The Student Murders....or....(How I Almost Killed Danny Rolling)
Some of you may not remember them, or weren’t living in Gainesville when they happened. I think almost everyone has heard about them, though. I remember them vividly.
I was young, single and brunette. Apparently, just Danny Rolling’s type. I was newly divorced, starting a new job, and for the very first time in my entire life, living completely on my own. Not my parents' house, not my husband’s house....my very own apartment. Mine to decorate as I please, mine to come and go from as I please, mine to have friends over as I please, and apparently, mine to run from in the middle of the night, covered in vomit and urine, half naked. But I’m getting a little ahead of myself here, so let me back up.
I had no more than moved into my cute little “bachelorette” apartment when the murders started happening. And I lived in the Southwest, student-saturated part of Gainesville, right off of Archer Road. So when it became apparent that we had a serial killer on ours hands, my parents insisted that if I would not move back home altogether, than at least I should come and spend the nights there, until this killer was found and locked up. To be honest, it did not take much convincing on their parts to get me to agree. So after work every day, I would go to my apartment, check the mail and make sure everything was OK, put my cats in their pet taxi, and off we’d go to “Grandma’s” house: me and my cats. I’d spend the night and then go home in the morning to take the cats back and get ready for work.This went on for about 6 or 7 weeks, until the killings had stopped and law enforcement felt pretty sure they had the killer locked up.
Things relaxed a little, and I started staying all night in my own apartment again (even if it was with a butcher knife tucked under the mattress every evening). It was mid to late October and Halloween was fast approaching. I was visiting my younger brother one evening and to "get" me, he put on a Halloween mask: not a mask of a particular character or person, just a very ugly, scary, gargoyle-looking man with a big, bushy mustache. It was pretty gruesome. I asked my brother if I could borrow it to play a prank on a friend. So I took the mask home with me, and one of my cats became enchanted with it. He kept chewing and biting and gnawing on the furry, bushy mustache part of the mask. Fearing kitty would chew the whole thing off, and then spend the night up-chucking it, I took the mask and put it where I felt sure kitty couldn't reach it.
(Now pay attention here folks. This is where it gets tricky. Our college business law professor was right: The devil is in the details!)
I put the mask on my bedroom window sill. Now, my bedroom was your standard apartment bedroom. In other words, what? 8 or 9 foot ceiling? My bedroom window, however, was not your standard window. It was one of those short windows, placed way up high on the wall, closer to the ceiling than to the center of the wall. In other words, about 6 foot high up. This is where I placed the mask for "safety" from my cat, and then promptly forgot about it.
Fast forward to nighttime, about 4 or 5 nights later. I do my usual bedtime routine, which includes taking out my contact lenses. So it's sometime in the middle of the night. I'm fast asleep. My cat hops up on the bed with me, as usual. He awakens me with his repeated meowing. I stir to life, reach down to pet him, and ask, "what's the matter, buddy?" (as if he will actually turn around and talk to me, right?). He is sitting very straight and erect and facing my bedroom window, where a full moon is shining through the window, his tail now twitching and kitty continues to growl/meow. (Sounds like Lassie, doesn't it?) I turn to see what he's meowing about and, not having either my contacts in, or my glasses on, all I see is a hideously ugly man's face, right inside my bedroom window! He's not moving, or speaking, just.......standing there. It's very dark in the room, and like I said, I'm legally blind without either glasses or contacts (20/400 vision), but I managed to make out his face, right at my window, right beside my bedroom door - the only doorway out of the room! I just knew it was the Gainesville killer, either him or another, new killer! I called out, "who's there? Who are you? What do you want?" to be answered only with silence. The tiny little bedside lamp on my table did not offer much in the way of light, especially with me being nearly blind. I reach for my glasses on my bedside table, but I'm so scared and shaking with fear, I knock them off and can't find where they landed! I was literally paralyzed with fear!
Then, a true moment of self-preservation kicked in and I knew it was either fight or flight! And since my would-be murderer was right by the only door, flight didn't seem the appropriate option at the moment. So fight it was! I blindly reached under my mattress for the ever-present butcher knife I had been sleeping with since returning to my apartment a week ago, and found it! OK....here goes! I grabbed the butcher knife and ran towards him. He wasn't moving towards me at all, still just standing there, so I just lunged ahead. I raised the butcher knife over my head in both my hands and brought it down.....into nothing...well, it felt like I hit something, but I don't know what. Luckily, I didn't stab myself in the belly or legs! He still wasn't moving, no gasp, no sound....but I just knew he was about to lunge at me with a sword or a machete, or his own butcher knife. All I could think of was poor Christa Hoyt...decapitated, butchered, her head left on a shelf in a ghastly display of mockery towards the people and law enforcement officers who would eventually find her. Even though I never saw her in person, I was seeing her in my mind's eye right now! Off with the head it was! I raised my butcher knife yet again and swung towards what I thought was his throat, moving right towards left! This time, my knife stuck in something...and remained stuck! And sure enough, the head fell to the floor! OMG! I did it! I killed him! I ran screaming from the room.
