Idaho quadruple killings call attention to 1990 Gainesville murders


(NewsNation) — As the investigation into the stabbing deaths of four University of Idaho students stretches from days into weeks, similarities between the quadruple murders and a series of Gainesville, Florida, murders are emerging.

The last time a college campus was terrorized by a killer on the loose was back in 1990, when five University of Florida students were murdered over three days. 

It’s the case of Danny Rolling.

Rolling, dubbed the Gainesville Ripper, was behind the murders of five college students over the course of three days in August 1990, as well the killing of a family of three in Louisiana in November of that year. Rolling’s killing spree was so gruesome, he became the inspiration behind the movie franchise “Scream.”

Rolling is said to have targeted women who looked like his ex-wife. 

The murders and rapes were brutal — especially for those covering the case, such as TV anchor Doris Keller.

“We had some of our police contacts who were telling us more about the scenes, and they were letting on, you know, early on, I think a lot of it came out in the trial,” said Keller, a former reporter for the Gainesville Anchor. “But yes … it was very sickening, and to know, how they, you know, position some of the bodies and that type of thing. How Rolling did that, it was, it was just unreal.”

The victims were female, except for one instance in which Rolling didn’t know a male roommate was home — and ultimately killed him too.

“It was just very fearful,” Keller said. “Very stressful, that the students who remained in town, especially the female students who lived near those sites, the murder scenes, they were very fearful. They, you know, they were anxious, and many of them, you know, ended up going into therapy and that type of thing because of how traumatic this whole thing was.”

In the end, the serial killer wasn’t caught in connection with the murders.  Instead, he was arrested for a robbery. It was four months later, while he was in jail, that DNA evidence linked Rolling to the Gainesville murders.

He confessed and was put to death in 2005 — and hours before his execution he confessed to killing three members of a family back in his hometown of Shreveport Louisiana.

The sheer sadistic nature of Rolling’s killings — in one case Rolling beheaded one of his victims — is different from the Idaho college murders. 

But there are a few similarities in the two cases. 

The crimes on both college campuses were committed with a fix-blade knife.  Rolling broke in through sliding glass doors, and the house where the Idaho murders happened did have a similar door that could have been the killer’s point of entry.

And in both cases, the universities and surrounding towns were crippled with fear.

The Idaho case remains unsolved two-and-a-half weeks later. Many students did not return to campus out of fear. In Gainesville, students slept in large groups, taking shifts to sleep, with someone always staying awake on watch. College kids armed themselves with baseball bats as they walked to classes.

“I had people that actually walked through the house and, and made sure there was nothing amiss, that no doors that had been ajar or anything like that,” Keller said. “So yeah, it was, it was a tough time for, especially for those of us who lived there. But again, it was a close-knit community. And we all came together and all helped each other out.”

The University of Florida shut down for a week, and when it reopened, many students never returned to campus. To this day, there is a memorial and mural on campus honoring the five students. 

Serial killer profilers say Rolling grew up in an extremely abusive home. Rolling carried that abusive behavior into his failed marriage and other parts of his life. 

It’s important to note, though, that there is no evidence at this point that a serial killer is behind the University of Idaho killings.

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