Daniel Harold Rolling, the Gainesville Ripper

Mugshot of the Gainesville Ripper, Danny Rolling.

State of Florida Corrections / Public domain / Wikimedia Commons

Daniel Harold Rolling, also known as the Gainesville Ripper, murdered five University of Florida students in the summer of 1990. The killings terrified residents of the otherwise sleepy Southern college town and became front-page news for days on end. After being apprehended, Rolling would be linked to three more deaths in Louisiana and would remain a figure of media curiosity until he was executed in 2006.

Early Life

Rolling was born on May 26, 1954, in Shreveport, La., to James and Claudia Rolling. It was an unhappy home life, Rolling would later say. His father, a Shreveport police officer, abused him from an early age, both verbally and physically. As a teen, Rolling was a poor student and worked only sporadically. He was also arrested several times for burglary.

Apart from these details, little is known of Rolling's early life before the murders. One incident, however, stands out. During a heated argument with his father in May of 1990, Rolling brandished a gun and shot the older man. Rolling fled. His father lost an eye and an ear but survived.

Death in Gainesville

The first murder took place on Aug. 24, 1990. Rolling broke into the apartment of college students Sonja Larson, 18, and Christina Powell, 17. Both girls were asleep. He attacked Sonja first, who was asleep in her upstairs bedroom. First, he stabbed her chest, then taped her mouth, then as she struggled for her life, he stabbed her to death.

He then went back downstairs and taped Christina's mouth and bound her wrists behind her back. He then cut off her clothing, raped her and stabbed her multiple times in the back, causing her death. Deciding that he wanted to leave some kind signature, he then mutilated the bodies and posed them in sexually suggestive positions and left.

The next night Rolling broke into the apartment of Christa Hoyt, 18, but she was not at home. He decided to wait for her and made himself at home. When she arrived mid-morning, he crept up behind her, startling her, then attacked her, placing her in a choke-hold. After that, he taped her mouth, bound her wrists and forced her into her bedroom, where he removed her clothing, raped her, then stabbed her in the back multiple times causing her death.

Then, as a way to make the scene more horrific, he sliced open her body, cut off her head and removed her nipples. When authorities arrived, they found Christa's head on a bookshelf, her torso bent at the waist, on the bed and the nipples placed next to the torso.

On Aug. 27, Rolling broke into the apartment of Tracy Paules and Manny Taboada, both 23. Powerfully built, Taboada was asleep in his bedroom when Rolling attacked and killed him. Hearing a struggle, Paules hurried to her roommate's room. Seeing Rolling, she bolted back to her room, but he pursued her. Like his other victims, Rolling bound Paules, removed her clothing, raped her, then stabbed her in the back multiple times.

Sometime later, the apartment complex's maintenance man showed up for an appointment. When no one answered at Paules' and Taboada's unit, he let himself in. The sight that greeted him was so horrible that he turned and left immediately, then rushed to call the police. He later described to the police that he saw Tracy's bloodied body on a towel in the hallway, with a black bag placed near the body. When police arrived five minutes later, the door was found unlocked and the bag was gone.

The news media was quick to cover the murders, dubbing the killer "The Gainesville Ripper." It was the beginning of the semester and thousands of students left Gainseville out fear. By Sept. 7, when Rolling was arrested in nearby Ocala on an unrelated supermarket robbery charge, the Ripper was on the front page of every newspaper.

Rolling's whereabouts between the time of the last murders and his arrest are only partially known. During a subsequent search of a wooded Gainesville encampment where Rolling had been living, police found evidence tying him to a recent bank robbery. They also found evidence that later would be linked to the Gainesville killings. 

The Wrong Suspect

The investigation into murders of the five college students led to one of seven main suspects. Edward Humphrey was 18 years old and diagnosed with bipolar disorder. During the same time that the students were murdered, Humphrey was suffering from a bipolar flareup after skipping his medication which resulted in aggressive behavior and violent outbursts.

Humphrey had been living in the same apartment complex as Tracy and Manny, but he was asked to leave by the apartment manager after fighting with his roommates. He also harassed people living in the apartment complex across the street. Other similar incidents of Humphrey's combative nature surfaced and investigators decided to put a surveillance team on him.

On Oct. 30, 1990, he had an argument with his grandmother that grew into a physical altercation with him striking her one time. This was a gift to the police. They arrested Humphrey and had his bail set at $1 million, even though his grandmother had dropped all charges the same day and it was his first offense.

At trial, Humphrey was found guilty of assault and was sentenced to 22 months in Chattahoochee State Hospital, where he would remain until Sept. 18, 1991, when he was released. There was never any evidence found that Humphrey had anything to do with the murder. The investigation was back to square one.

Confession, Trial, and Execution

Rolling stood trial in early 1991 for the Ocala robbery and was convicted. He was later convicted of three burglaries committed in Tampa shortly after the Gainesville killings had occurred. Facing life in prison, Rolling confessed to the string of murders, later corroborated by DNA evidence. In June of 1992, he was officially charged. 

While awaiting trial, Rolling began exhibiting odd behavior that would eventually lead to a diagnosis of mental illness. Using a fellow inmate as an intermediary, Rolling told authorities that he had multiple personalities, which he blamed for the Gainesville killings. Rolling also alluded to the unsolved 1989 murders in Shreveport of William Grissom, 55, his daughter Julie, 24, and his 8-year-old grandson Sean. 

On Feb. 15, 1994, just weeks before Rolling's trial for the Gainesville murders was set to begin, he told his lawyer that he wanted to plead guilty. His lawyer warned against it, but Rolling was determined, saying he did not want to sit there while the pictures of the crime scene were shown to the jury. Rolling was sentenced to death in March and executed on Oct. 25, 2006. 


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Montaldo, Charles. "Daniel Harold Rolling, the Gainesville Ripper." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, thoughtco.com/daniel-harold-rolling-the-gainesville-ripper-973139. Montaldo, Charles. (2021, February 16). Daniel Harold Rolling, the Gainesville Ripper. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/daniel-harold-rolling-the-gainesville-ripper-973139 Montaldo, Charles. "Daniel Harold Rolling, the Gainesville Ripper." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/daniel-harold-rolling-the-gainesville-ripper-973139 (accessed April 22, 2021).