In The News: Danny Rolling

With the Danny Rolling execution next week, I wanted to feature an article about him. His execution is set for October 25th.

A killer is born
Psychologists say dad’s cruelty led to the murders

Alligator Writer

Before he brutally murdered five college students at the beginning of UF’s 1990 Fall semester, people knew little about Danny Rolling.

He had been a quiet boy with a soft Southern drawl and sad, drooping eyes. Women thought he was charming and gentlemanly. He enjoyed playing guitar and sang in a church choir.

Few knew of his abusive childhood, his suicide attempts or his sadistic fantasies.

And then his knife fell, carving a place in history for him as the Gainesville Ripper.

The horror began quietly in 1954 when James Rolling and his 22-year-old wife, Claudia, were married. James had just returned from the Korean War and begrudgingly went job-hunting in the river town of Shreveport, La.

Two weeks after their marriage – and although James didn’t want to – the couple conceived a child. They named him Daniel. Daniel Harold Rolling.

During Claudia’s pregnancy and after Rolling’s birth, James beat his wife. His brutality pushed her to leave with her newborn child, but she returned not long after in an attempt to save her marriage.

A scarred son

Escape would become a method of survival for Rolling.

“Running was his defense mechanism,” said Harry Krop, a psychologist who would spend 500 hours with Rolling after the murders. “It was his only way to avoid major conflicts.”

Claudia loved Rolling dearly but felt too young and powerless to defend him against his father. She reserved her motherly caresses for Rolling only when her husband wasn’t around, fearing James’ punishment.

When Claudia gave birth to her second son, Kevin, a year after Rolling, the rules tightened and the beatings worsened.

No shoes inside. No sitting on the furniture. Keep quiet. Hold your fork correctly.

If Rolling didn’t breathe correctly, his father – now working as a police lieutenant – would whip him with a belt or grind his knuckles into his head. And if he cried, he was hit harder.

Krop said one of the most hurtful rules for Rolling was not being allowed to sit at the dinner table with his father, who had banished him to the kitchen.

Rolling sometimes snuck out while his father was eating and wandered the neighborhood. He gazed into the windows of families eating dinner together and imagined he was eating with them, laughing with them, being loved by them.

Krop said this abuse would scar him for life.

Emotional immaturity. Avoidance. Poor impulse control. Sadistic fantasies. For now, they were just the quirks of a young boy who got beatings when he wanted love. Over time they would develop into forces that would push him to kill.

Claudia and her two sons ran away again. They left James and the house three times but always returned not long after. Rolling was 8, 9 and 10 when they fled, and he pleaded to his mother not to go back to the father who abused them.

Claudia would later tell the court in her son’s trial that, at this age, Rolling was being beaten once or twice a week.

When he failed the third grade, faculty members urged his parents to let him receive counseling, citing his inferiority complex and aggressive tendencies.

But his father decided Rolling’s treatment would be more violence. He never went to counseling.

He was 11 when he began to play guitar, writing and singing his own songs. Krop said playing the guitar was something Rolling felt good at and satisfied with. He wanted to be a songwriter, attract women and become famous.

Also about this time he developed a drinking problem. What he couldn’t get from friends, he stole.

“He used it for avoidance, escape,” Krop said. “It was self-medication for the emotional pain he was experiencing.”

When the family fell asleep one night, Rolling snuck out of the house and spent several nights in nearby woods. He spent his time fantasizing of violence and control.

Twenty-four years later, he would set up campsites in the woods near his victims, and his sadistic fantasies would become real.

His voyeurism, which began innocently as he watched other families, became sexually motivated. He was caught peeking in windows to watch girls shower and undress.

Rolling was 15 when he slit his wrists. He had seen his mother do the same only four years earlier after an argument with his father.

“I tried,” he scrawled on the bathroom mirror in his mother’s lipstick. “I just can’t make it.”

His father had told him that he would be dead or in jail by 15.

Rolling almost proved him right.

A failed father

After Rolling dropped out of high school in 1971, he enlisted in the Air Force, where he excelled in his course work but drank heavily, smoked marijuana and used LSD.

An Air Force psychiatrist diagnosed him with a personality disorder, and he was discharged for drug problems and stealing a bicycle.

He returned to Shreveport, a town and a life he had run away from just months ago, and began to attend King’s Temple United Pentecostal Church. It was there he met O’Mather Halko, a petite dark-haired woman who Rolling believed was an answer to his prayers for companionship. The two married in 1974 and had a daughter, Kiley, a year later. Their marriage would only last three years, and he drank, couldn’t keep a job and suffered from impotence.

Despite his faults, Rolling was enraged when Halko filed for a divorce in 1977. (Rolling would later say his ex-wife looked like 18-year-old Christa Hoyt, his sixth murder and the most violent: He would stab the freshman through the back, cut off her nipples and place her severed head on a bookshelf.)

