The Serial Killer Who Inspired The Movie 'Scream': The Gainesville Ripper | Serial Killer Series

(Danny Rolling. Picture credit: Oxygen)

So I guess you can pretty much see from the title the case that I will be covering in this post which is my second instalment in my Serial Killer series! Thank you for the interest and comments that I received on my socials about my first subject in this series, Jeffrey Dahmer, I really appreciate it. 

As I type this, my eyes keep moving up to the picture above. What do you see? A pathetic figure? A sorrowful face? Someone with remorse? or a cold-blooded rapist and serial killer? Well, his face freaks me out because I know it inspired a horror story, his face and him in general, the sick and twisted things that he did to innocent people. You see, the man in the jumpsuit is none other than Danny Rolling. He may look like he couldn't fight his way out of a chip bag but this man was a monster and his crimes sickened people so much that a horror movie (Scream, written by Kevin Williamson and Directed by the late, great Wes Craven) was inspired by him. 

Look at his face! The pathetic arched eyebrows are not displayed in a moment of remorse, that is how his face looked 24/7. He had that expression all of the time and to me, it looks exactly like the Ghostface mask. Every picture you see of him, he has the exact same expression.  I know the mask is said to be inspired by the Edvard Munch painting (The Scream) but I think it also looks like Danny Rolling. 

So for those who don't know the real horror story that inspired one of the biggest horror movie franchises of all time then prepare to go down the rabbit hole with me in this post and as always, keep in mind that disturbing details will be shared along the way. 

(Ghostface from the Scream movie franchise. Picture credit: NME)

When it comes to childhoods, Danny Rolling had a very tough road. He came into the world as Daniel Harold Rolling on the 26th of May 1954 in Shreveport, Louisiana, USA. To say his home life was violent is an understatement. His father James was a policeman and it's assumed that his mother Claudia must have stayed at home to look after him and his brother Kevin. From day one there was a a feeling of rejection and that wasn't just a paranoid thought on Danny's part, his father actually looked him in the eyes and told him that he did not want him and that he should never have been born. 

Danny's father was a physically and emotionally abusive father and husband and back in those days what went on in a policeman's family stayed in a policeman's family. Married women didn't have many rights when it came to their husbands, rape in a marriage wasn't taken seriously and neither was domestic abuse. Throw all of that in with the fact that his father was a respected policeman and you didn't really have a leg to stand on. It's terrible to think of how so many people suffered and still suffer today. Danny's father dished out violence to both his wife and boys, he was the head of the house and a complete control freak who ruled by fear. His father was a complete psychopath and again, as I mentioned with my first subject (Jeffrey Dahmer) how much was Danny's later behaviour down to nature or nurture? 

His father was a cruel man who made his family suffer terribly. There was an incident where his wife showed up at the hospital with blood all over her wrists claiming that her husband had forced her to harm herself. Due to the control and manipulation he had over his wife, she kept going back to him. Feeling isolated and alone, Danny had a pet dog who meant the whole world to him, he loved the dog and the dog loved him back. James being the sadistic monster that he was, enjoyed inflicting pain on the dog for his own sick pleasure. 

Danny would watch in horror after being beaten by his father or in some cases tried to intervene whilst James physically abused the poor animal. Eventually the dog became weaker and weaker because of the horrendous beatings and this broke Danny's heart. To cause further pain and devastation to his son and to the long suffering animal, he beat the dog to death right in front of Danny and walked away leaving the animal in a bloody mess on the ground. (I had to stop my research at this point and get up and cuddle my two cats - I can't cope with animal cruelty of any kind). The poor dog died in pain in Danny's arms. 

At that moment, one's heart goes out to Danny. There was no excuse for him to go on to what he eventually became but you can see how his traumatic and disturbing childhood set him on a very dark path. As he held his beloved dog in his arms, something must have died inside of him that day, you can imagine a sense of rage, a sense of anger. The dog was all that he had and his father took that away from him too. 

I think it's understandably very difficult for those of us who are animal lovers to even attempt to imagine what that must have been like as a child to witness, to see your own father doing such a thing. It would be horrific and traumatic to witness as a fully grown adult. So one wonders how someone who is a child, with a young brain, processes this. The internal anger and rage must been immense and knowing what he was to do years later with his evilness and complete disregard for life was clearly demonstrated. 

