An old essay by Andrei.
Danny Rolling: the Gainesville Ripper
11 November 2011
11 Nov. 2011
Danny Rolling: the Gainesville Ripper
“The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” is one the most famous tales of insanity, by which the successful and kind Dr. Jekyll becomes the insidious Mr. Hyde. It has been described as the posterchild for psychoses ranging from schizophrenia to multiple personality disorder, and often times it seems to tell the immortal tale of both good and evil. (Campbell) Fictional “serial killer of serial killers” Dexter Morgan, of the Showtime series “Dexter” calls his urge to kill his “dark passenger” – naming the evil within him. (Firestone 24) In the book series which Dexter is based upon, that “dark passenger” is in actuality, a demon. In the real world, in the early 90s, when charming, quiet, choirboy and former Airman Danny Rolling – who looked more akin to Droopy the dog of Looney Tunes fame rather than the image of evil – was discovered to have brutally murdered eight people, it seemed a repeat of the previously mentioned tales. Dubbed by the press as “the Gainesville Ripper,” Rolling too claimed to have had his own “Mr. Hyde,” or a “dark passenger,” whom he called Gemini. (London 5) Gemini, to Rolling, was more than simply some sort of alter-ego – it was a demon, a demon that craved blood – and it was not alone in Rolling’s head. “I gave the names to the characters that run around in my head…Gemini…is a spirit – a demon from Hell.” (Rolling 170) Whether one accepts – or, more likely, does not accept – Rolling’s tale of disassociation and/or demonic possession, one cannot help but feel some sort of compassion towards the young Rolling. Undergoing a youth of pure abuse under a patriarchal system, he and his family were completely controlled. Even before his birth, he had been abused. (Steel 18) Nevertheless, there is a clear line between victim and monster. Rolling chose to exceed his father in acts of cruelty, and to understand the horrific atrocities Rolling committed, one must look at the making of the monster – his childhood abuse, and the institutionalization he underwent through the prison system, the details of his atrocities – how his violence escalated from robbery to necrophilic mutilation, and his final years – as he relished the spotlight, going into vivid detail on his barbaric acts. Only then can an individual “appreciate” the magnitude of Rolling’s darkness.
Rolling began his life an unwanted child, abused by a sadistic father who both abused him and his father, in spite of his being an officer of the law, and undefended by an unprotecting mother. His criminal life began in his teenage years, arrested for minor robberies, and for voyeurism. High school was too much for Rolling, and he dropped out to enlist in the Air Force, in 1971 only to be removed on drug charges, further infuriating his father. He returned to Shreveport, the home that had haunted him, undergoing a religious conversion and marrying O’Mather Halko. Marrying three years after dropping out of high school, the two had a daughter, but the marriage itself would only last three years. Danny’s impulses were impossible to control, and he spent most of the 1980s in prison for robberies. (Steel 19) Danny’s supposed demon “Gemini” fully awoke after being fired from a job once more.
“The murders were like being in a movie – a horror movie. Gemini, the puppet master, was pulling the strings and I was the possessed leading actor. I’ve told the shrinks who pick my brains as much. Ah, but alas. They cock their heads to one side and give me the evil eye, as if to say, “Man! Is he crazy!” Yeah, sure! Maybe I am! Call me crazy if it makes you feel better. But still, these things and many other strange occurrences really have taken place around me.” (Rolling, 171)
Years before stalking Gainesville, Rolling murdered three innocent people, including Julie Grissom, Tom Grissom, and Sean Grissom – a mere 8 years-old. This, however, did not sate his bloodlust. Finally, it came to a climax, where Danny brutally fought with his father, taking an eye and an ear, shooting his father after wrestling a gun from his grasp. Nevertheless, his father survived. Even years later, as he sat rotting in jail, the memories continued to haunt Rolling, and the abuse for his mother did not stop.
“[My mother], in the final stages of terminal liver cancer and no longer able to care for herself, sat immobilized in a recliner chair with three tubes coming out of her body. When [my father] came home, he was outraged to find her watching the coverage of their son’s murder trial on TV. Attacking and brutally beating her, he threw his dying wife out of the house. He was arrested for misdemeanor simple battery and released… Not only did my dad rough up my dear ailing mom, he viciously ripped out the tubes surgically implanted into her liver. That’s the kind of cruelty we had to live with under [his] roof. We weren’t his family. We were his possessions… Eventually one’s demons rear their ugly heads and make themselves known.” (Rollins 172)
Rolling ran, setting up an outdoor camp in the college town of Gainesville. He stalked Sonja Larson and Christina Powell as they shopped at the Gainesville Walmart where he purchased a mattress, following them to their apartment where he brutally raped and murdered the two, mutilating their bodies and posing them in pornographic positions – an act that would become his mark. Officially, Rolling was only convicted of murdering five people – all students in Florida. However, the Grissom murders, of which he was never tried for, bring his known total to eight. He would later write about the murders in “Making of a Serial Killer,” blaming “Gemini” for murder. However, one contradiction would be that “Danny” was unaware of the killing, yet somehow – all these years later – he could recall the most vivid and grotesque of details.
