It’s August 24th, 1990. Sonja Larson and Christina Powell were friends, roommates and freshman to be at the University of Florida in Gainesville. They had their whole lives ahead of them. But things took a deadly turn when a career criminal broke into their apartment. They were subdued with duct tape, sexually assaulted, and killed. The next day a young woman named Christa Hoyt was murdered in an almost identical fashion. A couple days later Tracey Paules and Manuel Taboad were killed. All the bodies were found posed and mutilated. The murder weapon was always a knife. And all the victims were killed by the same person; The Gainsville Ripper a.k.a Daniel Harold Rolling. As if that wasn’t enough, Rolling went on to confess to an additional triple homicide in November 1989 and attempting to murder his father in May 1990. These tragic and almost unbelievable events went on to inspire the screenplay for Scream, one of the most successful slasher films of all time.
While there hasn’t been a reported serial killer running around with a voice changer and a cheap Halloween costume gutting people like fish, this real life murder spree did influence screenwriter Kevin Williamson to write the feature film, Scream. When Scream debuted in 1996 it took the world by storm while simultaneously redefining the horror genre. It quickly became a cinematic staple with its all-star cast, witty script, and self-parodizing take on horror movies.
The story goes that Williamson happened to turn on the television one evening and saw an episode of Turning Point, one of those hour long true crime documentaries, all about the Gainesville Ripper, This was just two years before the release of Scream. Williamson went on to sell the script to The Weinstein Brothers for $400,000 and the film grossed over $100 million at the domestic box office.
The plot of Scream is pretty straightforward: Set in the fictional town of Woodsboro, students of the local high school are being hunted down by a masked killer called that has taken his or her love of scary movies a little too far. Seems like your run-of-the-mill slasher, right? Obviously, one can see the differences in these two scenarios, although there are plenty of intriguing parallels true crime enthusiasts can appreciate. Nobody can say Williamson didn’t pay attention to that Turning Point episode.
For starters, both the Ripper’s and Ghostface’s reign of terror only lasted a few days in total. They are also both creatures of habit in terms of where they kill. Both operated in a small geographical region. This is likely because a killer prefers not to stray too far from home; a “comfort zone” of sorts. Another interesting coincidence is that both the movie and the Ripper case involve a false accusation.
Scream’s Cotton Weary was sentenced for the murder of Maureen Prescott. Before Rolling was arrested, police had their sights set on 18 year old Edward Lee Humphrey and honestly? You can’t blame them. Humphrey did have a prior record for beating up his grandmother and he did live in the same apartment building that two of the victims were killed in. The cherry on top of it all? Multiple reports stated that Humphrey had a crush on victim Tracey Paules.
While Humphrey looked like a promising suspect, obviously he wasn’t the bad guy. As if he was also watching a few too many scary movies himself, Rolling claimed at his trial that his motive was to become a “superstar”. As if it couldn’t get creepier the killer even took it a step further on his execution day, his last words being “None greater than thee, O Lord, none greater than thee” over and over again. Rolling died about 12 minutes after the lethal injection chemical entered his body on October 25th, 2006, 12 years after he was sentenced to death. Now all along the University of Florida campus there are memorials to honor the victims, including a series of trees and a mural urging students to never forget.