It's no surprise then for me to tell you that Danny, as he continued to get older, was on a road to destruction, forget about an academic career, or positive future prospects, he was getting worse as the years went on. He was never out of trouble and always involved in petty crime. There was also a peeping Tom incident and he found himself in all kinds of trouble which highly embarrassed his father. Despite the fact that he had never shown any love to his son, abused the boy physically, mentally and forced him to watch as he murdered his beloved dog, James continued to remind Danny he was a screw-up and wanted to teach him a short, sharp shock by putting handcuffs on him and taking him away to the police station. It didn't work, all it did was further cement the utter contempt for his father. Danny no longer cared and continued with his path of destruction. 

The relationship between father and son became more toxic and Danny was now old enough to fight back. The pair would come to blows and on one occasion, Danny tried to kill his father. James was left scarred for life losing an ear and an eye in the attack. 

At the time of the attack on his father in 1990, Danny had already gone to the point of no return. The petty crimes had now turned to murder with him committing a sickening and deadly attack on three family members on the evening of November 4th 1989. A grandfather together with his daughter and grandson were just getting ready to sit and have dinner together when Danny sprung upon them. He murdered 55 year old William Grissom, his 24 year old daughter Julie and her 8 year old son, Sean. Julie had been mutilated and posed in a provocative manner. Danny never knew the Grissom family personally, he just targeted them. The murders were still being investigated at the time Danny tried to murder his father. 

His murderous rage didn't stop with the murders of the Grissom family and the attempted murder of his father. In August of 1990 the following murders he was to commit would be the ones that earned him the nickname 'The Gainesville Ripper'. The beautiful student town of Gainesville, Florida was the place to be in the late 1980s, just going into the 1990s. It was the ideal place to study and had been voted as one of the nicest places to live, a very warm and welcoming place with students from all over America and beyond. 

In late August of 1990, that soon changed when Gainesville became a frightening hunting ground for Danny Rolling. On the 24th of August he broke into the apartment of two female students, Sonja Larson (17) and Christina Powell (17). What was originally seen to be for the purpose of a burglary soon turned into a horrendous nightmare for the two young women. As Danny made his way through the apartment it became clear that it was owned by two young women and he found Christina sleeping on the sofa in the living room. He stood over her for a few minutes and it was clear that she was in a deep sleep so he ventured upstairs where he found Sonja Larson. 

Sonja was asleep in bed when Danny grabbed the terrified teenager and put tape across her mouth. He then proceeded to stab her to death before going back down stairs with intentions of murdering Christina. 

He woke Christina and taped her mouth shut and bound her wrists together before subjecting the young girl to a horrific rape. After this sickening act he stabbed her five times in the back. Like what happened with Julie Grissom, he posed both of the deceased girls in a provocative manner. 

His sickening murder spree didn't end there. The next day on the 25th of August, he struck again and this time he targeted another female student who was on her own, Christa Hoyt who was just 18 years old wasn't in the apartment at the time but Danny used his tools (the same tools he used in all of his murders) to get into the premises and waited for the young girl to come home. Once Christa got home he pounced on the frightened teenager and subjected her to a horrendous attack. 

He went through his same sickening routine with Christa, taping her mouth, bounding her wrists and proceeded to choke her. He sexually assaulted her before stabbing her in the back. In an even more sickening twist, he decapitated Christa and placed her head on a bookshelf just in front of her body that he had provocatively posed. He later said that he placed the head on the shelf because he wanted to cause as much horror and shock to whoever found Christa's remains. 

Not yet content with the slaughter of these three innocent young girls, he continued his rampage. The day after this, 27th of August, he broke into a apartment which was shared by a young female and a male, Tracy Paules and Manny Taboada, both were just 23 years old. The pair were asleep in different rooms in the house. Danny prowled the apartment and was surprised to find Manny in one of the rooms, there was a struggle between the pair with the brave Manny trying his best to fight off his attacker and save Tracy in the process. With all of the commotion, Tracy came to see if Manny was ok, only to find Danny Rolling standing over the young man's bloodied body. The terrified young woman ran to her room and did what she could to barricade the door shut but Danny was able to break his way through. 

Again, once he had the poor girl in his clutches, she was subjected to having her mouth taped, hands tied, brutally raped and then stabbed in the back before her body was posed in an undignified manner.

Danny Rolling then fled the scene and the shock and devastation filled Gainesville, everyone was on high alert. Students dropped out of their courses and enrolled in other Universities, the ones that did stay on were subjected to a curfew for their own safety and told to go out in groups as well as share rooms together. All doors and windows had to be tightly locked. It was a very frightening time. Gainesville went from being seen as this happy, cheery and safe place of opportunity to a place of fear overnight. 

You'd think that Danny would want to lay low knowing that the police were investigating and determined to get to the bottom of who was stalking and murdering the young students of Gainesville but no, he carried on without a shred of remorse and this let to his own downfall and arrest. 

