The starting of a new school brings a sense of excitement to all students who are anxiously awaiting a new chapter in their lives. Unfortunately, for the city of Gainesville anxious excitement was short lived. On August 26, 1990, a call was placed with the Gainesville City Police station requesting assistance to a citizen in the Williamsburg village apartment. When the police arrived to investigate why neither Christina Powell nor Sonja Larson had called to check in with their parents once they had arrived in Gainesville nearly two days ago.
Police entered the building with the master key to unlock the door to the apartment. After unlocking the door, the police entered the apartment. Inside they found the naked and mutilated bodies of both females with multiple stab wounds. As soon as the police returned to the parking lot, homicide was called to the residents.
The next day, the Gainesville Police department received a similar call as the one before. Police were dispatched to the area to check on Christa Hoyt. Hoyt, worked at the Alachua County Sheriffs Office as a record clerk. She was scheduled to work the midnight shift but she had not shown up or called. When her co-workers called to check on Hoyt, she did not answer her phone so they called the police.
Police arrived at the Hoyt’s apartment located near southwest Archer road and knocked on the door but there was no answer and her car was still in the parking lot. The police then decided to go around the back of the apartment. As soon as they reached the back of the apartment the police realized something was wrong because there was a sign of forced entry to the back entrance gate and when they rounded the corner blood could be seen from underneath the sliding glass door. The officers on the scene immediately called for reinforcements. Once reinforcements arrived, the policed entered the apartment. Inside they found the naked body of Christa Hoyt at the end of the bed. The killer had separated her head and nipples from her body and had positioned them next to her on the bed.
The police gathered outside the Gatorwood apartment building after a friend of Manuel (Manny) Taboada and Tracy Paules called police and reported that he had walked in the apartment and discovered the bodies. Police believed that who ever the killer was that he was following the killing pattern that Ted Bundy had set not to long ago in the college town of Tallahassee.
Police arrested Edward Lewis Humphrey in connection with the five murders in Gainesville. Citizens had called police and informed him about the strange behavior. Humphrey was recently evicted from Gatorwood apartments after several tenants had complained about him enter their apartment without permission and looking through windows when they would not allow him inside the apartment. Humphrey was already in jail for battering his grandmother.
Two weeks later, Daniel Rolling was arrested for armed robbery. While serving his sentence for armed robbery, Rolling confessed to his cellmate that he was the one who had committed the murders in Gainesville. His cellmate reported to the prison warden what Rolling told him. The Police immediately got a warrant for the personal items of Daniel Rolling so the DNA could be compared.
When the lab tested the DNA found at the victim’s homes and that of Rolling, the results came back positive Daniel Rolling was the Gainesville murder now referred to in the newspapers as the “Gainesville Ripper” .
On March 24, 1994, the jury found Daniel Rolling guilty and he was given five death penalties. Daniel Rolling is currently in a Florida prison awaiting his death sentence.
The brutal murders committed by Daniel Rolling deeply affected the people of Gainesville. The city of Gainesville came together to support and uplift one another. The University of Florida held a vigil for the victims on Wednesday August 29, 1990 at noon to remember the four University of Florida students and the student (Christa Hoyt) from Santa Fe Community College .
The city of Gainesville planted five sabal trees in the median of Southwest 34th street, each tree baring the name of one of the victims. Across from the median, the friends and family of the victims painted a memorial on the wall for all people who pass by see and remember the victims of Daniel Rolling.
The University of Florida also planted five trees for the victims and placed a plaque next to the campuses Library East and across from Anderson Hall to remind the students of those who lost their lives, needlessly. The University also started a scholarship in honor of Sonja Larson freshman from Pompano Beach, Tracy Paules senior from Hialeah, Christina Powell freshman from Jacksonville, and Manuel Taboada from Hialeah .
As time passes and memories begin to fade, people forget about the horrific events that have shaped cities, towns and even countries. The classmates of the victims of Danny Rolling have long since graduated and have started their own lives. The new groups of students only know about the murders of 1990 because of the memorials all around town but they do not know the story after all they were just children when the murders took place. The wall on Southwest 34th street has been painted over. The victims must not be forgotten…they must be REMEMBERED.