How the Gainesville Ripper haunted a college town

Horror movies, terrifying as some can be, are usually escape dishes, reassuring not real. Even far-fetched.

But some real-life crimes are as haunting as anything the most imaginative storyteller could imagine. In Kevin williamsonIt was one of those particularly frightening cases that planted the seed that became his script for Scream, the 1996 hit teen slasher film that generously sprinkled old tropes of comedy horror and meta-commentary on the genre itself, spawning a future five-movie franchise.

And what’s scarier than psychotic, horrific movie behavior that’s rooted in reality? Although the characters and setting of the “Woodsboro Murders” are his own, Williamson’s creativity was reportedly piqued by a 1994 episode of ABC News’ Turning on the serial killer nicknamed Gainesville Ripper. It may sound like ancient history now, Scream himself 25 years old, but when the show aired, Danny Roulant had just been sentenced to death for his terrible series of murders.

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Although it took months to find it, it took less than 72 hours for authorities to know they had a monster on their hands.

AP Photo / John Raoux

“I don’t think it takes a rocket scientist to figure out that anyone who commits homicide by dismemberment is a pretty sick individual and he’s someone we really want to get off the streets,” said Spencer Mann, door – speech from the Alachua County Sheriff’s Department. Washington post in August 1990, the discovery of five bodies in three days was already attracting national attention.

Scream, Skeet Ulrich, Neve Campbell, The Gainesville Ripper

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The first horrific scene was discovered on Sunday August 26, after Christina P. powellParents of, unable to reach her on the phone, showed up at the off-campus apartment complex where their 17-year-old daughter was living with another University of Florida freshman Sonya larson, 18. Classes were to start the next day. When no one opened the door either, they asked a maintenance worker to let them in, but the building manager said they should wait for the police to arrive.

“When [the officer] I walked in, followed him into the apartment and saw the young woman on the bed… and I just turned around and walked out, ”Betty Curnutt, the manager, recalled to ABC News in 2020 “My maintenance worker unfortunately ran down the stairs screaming ‘Oh my God’ and got out and threw up. And the sad part is that we had the parents behind us on the stairs.

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Powell had been raped and stabbed to death, her mutilated and partially clothed body lying on the living room floor. Larson was in an upstairs bedroom, naked and “lying on the bed with her feet on the floor and hair fanned out,” reporter John Donnelly, who covered the story for the Miami Herald, recalled ABC News.

There was evidence the two girls had been tied up with duct tape at one point, but the killer – who hammered a screwdriver through the front door jamb to break in – took it with him . Investigators speculated they were likely dead between 48 and 72 hours when they were found.

Crime scene, apartment, The Gainesville Ripper


Eight hours later, on the morning of Monday, August 27, sheriff’s deputies tracked down an 18-year-old Christa Leight Hoyt dead in her apartment about two miles from the first crime scene after the Santa Fe Community College student and aspiring law enforcement officer failed to show up for her night shift at the County Sheriff’s Office ‘Alachua, where she was a part-time clerk.

Victims, Christina Powell, Christa Leigh Hoyt, Sonya Larson, The Gainesville Ripper

Photo / AP files

The scene was terribly similar, but Hoyt had been beheaded as well as stabbed, sexually assaulted, mutilated and laid on the bed with her feet on the floor. The first deputies on the scene were also work friends.

“These policemen knew Christa”, his mother-in-law Dianna hoyt told ABC News. “They said [her dad] Gary she died right after the first stab, which was the truth… but there were many hours before that.

Tracy Paules and Manuel R. Taboada, both 23 and friends since high school, were found dead in a unit on the ground floor of the Gatorwood Apartments, another student-friendly complex, on the morning of Tuesday, August 28. Defensive injuries indicated that Taboada, who was transferring to UF and planning to study architecture, attempted to fend off the killer before he was stabbed to death. Paules, a pre-law student at the University of Florida, sat on the living room floor. She had been raped and there were traces of duct tape on her wrists and mouth, as well as soap on her lower body.

Victims, Tracy Paules, Manuel Taboada, The Ripper of Gainesville

Photo / AP files

“We have every reason to believe that the murders are probably all linked to one or two suspects,” Gainesville Police Chief Wayland Clifton told reporters.

Anyone around couldn’t help but think of the serial killer. Ted bundy, whose reign of terror across the country ended only after he beat two Florida State University sorority sisters to death and killed a 12-year-old girl within a month in 1978. He was executed in Florida on January 24, 1989, after confessing to 30 murders. About 2,000 people gathered to applaud outside Raiford prison the night he was put to death.

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Authorities tried to reassure the thousands of UF Gators and other residents of the town, known for its noisy college scene but also reported by Money magazine earlier that year, as the 13th best city in the country, with “safe streets” being one of its strengths, there was no reason to panic. Yet countless panicked students left town, with mom and dad’s house looking welcoming again.

The university dutifully extended the deadline for adding and removing classes to September 7, postponed tuition due dates, and offered off-campus residents the option of at least temporarily moving to a dormitory, where security was reinforced. UF’s Auxiliary Night Patrol of Students recruited dozens of new volunteers, and Santa Fe Community College instituted its own program.

Students could also call home from school using several new toll-free phone lines rather than paying expensive long distance charges.

Students Buying Guns, The Gainesville Ripper

Mark Foley / AP / Shutterstock

And so began the most terrifying fall semester ever, with detectives hunting down a serial killer and students afraid to go anywhere on their own. Or be home alone. Or sleep through the night. Every strange noise prompted a call to the police. Some young women have started to keep steak knives near their beds. Arms and mass sales have increased. People wondered if there wasn’t one, but of them killers on the loose, thinking that all this carnage probably couldn’t be the work of one person.

“There was no precedent for this scale of tragedy, at least in my experience,” said Art Sandeen, vice president of student affairs at the time. Sun of Gainesville in 2005. “Parents and students didn’t know what to do.

A double murder took place in early September in Melrose, Florida, about 17 miles away. Not related, but it still scared everyone.

University of Florida campus, The Gainesville Ripper

AP Photo / The Gainesville Sun, John Moran

“The week before the murders things were going well in the city,” Spencer Mann, former Sheriff’s Department and then investigator for the 8th Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office, recalled to the Sun of Gainesville in 2006. “There was a brand new president at UF. There was a brand new football coach [Steve Spurrier, who led the Gators to a national championship in 1996]. I saw this note turn into a fearful hold.

Gainesville’s attorney, Rod Smith, told the publication in 2010, “It would be difficult to reproduce today how out of hand this got out of hand for a few days.”

And in the days, weeks and months after Larson, Powell, Hoyt, Paules, and Taboada died, everyone was under suspicion as law enforcement from across Florida stormed the city.

Well, not everyone, but a later tally put the number of names on investigators’ radar at one point or another at 675.

Danny Rolling, the Gainesville Ripper

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A multi-agency task force conducted hundreds of interviews, sifted through 18,000 pieces of evidence, analyzed DNA samples and followed the flow of advice from those who were Of course they had crossed paths with the killer.

Some investigators, too, believed they named a suspect just 48 hours after the discovery of the last two bodies, an 18-year-old UF freshman who was seen in fatigues and walking around campus in the middle night with a hunting knife. .

It wasn’t until January 1991 that a 37-year-old vagrant and career criminal from Louisiana – already a person of interest in a 1989 triple murder – appeared on their radar. And it wouldn’t be several months before it was publicly known that there was a prime suspect.

But at least the authorities had no trouble finding him, since he was already in prison.

This is the first part of a two-part feature. Part 2 will be posted on Saturday October 16 on

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