Book Review: “The Gainesville Ripper” by Mary Ryzuk

on January 23, 2012 in Book Reviews, Serial Killers by

In August of 1990, students were returning for the fall semester at the University of Florida (UF). Christina Powell and Sonja Larson were starting out on their adventures as freshmen living in an off campus apartment, Tracy Paules and Manuel “Manny” Taboada were returning for their senior year and Christa Hoyt was set to begin her sophomore year at Sante Fe Community College.

At the same time, many of my friends were also heading off to UF to begin their fall semester. I stayed behind, opting to go to the local community college and work part time. It was tough to see them leave, but with the university being five hours from home, I assured them that I’d come up for homecoming week.

No one could have ever predicted the events to come.

By Sunday, August 26th, the news of the murders of Christina Powell and Sonja Larson had been announced. They were grotesquely positioned, but at that time it seemed like an isolated incident.

By Monday, another body, that of Christa Hoyt, was found in her home. She’d been decapitated.

Tuesday brought the news that two Miami locals, Tracy Paules and Manny Taboada were found murdered.

By the time the third murder was announced, my local friends and I desperately tried to get in touch with everyone at UF, but the phone lines were understandably jammed. That Friday night our friends showed up at the theater in droves, safe and sound. I’d never been so happy to see them and I will never forget the feeling of relief knowing that they were okay.

The only thing the murdered girls in Gainesville had in common were that they were petite brunettes and that they’d all been sexually assaulted. By now the Gainesville police knew they were dealing with a serial lust killer.

Daniel Harold Rolling’s life was, by all accounts, not an easy one. He resented his mother, a petite brunette, because she didn’t stand up for him. He both loved and hated his father – all he ever really wanted was his father’s love but all he ever got was rejection. He couldn’t hold a job, and had one failed marriage under his belt. By the time he was twenty-five he would begin a career of grocery store robberies interrupted by stints in jail.

On November 4, 1989 he would begin his descent into lust killing in Shreveport, Louisiana. In May of 1990 he would shoot his father over a petty argument. Assuming his father was dead, Rolling fled the state. Eventually he would make his way to Gainesville to commit five of the most heinous murders Florida had ever seen.

The author details the steps which led the police to pinpoint Danny Rolling as the murderer, even though he was already in custody for several months on an unrelated crime. He would not be charged with the five murders until November, 1991, but not before another innocent victim’s life (Ed Humphrey) would be turned upside down by the media who, along with police, fingered him as the killer.

Daniel Rolling was sentenced to death in 1994 and was put to death via lethal injection in 2006 (a relatively short time for an inmate on death row in Florida). I will leave it to the reader to discover the thoroughly documented and unusual details of the trial.

Published in 1994, on the heels of the verdict, Mary Ryzuk does an excellent job of captivating her audience from page one. Ryzuk manages to capture every detail from start to finish.

Perhaps I’m biased, but I loved “The Gainesville Ripper” as much as anyone could love a gruesome true tale that hit so close to home.

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