The True Killer Behind the ‘Scream’ Films

by Mark McCurley

From the early 1990’s to this very day, the “Ghostface” Halloween costume is recognizeable the world over. Made famous from the 1996 slasher film Scream, it might not be as known what inspired the killers behind the mask.

According to an article on Daily News, Daniel Harold Rolling was the man responsible for a series of awful crimes in Gainesville, FL which would inspire a young actor and writer, Kevin Williamson. It was he who penned a script for a film which would eventually be titled Scream.

In August 1990, two students attending the University of Florida, Sonja Larson, 18, and Christina Powell, 17, were found dead in their shared apartment near campus.

After breaking down the door, police found both girls murdered, stabbed again and again to death. Rolling had placed their bodies in obscene poses before leaving.

Christina Hoyt, 18, that same day had not shown up for her shift at work. Hoyt was a dispatcher for the Gainesville Sheriff’s Department and when she did not show up deputies went to her home to check on her.

She too was found stabbed to death but also decapitated. Rolling made her pose sitting up right, hands on her thighs with her head placed on a bookshelf across the room as if looking at her lifeless body.

Two days following the brutal killings, two more bodies were found in an apartment nearby.

Roommates Tracy Paules and Manuel Taboada, both 23, were murdered in a sadistic fashion which lead police to suspect they were victims of the same killer.

The commonality of the victims was they were all young petite women with brown hair. They were all assaulted sexually, stabbed, mutilated, propped up in a pose and scrubbed over with cleaning fluid.

Rolling always got in through windows and doors that were unlocked and if they were locked he’d pry them open.

There was a brief period of time where a prime suspect was placed in jail after assaulting his grandmother. This faux killer was unable to be connected to the murders by police, despite his terrible reputation and drug addiction. It is thought this was Williamson’s inspiration for two killers in the Scream films. Especially when Billy Loomis was in jail and the other killer (Stu Macher) was still at large taunting the hero, Sidney Prescott.

With FL residents up in arms over the horrendous murders, police were looking for someone similar to Ted Bundy who had been caught in Tallahassee some years earlier.

Though Rolling didn’t fit the profile, he ended up getting apprehended for the armed robbery of a Winn-Dixie.

He failed to evade authorities in a high speed chase then on foot.

After Rolling was given a life sentence over his lengthy criminal record, a DNA test of his blood connected him to the grizzy murders of the Gainesville women.

Years of a miserable life contributed to Rolling’s killing spree.

After being interviewed about the murders, Rolling became infamous.

Unexpectedly, at his trial he gave a guilty plea. The judge sentenced Rolling to death for the twisted nature of the murders.

While on Death Row, Rolling created artwork for maccabre collectible websites.

It was during this time that the Gainesville massacre became the focal point for a lot of true-crime TV.

Williamson watched a TV special about Rolling and from this wrote a script. He added anecdotes about Horror movie cliches and how monsters were no longer contained in film but coming into real life, similar to Wes Craven’s New Nightmare.

When Hollywood studio Miramax bought the work from him for $400,000, the film took off as the start of a very successful franchise and springboarded Williamson’s career.

At the end of his life, Rolling died by lethal injection witnessed by some 47 people in Florida State Prison’s execution chamber.

The Scream franchise has grossed over $740 million as of 2022.

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