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The Horrific True Story Behind Scream: How the Gainesville Ripper Haunted a Whole College Town

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The Truth Behind Our Obsession With True Crime Stories

Horror movies, terrifying as some might be, are usually escapist fare, reassuringly not real. Far-fetched even.

But some real-life crimes are as nasty as anything the most imaginative storyteller could dream up. In Kevin Williamson‘s case, it was one of those especially haunting cases that planted the seed that became his script for Scream, the hit 1996 teen slasher flick that liberally sprinkled the old horror tropes with comedy and meta commentary on the genre itself. The Wes Craven-directed blockbuster starring Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox and David Arquette spawned a now five-film franchise, with it’s-been-long-enough-so-we’ll-call-it-Scream-again opening in theaters Jan. 14.

And what’s scarier than gruesome, psychotic movie behavior that’s rooted in reality? Though the characters and setting for the “Woodsboro Murders” were all his own, Williamson’s creativity is said to have been piqued by a 1994 episode of ABC News’ Turning Point about the serial killer dubbed the Gainesville Ripper.

That may feel like ancient history now, the original Scream itself 25 years old. But when the show aired, Danny Rolling had just been sentenced to death for his grisly murder spree.

“What is it that makes someone able to descend into such inhumanity?” former Florida state senator Rod Smith, the prosecutor who secured a death sentence for Rolling, muses in the new Discovery+ special Scream: The True Story, which delves into the possible driving forces behind the killer’s unfathomable acts.

Though it took months to find him, it took just a glance at the first crime scene for authorities to know they had a monster on their hands.

Dimension Films

“I don’t think it takes a rocket scientist to figure out that anybody that commits homicide using mutilation is a pretty sick individual and it’s somebody we want to get off the streets very badly,” Alachua County Sheriff’s Department spokesman Spencer Mann told the Washington Post in August 1990, the discovery of five bodies in three days already attracting national attention.

Oxygen

The first gruesome scene was uncovered on Sunday, Aug. 26, after Christina P. Powell‘s parents, unable to reach her on the phone, showed up at the off-campus apartment complex where their 17-year-old daughter lived with fellow University of Florida freshman Sonya Larson, 18. Classes were scheduled to begin the next day. When no one answered the door, either, they asked a maintenance worker to let them in, but the building manager said they should wait for police to arrive.

“When [the officer] went in, I followed him in the apartment and I saw the young lady on the bed…and I just turned around and walked out,” Betty Curnutt, the manager, recalled to ABC News in 2020. “My maintenance man, unfortunately, ran down the stairs screaming, ‘Oh my God,’ and came out and threw up. And the sad, sad part about it is that we had the parents behind us on the stairs.”

Powell had been raped and stabbed to death, her mutilated, partially clothed body lying on the living room floor. Larson was in an upstairs bedroom, nude and “lying back on the bed with her feet on the floor and her hair fanned out,” journalist John Donnelly, who covered the story for the Miami Herald, remembered to ABC News.

There was evidence that both girls had been bound with duct tape at some point, but the killer—who wedged a screwdriver into the front door jamb to break in—had taken it with him. Investigators guessed they had likely been dead between 48 and 72 hours when they were found.

MELISSA LYTTLE | Times

Eight hours later, on the morning of Monday, Aug. 27, sheriff’s deputies found 18-year-old Christa Leight Hoyt dead in her apartment about two miles away from the first crime scene after the Santa Fe Community College student and aspiring law enforcement officer didn’t show up for her midnight shift at the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office, where she was a part-time records clerk.

AP Photo/Files

The scene was chillingly similar, but Hoyt had been decapitated as well as stabbed, sexually assaulted, mutilated and posed lying on the bed with her feet on the floor. The first deputies at the scene were also friends from work.

“These police officers knew Christa,” her stepmother Dianna Hoyt told ABC News. “They told [her dad] Gary she died right away from the first stab, which was the truth…but there were many hours before that.”

Tracy Paules and Manuel R. Taboada, both 23 and friends since high school, were found dead in a ground-floor unit at the Gatorwood Apartments, another student-friendly complex, on the morning of Tuesday, Aug. 28. Defensive wounds indicated that Taboada, who was enrolled at Santa Fe City College and planned to study architecture, had tried to fight the killer off before he was stabbed to death. Paules, a pre-law senior majoring in political science at University of Florida, was posed on the living room floor. She had been raped and there were traces of tape of her wrists and mouth, as well as soap on her lower body. 

