August 15, 2019

Terror in Gainesville, Part 2

*Last Sunday's night's program on "How It Really Happened," featuring the Gainesville murders of 1990, reminded me that I never did finish my posts on this case.   Apologies!  Rectifying that now.*

For part 1 of Terror in Gainesville, go here.

The 1990-1991 school year should have been the optimistic start to a new decade for the University of Florida.  John Lombardi was readying for his first semester as the school's newest president; Steve Spurrier was prepping for his first season as the Gators' head football coach.  More than 36,000 students had flooded Gainesville during August; by the end of the month, many fled in fear, leaving those who remained behind to sleep in shifts, huddling up into groups of as many as 20, some with baseball bats and other weapons at their side.  Many strung beer cans across their entries and rooms at shoulder level or placed plates on the floor; anything to give them some type of warning if an intruder should enter.   Some tried to make the shared sleeping spaces more of a slumber party, with food and even slasher films but many were terrorized and traumatized.

In just 72 hours, a serial killer had gone on a deadly rampage through the peaceful university town, leaving five students slashed, stabbed, and mutilated.  The streets that were normally teeming with young collegiate were now host to news trucks and various media outlets who, with the typical slowness of summer, quickly infested the area to broadcast images of grief-stricken and fearful students across the country.   As well as sensationalize every gory detail that was known then, reporting even more mundane ones like Mace, which had sole for $4.95 just a week earlier, was now selling for $25; and that UPS was rushing shipments of locks, hardware, and guns to the now-barren shelves.

Gainesville residents, some of whom had previously left their doors unlocked with a trusting nature that was no longer the norm by 1990 in most of the country, now shirked behind double-locked doors, turning on lights in every room of their homes.  The sound of a branch cracking or owl screeching sent them to their phones to call for help.  Once the police arrived, however, some of the same callers wouldn't open their door to the responding officers out of fear that the unknown killer was masquerading as law enforcement -- or worse, that the killer was a member of law enforcement.  Those who did open their doors to the police did so with drawn guns.

Summer nights, once a time to relax and enjoy cooler temperatures as the sun went down, were now dreaded.

Gainesville is a college town through and through.  There is pride for the school, pride for the football team.  If something affects the school, the town comes a calling and vice versa.  The city and the university banded together, enjoined in fear and worry.  For its part, the school offered to refund tuition to the students that chose to leave and for the students that chose to stay in Gainesville, did not penalize them for missing classes.  Lounge areas of residence halls were opened up for those students who were too afraid to go home to their off-campus residences.

The pressure on local law enforcement was immense.  Everyone, from students to their parents to the university, demanded answers as quickly as possible.  Local law enforcement, following the discovery of Christa Hoyt's body, had sprung into immediate action.  Gainesville's usual crime (that did not include murder) dropped drastically, thanks to the increased presence of the police, who literally looked to be on every corner.  The fact that many businesses closed once the sun went down, and the streets were basically deserted, helped.   For the authorities, on whose increased watch Tracy Paules and Manny Taboada had been massacred, there was a single-minded desire and determination to catch the monster responsible for the destruction of these students -- and anger.

Although some fiction books, television shows, and movies make the capture of criminals seems a relative breeze, the reality is that serial killers are typically not that easy to catch.  This was in 1990, when DNA testing was in its infancy, making their jobs that much harder.  Furthermore, serial killers not only escalate in violence as they accumulate victims but also in their methods and "education;" meaning that by the time they are serial killing, they become better at avoiding detection.  Serial killers also rarely stop of their own accord, leaving the investigators and P.D. in Gainesville to wonder not only if this unknown killer had struck before August 24, 1990 but when he might strike again.

As quickly as the vicious murders began in Gainesville, so they appeared to end.  Sonja Larson and Christina Powell fell victim on late Friday evening/early Saturday morning; Christa Hoyt on late Sunday morning; and Tracy Paules and Manny Taboada on late Monday evening/early Tuesday morning.  The city held its collective breath as Wednesday passed, then Thursday and then another weekend was upon them.  While news of the killings themselves were unsettling, the sudden abatement was nearly as unnerving.  Why had the killer stopped?  Were they still in the Gainesville area?  Was he only a weekend killer?  Would he strike again?  And if so, when?

On Wednesday, the day after Tracy and Manny had been discovered, Marcia West, the founder of Gainesville's first center for female assault victims, organized a march through downtown; the same day that the university and local police held a joint press conference.   It was announced at the press conference that some 100 investigators, forming a task force, would be working on the investigation -- the largest manhunt in Florida's history.  Those investigators who had worked on the Ted Bundy case back in 1978, after Bundy attacked four Chi-Omega sorority sisters and one Florida State student off-campus in Tallahassee, killing two, and abducting and murdering 12-year-old Kimberly Leach in Lake City, were asked to come back and assist with the Gainesville case.

While the investigators gave little details to the media and worried public, for fear of compromising the integrity of their investigation, by the press conference on Wednesday they already had what seemed to be a solid suspect in Edward Lewis Humphrey.

Humphrey, 19 years old, was a student at the University of Florida.  Six foot two and over 200 pounds, he walked with a limp from a car accident and had many scars on his face.  Described as a loner with very few friends, those that knew him said he bragged about being in the Recon and 82nd Airborne (not true) and that he stated he hated women.  He had done six stints in mental institutions over the previous few years, was known to carry a large hunting knife on his leg, and until the week prior, he had lived at the Gatorwood Apartments, where Tracy and Manny had been murdered.  His roommates had kicked him out due to his "acting crazy."  

