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A Monster of All Time: The True Story of Danny Rolling, the Gainesville Ripper

Sunday, August 26, 1990


Gainesville, Florida


“I’ve got a killer on the loose” (Police Chief Waylon Clifton)


Patricia Powell was worried. Her youngest daughter, 17-year-old Christina Powell, had recently moved into an apartment in Gainesville, a bucolic college town in central Florida about 90 minutes away from their long-time Jacksonville home. Excited to be starting her freshman year of college at the University of Florida, Christina had packed up her car and left home just a few days earlier. With classes set to begin on Monday, August 27, she and her roommate moved into their two-bedroom apartment just before the beginning of the fall semester.


Christina had called her parents around 11:05 p.m. the night of Thursday, August 23 to let them know that her roommate had arrived and that they were making good progress unpacking. Everything seemed to be going well as Christina, the baby in a family with six older siblings, took the first steps towards becoming an adult and living on her own.


When Christina did not call home on Friday, August 24, Mrs. Powell felt the normal concern of a mother not receiving an expected phone call from her child. That concern grew to outright alarm on Saturday, August 25 after Christina failed to meet her sister and brother-in-law when they arrived at her new apartment around 5:00 p.m. to deliver some furniture. Although Christina was supposed to be there to meet them, no one answered the door at the apartment. Her sister waited in the parking lot until 9:00 p.m., ultimately leaving with a mixed sense of irritation and worry, having neither seen nor heard from Christina.


Unable to ignore their increasing anxiety about Christina’s well-being, Mrs. Powell and her husband made an early start on Sunday morning for the drive to Gainesville. As they pulled out of the driveway, Patricia Powell put on a brave face, but it failed to stifle the apprehensive feeling that spread from the pit of her stomach, a maternal instinct sounding an alarm, warning of something terribly wrong.


As the Powell’s drove south, the city of Gainesville, home to the University of Florida, the largest college in the state boasting over 30,000 students, buzzed with excitement and activity as thousands of eager young men and women arrived for the start of the new semester. Based largely on its “safe streets” and pastoral setting, Money magazine had named Gainesville as the 13th best place to live in the entire United States. “Have You Seen Her” by MC Hammer aired repeatedly on area radio stations and The Exorcist III scared audiences senseless at local movie theaters. U-Haul trucks and tightly packed cars riding low from their heavy loads filled dormitory and apartment complex parking lots, while the lines at supermarkets and department stores stretched long with new and returning students purchasing groceries and other essential supplies.


Elsewhere, another recent arrival, an emotionally-disturbed drifter, had already left his mark on the unsuspecting college town. His depraved deeds would soon turn their world upside down.