Danny Rolling, the Gainesville Ripper
A Downward Spiral
Claudia then related how Danny had attempted to commit suicide. He was in his early teens and had just started his first job. His father told him he couldn't go back to work because his grades were bad. Danny had been so upset that he ran from the house, his father followed close behind him. In the backyard James began to beat Danny, holding him up against the shed wall, when Danny ducked away from one of his blows, James's hand went through the window cutting him severely. While James went to the hospital, Danny went to the bathroom to clean himself up. He had been in there some time before Claudia went in to check on him. He was gone. He had written on the mirror in lipstick, "I tried. I just can't make it," and left through the window taking a razor blade with him. He told his mother later that he had tried to cut his own wrists but just couldn't do it.
The stories of abuse and violence continued, James, a police officer, had even thrown his son in juvenile hall for a couple of weeks during his mid-teens because Danny had been drinking beer with a neighbor. The relationship between Danny and his father did not improve as Danny approached adulthood, and Danny's problems became manifest. In 1971 he joined the Air Force but was discharged because of serious drug and alcohol problems. He married O'Mather Halko in 1974 but despite the birth of a daughter, the marriage lasted less than three years. He was devastated for some time afterwards and the situation living at home with his father had not improved, so Danny had left home and begun to wander. Claudia did not hear from him until after his arrest for armed robbery in Montgomery and Columbus. Danny had told her that he had hoped that during the robbery he would be shot. He had tried to commit suicide but once again had not been able to go through with it. During the time he was in prison he attempted to escape twice but was re-caught. His return home saw no improvement, and he soon moved on again.
In Mississippi, Danny was again arrested and imprisoned for armed robbery. The first time Claudia went to see him he had seemed very distressed and very thin, but on her second visit the change in him was astounding. He had put on weight and was bodybuilding; he seemed to have learned to cope with life in prison. In 1988 he was back home again. Again he had trouble finding work and he was almost constantly depressed. When he did find work he was usually fired a short time later, the longest he lasted was two months.
Claudia then described the situation when she last saw her son. She had just got home from work and could tell that something had transpired between father and son, as they were both very tense. As she talked to Danny, he put his foot on the bench to tie his shoelace, when his father walked into the room he began yelling at him but this time Danny didn't just take it. Instead he challenged James to do something about it. James went to the back of the house and returned with his gun. Danny ran out the back door with his father in pursuit. Claudia heard three shots outside and thought that her son was dead when her husband returned alone. When Danny returned to the house Claudia did not see a gun in his hand. The last thing she saw was James holding his gun. She covered her eyes before the gunshots began, and then without looking, fled to her bedroom. There were five shots fired and then silence. She thought that both her husband and son must be dead. When she returned to the kitchen she found James. He was lying on the floor, still conscious, despite a bullet in his head. She called the police. James survived the shooting but she did not see Danny again until after his imprisonment in Marion County Jail.