In August 1990, the residents of Gainesville, Florida lost all feeling of innocence and safety when five college students – Christina Powell, Sonja Larson, Christa Hoyt, Manny Taboada, and Tracy Paules – were brutally murdered between August 24th and August 27th. What made this crime even more frightening was the fact that Manny Taboada was a male – which meant that no one – not even males – were safe.
The entire campus – The University of Florida – went into panic overload. Gun stores sold out of guns, and no one – pizza delivery men, cops, even friends – could be trusted. It got to the point where classes had to be canceled, and students had to be collected by their parents, making the campus look like a virtual ghost town.
Since information regarding serial killer Danny Rolling is included below in the Q&A, I will conclude this part by saying that I first became interested in this crime in 1992 when I was a college student at The Ohio State University, and saw a news special about it on television.
I had the honor of interviewing Josh Townsend, the director of the film The Gainesville Ripper. The website of his film is http://www.gainesvilleripper.com/.
1)Josh, tell me about your film The Gainesville Ripper.
The Gainesville Ripper is about Danny Rolling. Gainesville Ripper was the name the media gave him and it just stuck. He was an American serial killer who raped and murdered five students in Gainesville, Florida. Rolling later confessed to an additional triple homicide on November 4, 1989 in Shreveport, Louisiana. He also attempted to murder his father in May 1990. In total, Rolling confessed to killing eight people. He was executed by lethal injection in 2006. I always wanted to make movies so I thought that it would be a good idea for my first movie to be about Danny Rolling considering I grew up in Gainesville during the murders and investigation. It always bothered me that Hollywood changed the facts to make movies more cinematic. I went the opposite route and tried to be as factual as possible and still make a good scary horror film.
2)How old were you when the murders happened?
I was 16 years old in 1990. I was on vacation, and saw the news when the first murder happened. We didn’t realize how serious it was until the next day when we came back to start school and heard about the other three bodies. One of the odder aspects of the whole thing was all the rumors we heard ended up being totally true. The gun stores sold out right away. College classes were canceled. The entire town was scared. Friends would spend the night at each other’s homes. Me, personally, I was not scared. I was a horror movie buff and a dumb kid at the time and it was obvious to me he was killing pretty girls and I didn’t need to be concerned for my life. I was concerned for my mom, especially since she was going to college at the time.
3)How were you going to make a film that paid tribute to the victims without exploiting them?
One of my biggest concerns was telling this story as factually as possible. I did not fudge facts for drama. I wanted to have everything in this film happen as it happened – or at least how we thought we knew it happened. I never planned to get rich off of this or even to make money off of this. I grew up with this; the murders, the trial. At the time, I had no desire at all to see the crime scene photos. At all! In retrospect, I wish I could have been more accurate, but does it really matter that much?
4)Did you meet the victims’ family and friends?
I did not go out of my way to contact any of the victims’ family and friends. I didn’t see any point in it. Since then I have communicated with some family members. Some understand I had good intentions in making the film. I changed the names and physical attributes of the victims out of respect for them but that was a decision I made even before the scripting process had begun.
5)Did you meet Danny Rolling before his execution?
I thought about getting a hold of Danny, but there was no point in it. He would only present things from his point of view – whitewash things. I was concerned that meeting him might result in him manipulating my objectivity. Plus I had no desire to actually contact him or feed his ego by letting him know a movie was going to made about him before his execution. Especially since I always intended to film the movie from his perspective. The whole situation was so bad I felt it should be told as a horror movie, scary and pulling no punches.
6)Have the victims’ families and friends seen the film? What did they think?
I only had one public showing on the tenth anniversary of the murders. I thought it was the eleventh anniversary, but discovered it was the tenth anniversary. I was being slammed for this – especially by the local media who thought that I was exploiting the murders for profit. Which could not be further from the the truth. I’ve wanted to make movies my whole life and it seemed like a subject matter I could do justice to in a respectful way. Movies like MONSTER with Charlize Theron really make me mad when they try to make the murderer sympathetic. Then there’s the whole thing that the media writing articles and shooting spots about about me making the movie aren’t exactly donating there paychecks to charity when the write about my movie. That double standard really upsets me. Especially when they cherry pick the answers they decide the print.