tragically bound, raped, stabbed to death, and later seductively posed.
In addition to all the women being posed, their bodies had been wiped down with a cleaning agent after they had been killed.
Paules, a pre-law senior, became the Gainesville Ripper’s fifth and final victim, before the monster vanished in the night.
In lieu of an arrest, Maines said the city of Gainesville, a typically raucous college town, had become consumed by fear.
“Students were very concerned for their safety and welfare, and their parents were extremely upset and fearful,” he said.
“Classes were canceled and students dropped out or returned home in large numbers.
“This was August of 1990, the very beginning of a brand new school year. There was a lot of activity on the first week before school, with people moving into their respective apartments and dormitories.
“But then the fear gripped the entire area, and everyone was looking at law enforcement to keep the community safe.”
Maines described the aftermath of the Gainesville murders as a “media circus”, with satellite trucks pouring into the town in droves, and press conferences held daily in an attempt to assuage the public’s growing concern and paranoia that the killer was still lurking in their midst.
As the fall semester began, the search for the suspect continued.
Mace sales in the local area skyrocketed and some students even admitted to sleeping with steak knives under their pillows at night.
In the weeks and months after the killings, police investigated more than 6000 leads, sifted through 18,000 items of evidence, and identified 657 different potential suspects.
An 18-year-old UF freshman named Ed Humphrey was initially identified as a person of interest in the case.
Humphrey, who suffered from mental illness, had a number of scars across his face and was known to hang around campus at night dressed in military fatigues and wielding a knife.
He was arrested just days after the murders following an unrelated physical altercation with his grandmother.
A search of his home yielded magazines about knives, guns, and girls.
But their investigation into Humphrey hit a snag when his DNA failed to match evidence gathered at any of the three crime scenes.
While DNA testing was still in its infancy, Maines said investigators were able to determine from semen samples that the killer had type B blood, while Humphrey’s blood was type A.
COLD CASES PROVIDES BREAKTHROUGH
Back to square one, Maines said a break in the case wouldn’t come until months later when investigators were alerted to an unsolved triple murder in Shreveport, Louisiana, which bore a striking resemblance to the killings in Gainesville.
In that case, 24-year-old Julie Grissom, her eight-year-old nephew, Sean, and her 55-year-old father, Tom, were all murdered inside of their home on November 24, 1989.
Maines went to Shreveport to investigate the murders, where he discovered that Julie Grisson’s body had been posed in a similar position to the women killed in Gainesville.
She also had tape residue on her body and red wine vinegar had been used to clean her remains of evidence.
Maines said investigators in Shreveport tested the body fluids from the perpetrator and found traces of saliva in a bite mark on her left breast that confirmed her killer also had type B blood.
Shortly afterward, a woman by the name of Cindy Juracich called Crime Stoppers and urged investigators to look into a man called Danny Rolling in connection to both cases.
Juracich, who had grown up with Rolling in Shreveport, had been traveling through the Florida panhandle at the time of the Gainesville slayings and said she believed Rolling may be responsible for both murder sprees.
Three months before the Shreveport murders, Rolling had got into an argument with his father and shot him before skipping town. Rolling’s father survived but lost the use of an eye and an ear.
Investigators in Florida soon learned that Rolling had multiple previous convictions for armed robbery.
Interestingly, on the same day of Christa Hoyt’s murder, police also responded to a robbery at a bank a half-mile away from her home.
During the robbery, the bank teller had placed a red dye pack into a bag of money.
Later that night, an officer patrolling the area spotted a suspicious man lurking near a woods. He gave chase to the suspicious character, tracking him to a campsite.
While the man had vanished, the officer found a screwdriver at the campsite, along with a bag of money stained with red dye and a cassette player with a tape inside.
Investigators wouldn’t listen to the tape for months, but the recordings it contained would later prove crucial to unmasking who the Gainesville Ripper was.
At this time, Danny Rolling was already in custody in Marion County for a robbery he’d committed at a supermarket 10 days after the bodies of Paules and Taboada were found.
Maines visited Rolling in jail and asked him to voluntarily provide a blood sample for their investigation.
Incredibly, Rolling, who Maines described as “relaxed, cordial and calm”, obliged, providing him with three samples that were later found to be a match to all three crime scenes in Gainesville.
Maines said he was “elated” when the results came back, knowing investigations finally had “the monster we’ve been looking for.”
Florida police had enough evidence to charge Rolling with five counts of murder, but when he unexpectedly entered an initial plea of not guilty police started building their case for trial.
It was at this time that police finally listened to the tape they found at the campsite.
It contained recordings of a man talking and signing.
“You’re a killer, a drifter gone insane … You’re a rebel no one can tame,” went the lyrics to one song, titled Mystery Rider.
The man also talked about his life, his family, and how felt like he’d ventured down the “wrong road.” He also discussed the way to most effectively kill a deer.
Most eerily, he signed off telling the listener he “had something he had to do”, and identified himself as Danny Harold Rolling.
Maine said investigators suspected that Manuel Taboada and Tracy Paules were murdered soon after Rolling left that cryptic message.
Rolling remained in custody until his trial was due to begin in April 1994. He then suddenly pleaded guilty to all five counts.
He claimed his motive for the Gainesville slayings was to become a “superstar” like Ted Bundy and blamed his sickening acts on an evil alter-ego he had called Gemini.
Rolling was sentenced to death on April 20, 1994. He was executed 12 years later via lethal injection.
Just before his execution, Rolling admitted to carrying out the murders in Shreveport.
A MOST ‘HEINOUS’ CRIME
Reflecting on the Gainesville slayings almost 32 years on, Maines said the case is unequivocally the “worst” and most “heinous” case he ever worked on during his 42 years in law enforcement.
“It was definitely the worst case I was ever involved in,” he said. “I worked other homicides but none were as heinous as this.
“What sticks with me even now is the loss of young life; they were all just kids with their lives still ahead of them.”
Maines said he also had a personal connection to the case. In addition to growing up locally, he had also attended and graduated from the University of Florida in 1973.
“Those kids killed could’ve been my kids or any of our kids,” he said.
“Another thing that stands out to me is the number of people that are out there just roaming the streets that other citizens called leads on because they felt as though they were capable of doing something like this.
“So that’s a scary thought,” Maines added.
POP CULTURE INFAMY
Rolling’s vicious crimes would go on to serve as the inspiration behind the slasher horror movie franchise Scream.
Then-struggling actor and screenwriter Kevin Williamson had been watching a TV special about the Gainesville ripper around the time of Rolling’s trial.
While watching the program, he noticed a window in the LA home he was housesitting had been left open.
Williamson said he quickly grew paranoid, fearful that a knife-wielding killer had been watching him from outside.
He channeled those fears into writing a screenplay and sold the script for Scream to the Weinstein brothers for $400,000.
The movie was released in December 1996, making over $80 million in its box office debut.
A fifth installment of the franchise was released worldwide on Friday, January 14.