(Danny Rolling. Picture credit: IMDB)

He was arrested on the 8th of September 1990 for burglary and the tools he had with him matched up with the same tools and imprints left at each of the crime scenes. There was plenty of forensic evidence linking him to the murders and the further the police investigated him the more they realised that he had also been responsible for the Grissom murders. The way he had posed and murdered Julie Grissom and the female students was exactly the same. They also found materials, poems and songs that he had written that included details of the murders that only the killer would know. In November of 1991 he was charged with the murders and finally Gainesville could breathe a sigh of relief to know that this sick monster was behind bars where he belonged. 

With the huge amount of evidence stacked against him he had no choice but to plead guilty to all the charges put before him and he received a death sentence. 

On the 25th of October 2006 he was put to death by lethal injection. He never showed any remorse for his crimes or expressed any apologies or anything to the families of the victims, instead he sang a gospel song. He did write a letter before he was put to death where he officially confessed to the Grissom murders. 

There was some controversy during his time on death row, he thought of himself as an artist and song writer and would sell his work with the help of his partner. He was involved in a bizarre relationship with a true crime writer, Sondra London. From what I have read about this woman she comes across as a ghoul and an opportunist who had a really disturbing obsession with serial killers. The pair actually got engaged and she proudly told anyone who would listen (or forced to listen) that this convicted murder, rapist and mutilator of young women (who also killed an 8 year old child), was her partner. Some people have no morals or human decency.

There are those of us who write about true crime because we are interested in criminology. I'm also interested in the forensic side of things too. I want to be a fully fledged true crime writer, not for any sick or ghoulish reasons, but for educational purposes. I do not and never have admired murderers in any shape or form. I don't understand the lonely and desperate women who are drawn to serial killers, who write to them in prison or even visit them. It is a fantasy to them in ways which we will never understand. These delusional women almost see serial killers as celebrities and feel that they are the ones to change them. I think I've mentioned this before in a previous post, a story about a woman who became obsessed with The Night Stalker, Richard Ramirez. She wrote to him in prison, sent him money, he of course was just using her. It was all sunshine and rainbows in her mind until she finally went to visit him for the very first time.

In the space of a quick 20 minute visit, she came out of the prison looking like she had seen a ghost. It's unknown what was said during the visit but she vowed never to write to Richard Ramirez ever again. She looked like she had gotten the fright of her life. Some of these women do not know who they are dealing with and they are lucky that these monsters are behind bars and remain behind bars. 

I just want to take this moment to remember the known victims of Danny Rolling. 


William Grissom

Julie Grissom

Sean Grissom

Sonja Larson

Christina Powell

Christa Hoyt

Tracy Paules

Manny Taboada

(The five student victims who lost their lives at the hands of Danny Rolling. Picture credit: Murderpedia)

Further Reading & Sources:

A Monster of All Time | Book by J.T Hunter

The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers | Book by Michael Newton

The Big Book of Serial Killers | Jack Rosewood

-Danny Rolling: Article | The Sun

Danny Rolling | Murderpedia

Danny Rolling | Wikipedia

Scream (Movie) | Wikipedia

Gainesville, Florida | Wikipedia

The Gainesville Ripper | Discovery (Documentary)

Danny Rolling | Channel 5 (Documentary)

Danny Rolling Trial: Opening Prosecution Statement | Court TV

Danny Rolling Trial: The Opening Defense Statement | Court TV

 I hope that you have learned something new in this second instalment of my Serial Killer series or maybe this is the first time you have discovered Danny Rolling, whatever the case, I appreciate you joining me again for this case. 

I will be taking a break for Easter but I will be back the week after with my third instalment of my Serial Killer series. Thank you so much for all of your amazing support and I wish you a wonderful Easter break.

See you in the next post (and hopefully on my Socials in the meantime) x 


  1. This is the first article that I have read about your serial killers. Yes Scream was one of my favorite horror movies and I'm a fan of Wes Craven. I didn't know the inspiration behind the movie scream was Danny Rolling as I read the article you wrote I became intrigued and I learned why Danny was the way he was looking foward to reading your other articles about serial killers the articles are fascinating and educational.I also follow you on Twitter and Instagram.

  2. Wow!!! I am speechless at the absolute horror that this monster committed. Even after reading the Jeffery Dahmer case you covered and the Nazi series you wrote, I didn't think anything could really shock me. Yet here I am in complete and utter shock at the atrocities and sick perverse crimes that Danny committed. Brilliantly written and incredibly chilling!