Rolling became a drifter. He committed armed robberies in Alabama, Louisiana and Georgia. The police caught him as he left a Columbus, Ga., Winn-Dixie supermarket with $956 in stolen cash, and he was sentenced to six years in prison.

There, he lifted weights, boxed and took pride in his power. Inmates sometimes called him “psycho” after watching him fight. Krop said the guards and inmates cruelly abused him, adding to the wounds inflicted by his father.

After his release, he hitchhiked across the country, stopping with relatives who would take him in. In 1985, Rolling held up another supermarket and was arrested.

During a conversation with his defense attorney, Arthur Carlisle, Rolling presented a bizarre alternative to returning to prison: He would let them cut off his hands. Rolling was sentenced to four years in a Mississippi jail for armed robbery.

“Rolling had impulse-control problems: basically, not really thinking through the consequences of his actions,” Krop said. “He was very emotionally immature.”

Rolling returned in 1988 to Shreveport after being paroled. On Nov. 4, 1989, Rolling was fired from his job at a Poncho’s restaurant. Rather than taking the rejection quietly – as he had done so many times before – he lashed out at his manager for leaving a couple dollars off his paycheck, and threatened violence.

That night, he killed for the first time.

A murderer

Julie Grissom, 24, was raped and murdered. Her father, Tom Grissom, and his 8-year-old grandson Sean, were also killed. Three generations of the Grissom family, stabbed to death.

Rolling positioned Julie’s body with her legs spread and hair carefully fanned onto her bed. She was discovered with tape marks on her wrists and bite marks on her breasts. His arranging of his victims’ corpses would become his signature.

Rolling had watched Julie as she worked at a Dillard’s department store in Shreveport’s South Park Mall. Krop said on the night of Rolling’s first murders, his voyeurism and sadistic fantasies escalated into reality.

“Rolling couldn’t stand the idea of their family being happy,” Krop said.

It would only be several months before he killed again.

Rolling wasn’t hiding his anger and frustration any longer. During an argument at his parents’ home, he shot his father in the stomach and head. His father lived. Rolling ran.

Rolling’s love-hate relationship with his father would continue to affect him months after the shooting. In the nights before his Gainesville murders, he recorded messages that both cursed and forgave his father.

“His father had been … emotionally and physically abusive to him when he was younger, yet Rolling continues to say, ‘I love him,'” psychiatrist Robert Sadoff would later say.

Rolling fled Shreveport and took a bus to Sarasota before finally ending up in Gainesville. Krop said he was excited at the prospect of a college town. He set up a campsite in woods near Archer Road with a tent and a mattress he had bought at a Gainesville Wal-Mart. It was at this store that he had seen his first two victims: two UF freshman girls, Sonja Larson, 18, and Christina Powell, 17, buying things for their new apartment.

They were several aisles over as he walked through the checkout with a stolen screwdriver, roll of duct tape and two pairs of gloves. After shopping, he followed the girls to their Williamsburg Village apartment.

He watched through their window as they washed dishes. In his black outfit, ski mask and athletic gloves, he waited until 3 a.m. before he crept up to their second-floor apartment.

Sixteen steps up the cracked white staircase, and the horror began.

“Your honor, I’ve been running from first one problem and then another all my life,” he would later say to Judge Stan Morris.

“But there are some things you just can’t run from, and this is one of those.”


~ by B on October 20, 2006.

16 Responses to “In The News: Danny Rolling”

  1. My first year at Florida State was 1991 and I had many friends from high school that were at UF in ’90. It was a truly horrifying time for the people there because there was simply no where to go… nobody had any idea what the MO was. I remember several friends coming back home never to return… oddly enough, the apartment complex where most of this happened on Archer Road is still there and many of the residents are surprised to learn of the gruesome events that occurred there.

  2. I am selfishly still hoping that he will get a stay one more time, so I can be up there when it happens.

    I know. I’m such a ghoul. Sue me. LOL

  3. The horrors of an abusive childhood… truly. Despite his conviction as a murderer, I feel sorry for him.

  4. When someone can explain to me how the killing another human – for whatever reason – makes sense, some 2006 years after the death of Christ, I would like to hear it.

    Ask yourself, are we killing another human being with malice aforethought? If the answer is yes, then it is murder. You cannot justify murder for any reason or you bear the same scars as the evildoer.

    Florida should stay all executions, especially Rolling’s, or bear the burden of its sins.

  5. I am a 23 year old cop from Gainesville, FL. I personally felt compelled to be standing outside of the prison when the execution occured. I was very young when the murders happened, but was well aware of what had happened when the trial began. I, like many other longtime G’ville residents, were shocked and confused that he won appeal after appeal after recieving the death penalty. Danny Rolling was a monster, an animal, and I am happy to now be able to say his name in PAST tense. I clapped alongside my parents, girlfriend, younger brother and sister, and others from my community as he was pronounced DEAD. We also cheered as the hearse drove away. When an animal is rabid or sick, you PUT IT DOWN. I justify it that he took the life of people who had barely started adulthood, people that were getting an education and had a promising future. WE KILL KILLERS. He tortured, raped, mutilated, and KILLED INNOCENT YOUNG GIRLS! WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU! YOU LOST THAT BATTLE! He’s finally recieved his punishment and the souls of those brutally removed from this earth can rest, along with their families. I know every breath of air I breathe will be a little sweeter knowing that Dannyboy is gone.