AP Photo/Files

“We have every reason to believe the murders are probably all connected to one suspect or two suspects,” Gainesville Police Chief Wayland Clifton told reporters.

Anyone who’d been around then couldn’t help but think about serial killer Ted Bundy, whose cross-country reign of terror only came to an end after he’d beaten two Florida State University sorority sisters to death and killed a 12-year-old girl in the course of a month in 1978. He was executed in Florida on Jan. 24, 1989, having confessed to 30 murders. His many female admirers aside, roughly 2,000 people gathered to cheer outside Raiford Prison the night he was put to death.

“That’s what we’re all saying—it’s another Ted Bundy on the loose,” Jana Walters, an 18-year-old UF freshman, told the Washington Post. “Some sicko.”

AP Photo/John Raoux

Authorities tried to reassure the thousands of UF Gators and other residents of the city, known for its raucous college scene but also heralded by Money Magazine earlier that year as the No. 13 best city to live in in the country, “safe streets” being among its highlights, that there was no reason to panic. Still, countless freaked-out students left town, Mom and Dad’s house once again looking inviting.

The university dutifully extended the deadline to add and drop classes to Sept. 7, postponed tuition due dates and offered off-campus residents a chance to move at least temporarily into a dorm, where there was increased security. UF’s Student Nighttime Auxiliary Patrol recruited dozens of new volunteers, and Santa Fe Community College instituted its own campus security program.

Students could also call home from school using several new toll-free hotlines rather than pay expensive long distance charges.

Mark Foley/AP/Shutterstock

And so the most terrifying fall semester ever began, detectives on the hunt for a serial killer and students afraid to go anywhere alone. Or be home alone. Or sleep through the night. Every strange noise prompted a call to the police. Some young women started keeping steak knives by their beds. Gun and Mace sales went up. People wondered if there wasn’t one, but two killers on the loose, figuring all that carnage probably couldn’t be the work of just one person.

“There was no precedent for this scale of tragedy, at least in my experience,” Art Sandeen, vice president of student affairs at the time, told the Gainesville Sun in 2005. “Parents and students didn’t know what to do.”

A double murder occurred in early September in Melrose, Fla., about 17 miles away. Unrelated, but it scared the crap out of everybody all the same.

AP Photo/The Gainesville Sun, John Moran

“The week prior to the murders, things were on the up note around town,” Spencer Mann, formerly with the sheriff’s department and by then an investigator for the 8th Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office, recalled to the Gainesville Sun in 2006. “There was a brand new president at UF. There was a brand new football coach [Steve Spurrier, who led the Gators to a national championship in 1996]. I saw that up note turn into a grip of fear.”

Gainesville attorney Rod Smith told the publication in 2010, “It would be hard to replicate today how out of hand it got for a few days.”

And in the days, weeks and months after Larson, Powell, Hoyt, Paules and Taboada were killed, everyone was a suspect as law enforcement from all over Florida swarmed the city.

Well, not everyone, but a later tally put the number of names on investigators’ radar at one time or another at 675.

ZUMA Press

A multi-agency task force conducted hundreds of interviews, sifted through 18,000 pieces of evidence, ran DNA samples and tracked the flood of tips phoned in by those who were sure they had crossed paths with the killer.

Some investigators thought they had, too, naming a suspect barely 48 hours after the last two bodies were found, an 18-year-old UF freshman who had been seen wearing fatigues and walking around campus in the middle of the night with a hunting knife. 

It wasn’t until January 1991 that Danny Rolling, a 37-year-old drifter and career criminal from Louisiana—already a person of interest in a 1989 triple-murder—popped up on their radar. And it wouldn’t be several more months before it was publicly known that there was a prime suspect.

But at least authorities had no trouble finding him, as he was already in jail.

Read the second part of this story on Oxygen.com.

Scream opens in theaters Friday, Jan. 14. Scream: The True Story is streaming on Discovery+.

(Originally published Oct. 9, 2021, at 5 a.m. PT)

For more true crime updates on your need-to-know cases, head to Oxygen.com.

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Olivia Munn Shares a Sweet Photo of Her and Son Malcolm While Getting a “Surprise” Hair Treatment at Home

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Oh baby! Olivia Munn posted an adorable image of her and son Malcolm, whom she shares with comedian John Mulaney, while receiving a “surprise” blowout from a friend on quiet a Sunday afternoon.

