Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Danny Rolling, the Gainesville Ripper

'Grisly Gainesville'

On August 20 1990, the beautiful university town of Gainesville, Florida was ranked as being the thirteenth best place to live in the United States by Money magazine.  By the end of the following week, American papers had renamed the town "Grisly Gainesville" after the bodies of five young students had been discovered brutally murdered and mutilated as they slept in their apartments.  One weekend of savagery by one man transformed the excitement and anticipation of the beginning of a new semester into terror as hundreds of students fled, not knowing if and when he would strike again.

One week later the media reported that the police had their number one suspect in custody, which launched an ordeal of nightmarish proportions for Edward Humphrey and his family.  His was the classic example of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Emotionally disturbed with a long history of strange behavior and violent emotional outbursts, he had seemed to police and the many witnesses to his antics, to be a prime suspect.  With no evidence to hold him, the authorities somehow succeeded in stretching the limits of the law and had him locked away while they built their case around him.  Before they could, the real killer was found.

Danny Harold Rolling had moved on after the murders in Gainesville and was eventually arrested for armed robbery in Ocala, Florida.  It would be some time before he would be linked to the murders, and it would be longer still before Edward Humphrey's name would be cleared.

Danny Rolling's story tends to confirm the idea that the environment in which they spend their formative years encourages the development of serial killers.  It would be impossible to know the account of Rolling's childhood and not feel compassion for the child who was abused, beaten and bullied by an over-bearing and disturbed father.  It would be impossible not to feel anger toward his mother who time and time again refused to take any action to protect her own son.  But Danny Rolling was not a child when he brutally murdered five young people at the threshold of their lives.  Were the psychological scars from his childhood so deep that he was unable to control his malevolent impulses?  Was the man who had come to be known as "The Gainesville Ripper" merely a victim of the brutality of his past?  Should he have been treated with leniency or should he have felt the full weight of the law? These were the questions that a jury of twelve and one judge had to answer in 1994 when Danny Rolling was to be sentenced for five murders.

Relatives at a memorial wall for the victims in Gainesville
Relatives at a memorial wall for the victims in Gainesville

 

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