John Douglas and Jim Wright, the two FBI psychological profilers who had been sent to Gainesville, to provide a profile for the unknown killer, believed that Humphrey fit the profile but cautioned detectives about releasing any information to the public, believing that such information might push Humphrey -- or the killer if Humphrey was not him -- to commit suicide.  

On Thursday morning, Humphrey was arrested in Indiatlantic for beating up his 79-year-old grandmother, who told cops that Humphrey told her she was going to die and struck her, leaving her bloody.  He was taken to the Brevard County Detention Center in Sharpes.  His grandmother, after receiving medical treatment at the hospital, then recanted her story and said she struck the refrigerator.

While law enforcement had maybe a dozen suspects they were checking out -- and SWAT, complete with K9s, was regularly swarming the southwest section of the city -- Humphrey was at the top of their list.  They found that more than 20 disturbance phone calls had been made from Humphrey's grandmother's house over the summer; many of the complaints had to do with Humphrey and knives.  On August 6, Humphrey had been arrested at Patrick Air Force Base for having concealed weapons -- a marine knife with a seven-inch blade and a Buck stainless-steel six-inch knife.  At the time, Humphrey claimed he wanted to swim to Iran to kill people.

The same morning Humphrey was arrested for beating his grandmother, the Orlando Sentinel ran a story that not only identified Humphrey as a major suspect but reported that one of the victims had been decapitated.

Already discouraged by a clear leak in the department, the initial questioning of Humphrey left more questions than answers for many.  During the interrogation, Humphrey insinuated that he had a split personality named John; that John had committed the killings; and he put himself at the Williamsburg Village Apartments at the time that Sonja Larson and Christina Powell were being killed.  He also rambled on unintelligibly and got many facts of the case wrong.

By Monday, Labor Day, the level of fear began to drop significantly in and around Gainesville, with students returning to campus.  On Tuesday, nearly 1,000 people attended the memorial service held at UF for the five victims.  On the 34th Street Wall, students painted a more lasting memorial, putting all five victims' names in big, white block letters with a heart underneath.   On Saturday, more than 75,000 fans - - a record attendance -- filled Florida Field to cheer on the Gators in their season opening game, where a moment of silence in honor of the victims was observed.

Gatorwood Apartments 
While Ed Humphrey remained in jail on a $1 million bond, search warrants were executed for his Cadillac, his grandmother's residence, and the Gainesville apartment he had moved to after being evicted from Gatorwood Apartments.  Knives and tennis shoes were confiscated to be compared to the evidence found at the crimes scenes.  In a pillowcase, three detective magazines were found; all contained articles about decapitation.

Investigators had relatively sparse evidence for the number of victims and the extremely bloody crime scenes.  Footprints had been left at the third scene.  They knew the killer had used a screwdriver to gain entry into both the Hoyt and Paules/Taboada apartments.  Unidentified hairs had been found in the bedding of both Christa Hoyt and Sonja Larson.  Semen and blood had been recovered at all three crime scenes.

The Williamsburg Village Apartments 
Pubic hair taken from Humphrey was microscopically similar to the hairs found at both the Hoyt and Larson scenes but it wasn't enough to warrant a conviction.  Florida, an early leader in DNA technology, hoped that tests on the blood and semen would lead them to their perpetrator.  From testing they knew the killer was a blood type B secretor.  Florida would run DNA tests against Humphrey once his blood work came back - - a wait of about a week.

In the meantime, investigators began checking other unsolved homicides throughout the country.  One that got their interest was a slaying in November of 1989 in Shreveport, Louisiana in which a woman, her father, and her nephew were stabbed to death.  Much like Sonja Larson, the woman, Julie Grissom, had been dragged to the end of her bed after being killed and posed, with her legs hanging off the end of the bed and her hair fanned out around her.  The killer had poured vinegar in her vaginal area and put a towel at her feet.  And as with Manny Taboada, the male victims seemed to be collateral damage; they were killed quickly and efficiently while the killer's rage was directed at the female.

Christa Hoyt's apartment 
Investigators also attempted to find any links between the victims.  Believing that Manny was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, they zeroed in on the female victims.  The found that on Thursday, August 23, Sonja, Christina, and Christa had all shopped at the same Walmart within an hour of each other; Christa had checked out at 4:51 p.m. and Sonja and Christina had checked out at 6:07 p.m.    On Friday, August 24 at 3:05 p.m., Tracy and Manny were shopping at the Oaks Mall; Christa met friends at the mall that same day at 6 p.m.    Sonja, Christina, and Christa all went to the All Women's Health Center.   And if race was any motive at all, Sonja, Christina, and Tracy had all dated black men.   The connections were tenuous but detectives worked them doggedly.

Friday, September 7, 1990 would ultimately be the day that would lead to major developments in the case, although investigators couldn't have known it at the time.

Forty miles south of Gainesville,  at around noon on Friday, September 7, the manager of the Winn Dixie grocery store in Ocala was held up, with a .38 revolver to his head.  After collecting money from the registers at the front of the store, the robber walked out the front door of the store and ran to the nearby Palm Chevrolet.

The first responding officers immediately noticed a man fitting the description of the robber in the parking lot of Palm Chevrolet, sitting in a silver Mustang that would turn out to be stolen.  When officers asked the man to put his hands up, he complied but then accelerated into traffic.  He would top speeds of 60 to 80 miles per hour, bouncing off curbs before striking another car.  He took off on foot but was quickly apprehended behind a flower shop.

Unlike most people who were handcuffed and placed under arrest, this one liked to talk.  He emphasized that he knew his rights but he wanted to talk.  He told the officers  his gun was still in the Mustang, he had stolen the car from Tampa and he apologized for the trouble he had caused them.  He also said he had shot his father.  

His name was Danny Harold Rolling.

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