Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Danny Rolling, the Gainesville Ripper

The Making of a Monster

She had married James Rolling in 1953 when she was nineteen in Georgia.  She had become pregnant with Danny only two weeks later, much to James' disgust.  During the course of her pregnancy, James had struck her a number of times.  She left him for the first time while she was still pregnant, moving to her parents' home in Shreveport but he followed her there and they continued the marriage.

After Danny was born on May 26, 1954, James' attitude toward fatherhood did not improve.  Even when Danny was tiny, James would yell at him.  The first incident of physical abuse occurred when Danny was crawling age.  Instead of crawling he would pull himself along on his bottom with one leg.  His father was infuriated by this behavior and one day he grabbed Danny by his foot and shoved him along the hallway, bouncing him as he went.

When Danny was four and his brother Kevin was three, Claudia again left James and moved to Columbus, Georgia.  She and James had been arguing because James kept turning the television off as Claudia was watching it.  The argument had ended when James punched her, cutting her lip.  They remained separated for six months until Claudia succumbed to James's pleadings and promises and they got back together again.  They lived in Columbus for four years until Claudia again left James because of his violent behavior.  He was soon back again and they moved to Shreveport.

Claudia described the relationship between James and his two young sons and her feeble attempts to protect them.  She would try to ensure that the boys had already had their dinner before James came home, as he would constantly abuse them for imagined transgressions — they didn't sit properly, or didn't hold their cutlery properly, he even insisted that they breathe a certain way.  The children would come to the table in fear if James was at home.  Apart from verbal abuse, James would physically punish his children.  Sometimes he would punish them with a belt and other times he would make a fist and grind his knuckle into the tops of their heads.  Whatever the punishment, he would insist that they not cry out, under threat of further punishment.

The abuse was directed mostly at Danny and was a constant part of his life, with the verbal abuse occurring daily and the "whippings" at least once or twice a week.  As the boys grew, they became more aware of their father's violence toward Claudia but their own fear of their father prevented them from helping.  They would beg Claudia to leave James and never return, but she didn't.  The boys were not allowed birthday parties and Christmas was always spoiled by James's abusive behavior.

One Christmas, when Danny was in third grade, the violence was particularly bad so Claudia packed up her boys and the Christmas tree into the car and left, but of course she did not stay away long.  Soon after Claudia had a nervous breakdown and was hospitalized for some time.  During that year Danny became very ill and was away from school a great deal, his teacher told Claudia that it would be best for the child if he repeated the year.  She also recommended that Danny receive counseling for his nervousness and personality problems.  He never received that counseling.  Instead his father berated him for his failure.


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