“The Demon descended the staircase and turned his attention back to Christina. He grabbed her by the ankles and dragged her over by the sofa. He peeled the tape from her wrists, rolled her over on her back, and stripped the tape from her mouth. ‘Party time, my pretty,’ and he raped her lifeless body, chewing on her nipples like a mad dog gnaws on a bone. She had become a human doll being toyed with by a monster of hideous unreason. After his climax what happened next was a blank to Danny until later that day. The movie reel turning in his head just went blank, and he found himself standing before the refrigerator eating an apple, then a banana, and then he left.” (Rolling 19)
His third murder occurred on August 25th, 1990. Christa Hoyt was raped and murdered, before her body was mutilated and her head decapitated. (Steel 7) His last two murders took place two days later. He killed Manuel Taboada while he slept, before raping the late Taboada’s roommate Tracy Paules, then murdering and posing her as well. Rolling’s spree as the “Gainesville Ripper” took place almost exclusively in August 1990, as he arrested for robbery in September. (Steel 9) After taking evidence from the makeshift campsites that Danny would use as a base, investigators finally determined that the prymarks from his screwdriver on the entry points to his victims’ residency were matched, along with DNA evidence. They also discovered documents identifying the inhabitant of said camps as none other than Danny Rollins. (Steel 11)
Rolling would later confess through cellmate Bobby Lewis, and he personally went about refusing to answer any questions except by proxy. He then took a guilty plea, despite his public defender’s advice to do otherwise. His attorney, Richard Parker, stated that he planned to use Rolling’s life story of abuse, and his “Gemini” story as a form of an insane-but-guilty defense. However, investigators confronted Rollins and his attorney that they had discovered he had recently seen the third installment of “The Exorcist” series, in which a serial killer by the name of Gemini killed and decapitated a woman. Armed with this, it would be difficult for Rollins to have a claim of a multiple personality disorder. (Steel 15)
“The fact that I did see Exorcist III at the time I was in Gainesville is an unfortunate coincidence. Still, the fact remains that I did tell my mom about Gemini long before I ever ended up in Gainesville. In fact, I don’t even think the movie was produced during this time frame. I tried to tell my mom about what was going on inside me and about Gemini long before I saw the movie. When I did see the movie, it made quite an impact on me because I was already dealing with this force in me that I had been calling Gemini for years. I saw the movie stoned-out on some killer weed, and yes indeed. It did make an impression on me. I was already dealing with these elements and when these similarities flashed on the big screen – I freaked!” (Rolling 171)
Nevertheless, Rolling refused to plead not guilty, believing that through a guilty plea, the crime scene photographs would not be displayed. On the contrary, they were. The prosecution assailed Rolling in the sentencing phase through the grisly details of the murders, along with forensic evidence and a list of Rolling’s previous violent crimes. The defense attempted to humanize Rolling as a victim, calling neighbors and family members to the stand, as well as displaying a videotaped testimony of his mother. His mother gave his life story, sparing no detail, in a last ditch effort. (Steel 17) Nevertheless, his psychological problems and childhood abuse were not enough to convince the jury, and the jury returned a recommendation that Rolling should be sentenced to death – to which the judge later agreed. (Steel 20) Rolling’s appeals were consistently denied. He would later engage in a relationship with serial killer enthusiast Sondra London, and together with her published grotesque accounts of the acts along with his “Gemini” story of actual demonic possession in “The Making of a Serial Killer” which this paper quotes. (Steel 14) Prior to his execution in 2006, Rolling would finally confess to the Grissom murders. (Kamm)
The abuse Rolling suffered, starting at his very birth, is undoubtedly a tragic story, but so was the murder of the people he viciously tore apart. Millions of children are abused and do not go on to rape, murder, and mutilate the innocent. Danny Rolling’s tale is an oft cited one on serial killers originating as victims, but it is not the rule. Rolling was an adult in his thirties – no longer the abused child or adolescent he had been – when he viciously murdered innocent people, grotesquely mutilating their bodies and reveling in the carnage. Indeed, his brother – Kevin Rolling – had suffered much of the same abuse that Danny had, and became a pastor. (Leusner) If anything, Rolling is the exemplar of why mental illness is no excuse. His acts were deserving of extraordinary punishment, and the crescendo of slowly escalating violence throughout his later life. He had done little to no good throughout his life, and – rather than some sort of demonic possession or true multiple personality disorder – had been ruled the result of an extreme personality disorder, with an inability to control his dark impulses. Like a sick animal, it was necessary to either put him down, or permanently incarcerate him. Even if one denies the legitimacy of a government execution, they would be hard pressed to do so in Rolling’s case. It is important that we still have one fundamental element of retribution within the justice system, that the offenders have some responsibility towards the crimes they have committed, rather than a syndrome to excuse everything.
“I’m sure they were fine people and did not deserve the treatment they received at my hand. My tears pale in comparison to their suffering… It is in my heart to ask your forgiveness, but how can you forgive such an injustice? …Perhaps on the day of my execution or death you will lay down your hatred and bury your anger with me.” (Rollins 13)
Campbell, James. “The Beast Within.” The Guardian. Web. 15 Nov. 2011.
Firestone, Lisa. “Rethinking Dexter.” The Psychology of Dexter. SmartPop. 2010. Print. Nov. 2011.
Kamm, Grayson. “Rolling Confessed to Shreveport Killing Before Execution.” First Coast News. Web. Nov. 2011.
Leusner, Jim. “Rolling Prepares to Die.” Orlando Sentinel. Archived at Blogspot. Web. Nov. 2011.
Steel, Fiona. “Savage Weekend.” TruTV. Web. Nov. 2011.
Sondra London, Danny Rollins, Colin Wilson. “The Making of a Serial Killer.” Feral House. 1996. Print. Nov. 2011.