Based On A True Story: The Gainesville Ripper And The Creation Of SCREAM

Based on a True Story is a column that explores the reality on which our favorite horror movies, shows and icons are based on. Sometimes, the truth is scarier than the fiction.

When researching into the facts behind one of the greatest horror films of all time, I figured I’d find something dark and sinister, and maybe even a bit genius, behind the most successful slasher film of all time. Scream was a movie that paved the way for all other horror movies to come, and rightfully so. It was brilliantly done, bringing in gore, terror, jump-scares, and even comedy. Since Ghostface has been such an iconic horror villain for over two decades, what better backstory to look into than the events that inspired Kevin Williamson to write a script like Scream.

In 1998, Williamson did an interview with CNN in which he described the events that inspired Scream. Williamson admitted he was sitting in his living room watching a Barbara Walters special on The Gainesville Ripper, and the news story scared him so badly that he became inspired to write the iconic slasher film.  Williamson states, "I was watching this Barbara Walters special on the Gainesville (Florida) murders, and I was getting so spooked. I was being scared out of my mind. During the commercial break, I heard a noise. And I had to go search the house. And I went into the living room and a window was open. And I'd been in this house for two days. I'd never noticed the window open. So I got really scared. So I went to the kitchen, got a butcher knife, got the mobile phone. I called a buddy of mine." This event is also what led Williamson to come up with the iconic opening scene to the first movie. Williamson also stated that for the next couple nights his nightmares were so bad from how horribly this news scared him that he woke up in the middle of the night one night and started writing the script for Scream. Since the Gainesville Ripper was enough to scare Kevin Williamson into creating a slasher film, I decided to look into what made this serial killer so frightening. It turned out that the inspiration behind this film is much, much more sinister than I’d ever thought it would be.

The Gainesville murders took place in 1990 in Gainesville, Florida, and the man who would eventually be known as The Gainesville Ripper was named Danny Rolling. Over a three-day period, Rolling took the lives of 4 innocent young women and one man. However, not only did Rolling kill these people, he brutally tortured, assaulted, and dismembered their corpses as well. Rolling, like many serial killers, had a rough childhood filled with abuse from his father, who happened to be a police officer, and was consistently getting in trouble with the law from a young age. His crimes started out with small robberies, usually just petty theft, and being a “peeping tom,” but eventually, Rolling started robbing at gunpoint, and spent some time in prison for it. In May of 1990, Rolling and his father had an argument that ended with Rolling shooting his father twice in the head. He figured he’d killed his dad and fled to Florida from Louisiana, but his father lived through the bullet wounds, and this would be the moment in which Rolling would realize he had a need to kill.

Rolling made his way to Florida by robbing grocery stores and fast food joints, as well as playing his guitar in parks for tips. Despite his family begging him to come home, he had violated his parole already, and refused to go back to prison. When Rolling made it to Florida, he set up a campsite in the woods near the University of Florida, and soon after, this is when the Gainesville murders would take place. On August 24, 1990, Rolling took the lives of his first two victims, Christina Powell, age 17, and Sonja Larson, age 18. Rolling murdered all of his victims with a knife, and it was in their own home, usually in their own bedrooms, which made the murders that much more personal and disturbing. Although he mutilated every body of every woman he killed, Rolling’s most disturbing attack was on Christa Hoyt, in which after killing her, he decapitated her and placed her head on a shelf in her bedroom, posing her body to be sitting upright on her bed. Rolling posed all the bodies of the women in different positions after he had killed them, and every murder he committed got increasingly more disturbing with him cutting off various body parts and placing them next to the victims. With this grisly string of murders, and the knowledge of the killer getting into homes and dorm rooms through unlocked windows, people panicked, buying extra locks and sleeping in shifts with their roommates. The University of Florida even shut down the entire school for a week because of the murders.

After committing this string of murders within a three-day span, Rolling suddenly stopped. Police suspected since they had a serial killer on their hands that he would eventually strike again, but he didn’t. This led investigators to go on a manhunt down every which way, desperately attempting to find the person sick enough to commit such gruesome attacks. The reason it had become to hard for police to find Rolling was because after the attacks, he left town, and was found about 40 miles away from Gainesville. The reason cops arrested him wasn’t even related to the Gainesville murders, but because he had robbed a grocery store- the cops had absolutely no idea that the person they took into custody was the serial killer they were searching for. It wasn’t until January 1991 that investigators started looking into prison inmates that had been jailed during the time of the murders that Rolling became a suspect in the case. After DNA evidence was linked from the crime scenes to Danny Rolling, he was then charged for all five murders, despite Rolling’s attempt to deny these allegations at first.

rolling.jpg

The Gainesville murder trial took place in 1994, and to everyone’s surprise, Rolling confessed to everything, stating, “there are some things that you just can’t run from.” During his trial, Rolling was diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder, but he was fit to stand trial, and he was sentenced to death for the Gainesville murders. During this process, investigators ended up linking Danny Rolling to the murder of three more people in Shreveport in 1989, but he was never officially charged with those crimes due to lack of evidence. Danny Rolling was sentenced to death by lethal injection on October 25th, 2006, and during his execution, it’s said that he sang a song to the people watching, and although it’s never been confirmed what he sang exactly, some heard him sing, “none greater than thee, O Lord, none greater than thee.”

During his prison time, Danny co-wrote a book on his life titled The Making of a Serial Killer, and it’s said that when he talked about himself, he seemed to separate the person he is from the person who committed all his crimes. He called this person “Gemini,” and claims that because he was so damaged as a child; he created this persona that he described to be a “demonic entity who thirsted for blood.”

Kevin Williamson’s fear over this brutal case seems to be well justified once you’ve heard the story. While Scream isn’t a play-by-play reenactment of this sick string of events, it definitely explains the thought process that went into Williamson creating the blood-thirsty, knife wielding, unidentified serial killer that we know today as Ghostface.