Olivia Munn & John Mulaney Welcome Baby No. 1 Together

It’s the little things—and little ones—in life that make it special!

On Sunday, Jan. 23, Olivia Munn took to Instagram to share that her friend, hairstylist Kylie Fitz, had visited her at home and surprised her with an impromptu pamper session by giving her hair a blowout.

Taken in the mirror by Olivia, the heartwarming photo sees Fitz adding curlers to the top of the X-Men: Apocalypse star’s head while she holds onto her son Malcolm, whom she welcomed in December with comedian John Mulaney. The adorable bundle of joy can be seen sleepily gazing off into the distance in his mom’s lap with a pacifier in his mouth while wearing a black beanie and comfy sweater.

“When your friend shows up and surprises you with a blowout even though you’re in your robe and not going anywhere,” Olivia captioned the sweet post. “Thank you @bykileyfitz for making today feel a little less post partum. ILYSM!”

A few celebrity friends quickly joined in on the Sunday celebration. “Oh mommy,” Kate Hudson commented, adding a heart emoji. “The best to be in that baby space.”

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Since giving birth to Malcolm, Olivia has been open about her post-partum struggles including with breastfeeding.

“Breastfeeding is soooo hard, especially if you have low supply,” she shared on her Instagram Story on Jan. 19. “8 weeks in and I’ve taken a million vitamins, countless teas, lozenges, tinctures and worked with two lactation consultants. Breastfeeding. Is. Hard.” 

But she’s been reveling in the joys of new motherhood too, calling her little one “the smooshiest smoosh” and sharing adorable videos of him making cooing noises and relaxing in a green-and-white striped onesie on her Instagram Story.

Olivia and John introduced Malcolm to the world by sharing a sweet snap of him on Christmas Eve. “Meet Malcolm Hiệp Mulaney,” John wrote. “He has his whole life ahead of him. He hasn’t even tried seltzer yet. I’m very in love with him and his whole deal. Happy Holidays.”

“My Golden Ox baby,” Olivia added, referencing her son’s Chinese Zodiac animal. “Malcolm Hiệp Mulaney. Happy Holidays.”

Watch Daily Pop weekdays at 11 a.m., only on E!.

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‘My Daughter Had a Life’: Family of Lauren Smith-Fields Protest on What Would Have Been Her 24th Birthday

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What would’ve been Lauren Smith-Fields’ 24th birthday celebration was instead a day of protest to demand answers and justice in her mysterious death. Today, approximately 100 family, friends, and activists gathered together in front of the Bridgeport, Connecticut, police department to march to the Margaret E. Morton Government Center, where they chanted “Happy Birthday, Lauren” and “Black Women Matter.” 

“My daughter was a daddy’s girl,” Smith-Fields’ father, Everett Smith, said to the crowd. “To lose your daughter, your only daughter, your baby girl at the ripe age of 23 years old and to be treated the way we were treated by the Bridgeport police department is unacceptable. My daughter had a life, she traveled the world, she went to college and did tutorials on how to do hair and nails. She had a voice and that voice was stripped and the Bridgeport police station ain’t doing shit about it.” 

On Dec. 12, following a Bumble date at her apartment, Smith-Fields was found unresponsive by a white man named Matthew Lafountain. Lafountain called police, reporting that Smith-Fields was unresponsive and had been bleeding from her nose. Smith-Field’s family — who learned of her death days later, after finding a note from the landlord on the door — found a used condom with semen and an unidentified pill in her apartment. They still have not received answers regarding her cause of death and describe communication with detectives as unprofessional and scarce. (Lafountain has not been charged with any crimes, and is not a suspect in the case. Rolling Stone has been unable to reach him for comment.)

The family is demanding answers from Bridgeport Police Department and are upset that they have not heard from city officials regarding the circumstances of Smith-Fields’ death. They also want an apology. The family says their frustration is rooted in the fact that the last person who saw Smith-Fields, Lafountain, was let go without further questioning and or investigation from police. They say the officers on the case have not been responding to their phone calls, and didn’t adequately examine evidence found at the scene of their daughter’s death. As of Friday, the family’s lawyer Darnell Crosland issued a letter to the Bridgeport City Clerk regarding their intent to sue. 

“The police department has been racially insensitive to this family and has treated this family with no respect and has violated their civil rights,” wrote Crosland. “They have failed to investigate this matter, and they refuse to view the last person with Lauren Smith-Fields before she died as a person of interest. This behavior is unacceptable.”

