Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Danny Rolling, the Gainesville Ripper

An Important Lead

Meanwhile in his hometown of Shreveport, Louisiana authorities, responding to a Gainesville task force request for reports of similar crimes to the five they were investigating, noted the marked similarities between the Gainesville murders and a triple homicide which had occurred in Shreveport in November 1989.  They also noted that a Danny Harold Rolling, wanted in Shreveport for the attempted murder of his father in May 1990, was being held at the Marion County Jail.  The link seemed flimsy to the task force until they were told that the Shreveport killer had cleaned his female victim with a blue-green liquid soap and deliberately positioned the body for maximum shock effect.  It was then pointed out to the task force officer that all of the information was available in the FBI VICAP report.  When these reports, received by the task force on October 16, 1990, were re-examined it was revealed that this important link had somehow been overlooked.

The Shreveport and Gainesville murders were compared and showed many more startling similarities.  Both killers had shown knowledge of police investigative techniques by thoroughly cleaning the crime scenes; solvents were used to clean the victims' bodies, thereby eliminating clues; duct tape, a good source of fingerprint evidence, was used to bind the victims and was then removed from the scene; both killers used a similar means of forced entry; both used the same kind of knife; both raped and mutilated their victims and finally, both killers displayed the bodies of their victims in a notably gruesome and dramatic way.  The similarities were too strong to ignore and the investigation of Danny Rolling began in earnest.

It began with an inquiry, by Special Agent Dennis Fisher, with the Marion County Jail about the status of prisoner Danny Harold Rolling.  They were informed that he was being held on two charges, one armed robbery and one grand theft auto.  There were also two holds on him from other law enforcement agencies; one from Shreveport for an attempted second-degree murder charge, and another from Hillsborough County, Florida for grand theft auto.  Fisher requested that it be noted on Rolling's file that the Gainesville task force be informed if Rolling should leave the Marion County Jail.

The next step led to the discovery of the most significant link between Danny Rolling and the Gainesville student murders.  The task force re-examined every crime that had occurred in the area during the time of the murders.  When the robbery of the First Union National Bank on August 27, 1990, the day Christa Hoyt's body was discovered, was reviewed it was found that the culprit had abandoned his campsite in the woods and the Alachua County police held his belongings in storage.  The items included bedding, a gun, a ski mask, a cassette tape deck and a screwdriver.

When the laboratory tests of the items were returned to the task force it was difficult for the officers involved to contain their excitement.  Seventeen matches, between the screw-driver and the pry marks at the entry points of the three murder scenes, was confirmed, and a pubic hair, found through the vacuuming of the campsite, was found through DNA matching technology to belong to Christa Hoyt.  A final, thorough search through all of the bank robber's belongings revealed his identity.  A cassette tape, which had last been recorded on the night of the first murders, began with the words "... this is Danny Harold Rolling out under the stars tonight."  The tape was a farewell tribute to Rolling's parents and ended with the words "... Well, I'm gonna sign off for a little bit.  I got somethin' I gotta do..."


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