The movie Scream was a pop culture and box office sensation in the '90s, garnering critical acclaim and spawning multiple sequels. A 2022 installment even marked the iconic slasher film's 25th anniversary. All that said, not many people realize there was a real serial killer who inspired the 1996 film. Danny Rolling terrorized the college town of Gainesville, FL, in 1990, and his crimes would eventually lead the film's writer, Kevin Williamson, to pen the screenplay.
Although Danny Rolling was eventually apprehended, his crimes created an atmosphere of fear and paranoia in Gainesville. Below, we'll look into the real victims, investigation, and conviction of Danny Rolling that later inspired the Scream franchise.
On August 26, 1990, Police Discovered A Gruesome Double Homicide
Around 4 pm on August 26, 1990, police officer Ray Barber received a call about a noise complaint at the Williamsburg Village Apartments in Gainesville, FL. Noise complaints were common at the beginning of the semester as students headed back to classes at the University of Florida, but then Barber received a second call about a possible missing person.
Christina Powell, a 17-year-old U of F freshman, wasn't answering calls from her parents, who had come to her apartment to check on her. When no one answered the door, they contacted the building manager, who then called the police. Barber reportedly wasn't worried about the potentially missing teen until he was informed that her car was still in the apartment's parking lot.
Upon entering the apartment, Barber discovered the bodies of Christina Powell and her roommate, 17-year-old Sonja Larson. Both had been assaulted, murdered, and mutilated. Approximately 20 officers were at the scene within minutes to investigate, and the media wasn't far behind. Police later determined the two girls had been killed on the morning of August 24.
While Investigating The Crime Scene, Police Were Called To The Scene Of Another Murder
Just hours after the bodies of Christina Powell and Sonja Larson had been discovered, police officers Gail Barber and Keith O'Hara were called to check on 18-year-old Christa Hoyt. Hoyt was a sophomore at nearby Santa Fe Community College and hadn't shown up for her job as a record's clerk at the Alachua County Sheriff's Office where she worked the overnight shift.
When the police showed up at Hoyt's apartment, no one answered. When Barber, O'Hara, and the building manager for Hoyt's apartment noticed that her car was still parked outside and the back gate had been broken, they started shining lights in the windows. Through the gap in a bamboo window shade, police saw Hoyt's severely mutilated body propped up on her bed. Upon further investigation, they found that she had been decapitated.
Barber's husband and fellow officer, Ray, had been the one to find the bodies of Christina Powell and Sonja Larson earlier that day.
The Final Two Murders Occurred On August 27, But They Looked Different From The Previous Three Killings
Police were called to a third crime scene around 7 am on Tuesday, August 28, after a local man named Tommy Carroll discovered the bodies of his two friends, Manuel Toboada and Tracy Paules. Toboada and Paules were both 23 and had been friends since high school. Unlike the previous three murders, neither Toboada nor Paules had been mutilated. Toboada, who was 6'3" and 200 lbs., appeared to have put up a fight against the killer, who had apparently stabbed Toboada as he slept. Paules's body was found in the hallway, freshly showered and with a towel underneath her. A dark bag lay near her head.
Carroll had entered the apartment with the help of the building's maintenance man, Christopher Smith. Smith quickly closed and re-locked the front door to the apartment before calling 911. When the two men returned five minutes later and unlocked the front door, the dark bag was gone. It's assumed that Rolling was still in the apartment when Carroll and Smith first arrived.
The killer soon became known in the press as the "Gainesville Ripper" due to the violent nature of the crimes, which bore slight similarities to Jack the Ripper.
University Of Florida Students Began Arming Themselves
The University of Florida had just started its fall semester when the five murders took place. That fall, more than 36,000 students arrived on campus, but nearly 500 students immediately unenrolled as soon as the murder spree began. Others invested in weapons such as pepper spray, wooden bats, knives, and even guns, while others enrolled in self-defense classes.
However, the murders didn't stop the university from continuing classes, which reportedly angered many students. Officials offered temporary on-campus housing to students who lived elsewhere. Students walked to and from class together, slept in the same rooms as one another, and secured their doors with double deadbolts.