Bridgeport Police Department has not responded to multiple requests for comment from Rolling Stone, but has previously issued a statement to NBC News: This investigation remains open and active. The Detective Bureau is awaiting the final report from the Chief Medical Examiner’s Office for cause and manner of death of Ms. Smith-Fields. The Bridgeport Police Department offers it’s sincerest condolences to the family and friends of Ms. Lauren Smith-Fields. We encourage anyone with information regarding this incident to contact either Detective-Sergeant Joseph Morales at 203-581-5219 or the Bridgeport Police TIPS line at 203-576-8477.”

Another family at the protest — that of Brenda Lee Rawls, 53, who died the same weekend as Smith-Fields — claim they were met with indifference by the Bridgeport PD after the untimely loss of a loved one. 

“They treated my sister like a Jane Doe, like they found her on the side of the road with no identification,” said Dorothy Washington, Rawls’s sister. Similar to the Smith-Fields’ family, Rawls’s family say they received no notice or help from the Bridgeport police department. 

“My family is very close and we don’t go a day without talking to each other. The last day we talked to Brenda was on Dec. 11,” Washington said. “On the 12th, she said she was going to a friend’s home to visit after that, we heard nothing from her.” 

After days of calling and texting, the sister went to the man’s home that Rawls said she was visiting. “The guy said ‘Brenda? Oh, she died Sunday,’” said Washington. “‘A police officer and one coroner came to pick her up.’ My family called the hospitals, the police department and they knew nothing about her death.” 

It wasn’t until the family contacted the Farmington Connecticut State Medical Examiner, that they found out where she was. Rawrs died Sunday and the family says they were informed on Tuesday. By the time they were aware, an autopsy had been conducted. 

“They never called us for identification,” said Washington. “We went down there on Friday of that week and the guy at the window gave us the wrong detective’s name. That detective called me back and gave me the right detective’s name. They never started on the investigation. They never quarantined that guy’s house or questioned him. Never quarantined my sister’s apartment. I called [the detective] four or five times, he never reached out.” (Bridgeport PD did not immediately respond to a request for comment.) 

Smith-Fields’ mother wants to create a bill in Smith-Fields’ name that will create police accountability and for families to be notified within 24 hours of the death of a loved one. 

Following the protest, Smith-Fields family and friends who were dressed in her favorite color, pink, released pink balloons into the sky as a celebration for her birthday. The crowd was then invited for cake at a local restaurant in the area. 

“Today would’ve been her 24th birthday. In a couple of days she would have been leaving to go to Greece to celebrate but now that was taken away from her,” said her mother, Shantell Fields. “No one is going to disparage my daughter like she’s rubbish.”

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Fashion Designer Thierry Mugler Dead at 73

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Thierry Mugler
French Fashion Designer Dead at 73

1/23/2022 3:29 PM PT

Thierry Mugler — an iconic French fashion designer — has died … this according to his team.

An Instagram on Mugler’s official page went up Sunday with the tragic news. It was a photo of nothing but a blank square, with the caption … “#RIP We are devastated to announce the passing of Mr Manfred Thierry Mugler on Sunday January 23rd 2022. May his soul Rest In Peace.” The same message was repeated in French as well.

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No word on a cause of death, but his passing sees sudden and unexpected — as he didn’t appear to be ill or battling any known ailments.

As you can imagine, the tributes started to pour almost instantly … especially from folks in the fashion world, who knew Mugler well from his decades-long work and influence in the industry.

It goes without saying … Mugler has dressed some of the biggest names in the game, including Kim Kardashian — whom he actually graced with an outfit of his during the 2019 Met Gala, this after he’d officially retired — plus a plethora of other models and stars.

His extravagant designs have been fan-faves among celebs like Lady Gaga, Cardi B, Jerry Hall, Beyonce, Katy Perry, Rihanna, David Bowie, George Michael, Linda Evangelista, Demi Moore, Megan Fox, Miley Cyrus, Madonna, Cindy Crawford, Tyra Banks, Sharon Stone, Diana Ross, Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, Robin Wright, Bella Hadid … and many others.

All of them have donned Mugler-designed getups at one point or another, be it on the red carpet, on the runway … or on stage. The guy’s work touched at least 3 different decades of fashion — and he was absolutely beloved among Hollywood’s finest.

In addition to his clothing contributions, Mugler also left his mark in the fragrance biz … with a diverse line of perfumes that are still best sellers to this day.

He was 73.

RIP

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