How a Tipster's Hunch Helped Police Catch a Serial Killer Who Preyed on College Students

ABC News' 20/20, airing Friday, takes a look back at the 1990 murders of five students that terrorized Gainesville, Fla.

Gainesville murder victims
From left, Gainesville victims Tracy Paules, Christina Powell, Christa Hoyt, Sonja Larson and Manuel Taboada. Photo: Acey Harper/The LIFE Images Collection via Getty; Gainesville Police Dept./ZUMA (2); Clark Prosecutor (2)

In August 1990, the college students who poured into Gainesville, Fla., were eager to begin a new school year.

The discovery of two students found stabbed to death in an off-campus apartment turned that excitement overnight to anxiety. The mood grew more panicked a day later, with the discovery of a third body at another apartment. Then, the next day, two more bodies turned up, and everything about life in the college town was upended as a months-long manhunt scrambled to find a prime suspect.

All but one of those murdered were enrolled at the University of Florida; the fifth was a student at Gainesville's Santa Fe College, then known as Santa Fe Junior College.

But those victims were not the first killed by the man who later would confess to his crimes. Nine months earlier, a triple homicide in Shreveport, La. — of a father, his daughter and grandson — had left local investigators similarly stumped.

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"After the gruesome murders, everybody just became scared," longtime Shreveport resident Cindy Juracich tells ABC News' 20/20, which revisits the Gainesville murders in a broadcast airing Friday at 9 p.m. ET/8 p.m. CT. "You know, we live in the Bible Belt. Things like that don't happen here." (An exclusive clip from the episode is below.)

A hunch led Juracich, then known as Cindy Dobbin, to tip investigators that the killings in separate states may be connected.

She says she learned of the Gainesville murders from a TV news report while on a Florida vacation with her husband, Steven, and their children. The grisly manner of the deaths suggested a pattern: The victims all had been stabbed, in some cases mutilated — one woman's decapitated head was placed on a shelf — and several appeared to be suggestively posed.

"I said, "Steven, there's a connection between Shreveport and Florida,'" Juracich says.

Danny Rolling
Danny Rolling. Chris O'Meara/AP/Shutterstock

She remembered a man she knew in Shreveport, Danny Rolling. He was the son of a police officer and an aspiring musician, but with a troubled background, having spent time in prison following convictions for armed robbery.

"I met him in church," Juracich tells 20/20. "My husband right off the bat said, 'That dude's weird.' And I went, 'No, Danny's Danny.'"

But after frequent visits to Juracich's home, Rolling revealed to the woman's husband that he had a "problem," leading the husband to say that Rolling was no longer welcome.

"I said, 'What kind of problem?,'" Juracich said, reports ABC News, "[and Steven said], 'He likes to stick knives into people.'"

The two-hour 20/20 airs Friday at 9 p.m. ET/8 p.m. CT on ABC.

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