  6. Thank God he’s finally gone


  8. I am sick and tired of hearing people argue against the death penalty. It is neccesary. It is God ordained:

    Romans 13:1-7 “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing”

    Genesis 9:6 “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.”

    Ecclesiastes 3:1-3 “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; A time to kill, and a time to heal…”

    The Scriptures clearly teach that capital punishment is ordained of God. God has given government the power to execute this punishment. There is a time to kill. God says you shall kill the person who takes another persons life.

    It doesn’t matter what YOU think, what matters is what God says! That is the end of the matter. There is NOTHING else to discuss. God has the final say.

  9. I think Texas law should apply everywhere. “You kill someone, we’ll kill you right back”. There shouldn’t even be a trial to hear a known killer blame parents and mental illness. That’s just something for Therapist to study before hand. After that, it should just be a death sentence.

  10. My father worked with James Harold ROlling on the Shreveport Police Department. I recall as a child going to “Baby Dumpling’s” house for dinner one evening with my mom and dad. “Baby Dumpling” was James Harold’s nickname.

    I remember them having a messy house, but not much else. I remember James Harold giving me a bottled coke. I remember him being nice. That is what is so strange. I don’t recollect meeting any of his son’s. I guess my visit to their Summer Grove house would have been around 1980 or so.

    This blows my mind, I remember James harold being loud and abnoxious, but I know my father would have never taken me to that man’s house if he’d known he abused his child. My father and I talked regularly about his “police” friends and frequently about “Baby Dumpling.” I never recall hearing anything negative about his. This truly blows my mind. I am 36 now.

    God bless Danny’s victims. While Danny is soley to blame for what he did, this goes to show that what a child experiences in his life can affect him the rest of his life. This is so sad.

    Name withheld

  11. What Rolling did was terrible. But there is a point in what you are saying about abuse. It really does things to people. Now to me it seems as if he deflected his resentment towards his mother by vicously murdering women in particular. I think that he resented his mother for letting the abuse go on and for not taking him away from his father for good. Now what is so facinating to me is the question what is it in some abused people that makes them want to kill? I, being the victim of abuse as a child, would never think to murder anyone. I see the wrong in abuse and it saddens me. What made Danny Rolling go the other way? It is interesting to study…

  12. I certainly don’t mean to be an I, I, I person when there are so many victims left in Danny Rollings path. But I wanted to know if anyone knew if he was ever in North Carolina on the Outer Banks in 1988.
    There was a man breaking into my house for approx. a month. He stole bandannas, knives, a screwdriver and a mans watch. I was a girl living alone, recently graduated from college – but very naive when it came to dealing with this situation. He would even sleep in my guest room without me knowing it. I couldn’t figure out how he was getting in. I ended up nailing the windows shut and then he was prying open the back door. I changed the locks and obviously got whoever it was very angry. Someone called the police when the next night they saw a man in camo. looking in my window when I was getting ready to shower. Four police cars surrounded my house they said the man was tall and very fast – they went after him on foot but he got away from all of them.
    I really never think of it – try to forget – just wanted to know if anyone knew anything.
    thank you

  13. ack!! we’re all victims in ine way or another rollins was beyond way beyond the father was vivtimized probably worse. parents need to be qualified—nosuch thing—-life goes on & on allout of wack. and theres not a goddamn thing can be done about it.

  14. Those who are against executing someone like Danny Rollings would likely think differently if they were a family member of his victims. I personally do not express violent tendancies in my day to day life, and deplore violence and violent people, however I know in my heart that if a close family member of mine was a victim in a crime such as the brutal murders of Danny Rollings, I would have absolutely no problem being the executioner myself.

  15. I just watched an FBI Pursuit program concerning him and it reminded me of years ago. I worked with his ex wife and remember her taking time off work to testify for the prosecution at his trial. Being relatively young at the time and a life of my own, I did not pay a lot of attention to this and it surely never dawned on me what he had done or who he was for that matter. Just a few years later, when I married, his only daughter sang at my wedding. I am not sure that she knew who her father was at that time and am sure she was not aware of the horrific crimes he had committed. I think of them from time to time and have to wonder how blessed they must feel that harm did not come to them by this person, and I call him that lightly. My heart does go out to his daughter, for it must be so painful to know that her own flesh and blood could have done these most horrific crimes of all crimes……

  16. Hi there, I read through a few of your articles here.
    I did have a question though that I hope you could answer.
    I was wondering, Why do firefighters, policemen, soldiers, and
    other life threating jobs make so little when pro athletes make millions?

    I would really appreciate any help you could give me!

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