Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Danny Rolling, the Gainesville Ripper

A Town's Terror

It was 4:00 p.m. on Sunday, August 26, 1990 when the Gainesville Police Department first became involved in the series of murders.  Thirty-five year-old officer Ray Barber had been about to sign off at the end of his shift when the communications officer called him on his car radio.  There was a complaint about loud music.  Not unusual for this time of the year.  The new semester was about to begin and the kids were celebrating, had been all weekend.  The second message gave him no more concern than the first.  It was a signal 64 — a call to assist a citizen.  Both were routine, he would stop by on his way home.

Christina Powell
Christina Powell

When he drove into the courtyard at the Williamsburg Village Apartments, the maintenance man was there to meet him.  As Barber got out of his car, the man told him that he had a couple of anxious parents wanting him to open their daughter's apartment as they couldn't get her to answer the door.  Unwilling to take responsibility himself he had called the police. 

Barber was initially unconcerned as he received dozens of calls about "missing" kids, who usually turned up unharmed with no idea of the anxiety they had caused.  It was only when the parents, Frank and Patricia Powell, told him that their daughter Christina, 17, had known they were driving over from Jacksonville that morning and had not been seen by anyone since early Friday morning, although her car was still parked nearby, that Barber began to feel uneasy.  This feeling increased when the Powells told him that Christina's roommate, Sonja Larson, also 17, had not called her mother the day before as arranged.

Sonja Larson
Sonja Larson

Reluctantly, the Powells agreed to wait outside the building as Barber and the maintenance man went up to the girl's second-floor apartment.  His bangs on the door produced no result, so Barber attempted to open the front door using a master key, but for some reason it wouldn't work.  Breaking one of the glass panes, while not allowing him to open the door, which was dead-bolted, released a strong and unpleasant odor from within the apartment.  As soon as the door crashed open under the force of the two men, Barber saw the bloodied naked body of a young woman posed grotesquely on a bed with her arms above her head.  He found another young woman on the stairway down to the lower level of the apartment.  Both women had been stabbed repeatedly, mutilated and deliberately positioned for maximum shock effect.

Back downstairs, the Powells anxiously waited for word from Barber.  As soon as they saw his face and averted eyes they knew there would be no good news.  Their first instinct was to go to their daughter, but Barber knew it was better for everyone if they didn't.  He called in the double homicide asked for someone from the Alachua Crisis Center to help the parents.


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