I ran towards my apartment front door (actually the apartment's only door). I forgot that part of my new bedtime routine included creating a barricade of sorts by the door, so that in the event someone did break in, I'd hear them crashing through the barricade, and hopefully have enough time to call 911 before my attack began. But on this night, it was not my intruder who crashed into the barricade. It was me! Now, why finding the barricade assembled in place did not register with me, I do not know. But it didn't. So I ran and crashed right into it: two small bookcases, a couple of chairs, a small end table. I fell, crashing to the ground. I was sobbing hysterically by now....certain that my intruder was right on my heels. And it all caught up with me at that moment, certain as I was that my death was only moments away. So biology took over, and I puked and peed all over myself. I was completely unhinged. But, that's the kind of fear, panic and hysteria that gripped this city during that awful, stricken time so many years ago. I somehow managed to clear myself of the books and table and chairs that had fallen on me, lunged at the front door...unlocked, unbolted and unchained it. Still, it was not registering with me that the front door was still completely locked up. I make it outside and run out of the courtyard and into the parking lot, wearing only my nightclothes, which consisted of a long T-shirt and my underwear. Now, this was almost 20 years and certainly more than 20 pounds ago...the sight of me half-naked was not as disturbing then as it would be today....but I didn't care at that point. As I stated earlier, I lived in the student section of town, and the police were still frequently patrolling my apartment complex, just to check on the safety of the students who were still living there. Once out in the parking lot, with me screaming, crying, heaving, covered in puke and pee, a patrol car circled around and spotted me. The officer got out and IMMEDIATELY called for ALL BACKUP. I managed to tell the first officer my story of seeing someone, an attacker, I thought it was the student murderer, and that I had just killed that person in my apartment. He and his partner draw their guns, and go inside my apartment. I sneak and followed them, hoping to be allowed to put something a little more modest (and clean) on before everyone arrives. Once inside my apartment, it certainly looked like a struggle had taken place....what with the vomit, urine, books, chairs, end table and bookcases strewn and thrown everywhere. They look first around the living room/dining room area.....then the kitchen, then ask where the body was. I told them in the bedroom and pointed around the corner. The walked in the bedroom and, with the help of their big flashlights, find the light switch by the door and turn on the lights. By now, my apartment has probably a dozen people in it...police, EMT, investigators, you name it. And little ole me. Everyone is sort of braced for finding the body of the elusive Gainesville student murderer. However, once the lights were on, they discovered my butcher knife....stuck in my bedroom door. But still no body is found. They look under the bed, inside the closet, behind the door....nothing...no body, either dead or alive. It's a regular size bedroom, not many places a body can hide. What they did find, however, was my brother's Halloween mask...lying on the floor, a victim of homicide...by me. I killed my brother's Halloween mask. I butchered it. It was dead.
The cops finally ask, "is this what you saw? Is this your killer?" I bend over, and squint up my legally blind eyes. I had never stopped to find my glasses, much less put in my contact lenses.
Me: "uh, uh-oh. Mmmm, yeah, er, sorry!" Sweet smile, sheepish grin, giving it my best "oops, I goofed, don't kill me" look.
Now, mind you, this whole thing took probably less than two minutes up to this point. It felt like hours, but really, from start to finish, from my cat meowing me awake, to the police's arrival in my apartment, was probably a minute and a half, and my actual attack on my attacker was only seconds in duration, hysterical as I was.
Obviously, the police continued to scour my apartment, inside and out, and everywhere nearby. The commotion woke my neighbors, people were crawling with bright lights everywhere, the EMS insisted on checking me over just to be sure I was OK. And then I had to give a statement to the police. So it was hours before I got back to bed. And I say bed, not sleep, because I don't think I slept again for several nights after that.
So my brother's Halloween mask ended up being a prank after all, only it was not on my friend, it was me. And just so no one thinks I'm a sadist, my planned prank on a friend was nothing as harrowing as what I went through. It was a broad-daylight, people everywhere, "this is me without makeup" type of a prank. But that'll teach me to ever think I can pull a prank on anyone again. From now on, I'm just sticking to "knock-knock" jokes.