By DREW HARWELL
"He was always trying to get rid of that - that person that his daddy made him believe he was," Claudia would say about Rolling in a 1992 videotaped testimony. "He had no self-esteem. No self-worth."
He was 11 when he began to play guitar, writing and singing his own songs. Krop said playing the guitar was something Rolling felt good at and satisfied with. He wanted to be a songwriter, attract women and become famous.
Also about this time he developed a drinking problem. What he couldn't get from friends, he stole.
"He used it for avoidance, escape," Krop said. "It was self-medication for the emotional pain he was experiencing."
When the family fell asleep one night, Rolling snuck out of the house and spent several nights in nearby woods. He spent his time fantasizing of violence and control.
Twenty-four years later, he would set up campsites in the woods near his victims, and his sadistic fantasies would become real.
His voyeurism, which began innocently as he watched other families, became sexually motivated. He was caught peeking in windows to watch girls shower and undress.
Rolling was 15 when he slit his wrists. He had seen his mother do the same only four years earlier after an argument with his father.
"I tried," he scrawled on the bathroom mirror in his mother's lipstick. "I just can't make it."
His father had told him that he would be dead or in jail by 15.
Rolling almost proved him right.
A failed father
After Rolling dropped out of high school in 1971, he enlisted in the Air Force, where he excelled in his course work but drank heavily, smoked marijuana and used LSD.
An Air Force psychiatrist diagnosed him with a personality disorder, and he was discharged for drug problems and stealing a bicycle.
He returned to Shreveport, a town and a life he had run away from just months ago, and began to attend King's Temple United Pentecostal Church. It was there he met O'Mather Halko, a petite dark-haired woman who Rolling believed was an answer to his prayers for companionship. The two married in 1974 and had a daughter, Kiley, a year later. Their marriage would only last three years, and he drank, couldn't keep a job and suffered from impotence.
Despite his faults, Rolling was enraged when Halko filed for a divorce in 1977. (Rolling would later say his ex-wife looked like 18-year-old Christa Hoyt, his sixth murder and the most violent: He would stab the freshman through the back, cut off her nipples and place her severed head on a bookshelf.)
Rolling became a drifter. He committed armed robberies in Alabama, Louisiana and Georgia. The police caught him as he left a Columbus, Ga., Winn-Dixie supermarket with $956 in stolen cash, and he was sentenced to six years in prison.
There, he lifted weights, boxed and took pride in his power. Inmates sometimes called him "psycho" after watching him fight. Krop said the guards and inmates cruelly abused him, adding to the wounds inflicted by his father.
After his release, he hitchhiked across the country, stopping with relatives who would take him in. In 1985, Rolling held up another supermarket and was arrested.
During a conversation with his defense attorney, Arthur Carlisle, Rolling presented a bizarre alternative to returning to prison: He would let them cut off his hands. Rolling was sentenced to four years in a Mississippi jail for armed robbery.
"Rolling had impulse-control problems: basically, not really thinking through the consequences of his actions," Krop said. "He was very emotionally immature."
Rolling returned in 1988 to Shreveport after being paroled. On Nov. 4, 1989, Rolling was fired from his job at a Poncho's restaurant. Rather than taking the rejection quietly - as he had done so many times before - he lashed out at his manager for leaving a couple dollars off his paycheck, and threatened violence.
That night, he killed for the first time.
Julie Grissom, 24, was raped and murdered. Her father, Tom Grissom, and his 8-year-old grandson Sean, were also killed. Three generations of the Grissom family, stabbed to death.
Rolling positioned Julie's body with her legs spread and hair carefully fanned onto her bed. She was discovered with tape marks on her wrists and bite marks on her breasts. His arranging of his victims' corpses would become his signature.
Rolling had watched Julie as she worked at a Dillard's department store in Shreveport's South Park Mall. Krop said on the night of Rolling's first murders, his voyeurism and sadistic fantasies escalated into reality.
"Rolling couldn't stand the idea of their family being happy," Krop said.
It would only be several months before he killed again.
Rolling wasn't hiding his anger and frustration any longer. During an argument at his parents' home, he shot his father in the stomach and head. His father lived. Rolling ran.
Rolling's love-hate relationship with his father would continue to affect him months after the shooting. In the nights before his Gainesville murders, he recorded messages that both cursed and forgave his father.
"His father had been ... emotionally and physically abusive to him when he was younger, yet Rolling continues to say, 'I love him,'" psychiatrist Robert Sadoff would later say.
Rolling fled Shreveport and took a bus to Sarasota before finally ending up in Gainesville. Krop said he was excited at the prospect of a college town. He set up a campsite in woods near Archer Road with a tent and a mattress he had bought at a Gainesville Wal-Mart. It was at this store that he had seen his first two victims: two UF freshman girls, Sonja Larson, 18, and Christina Powell, 17, buying things for their new apartment.
They were several aisles over as he walked through the checkout with a stolen screwdriver, roll of duct tape and two pairs of gloves. After shopping, he followed the girls to their Williamsburg Village apartment.
He watched through their window as they washed dishes. In his black outfit, ski mask and athletic gloves, he waited until 3 a.m. before he crept up to their second-floor apartment.
Sixteen steps up the cracked white staircase, and the horror began.
"Your honor, I've been running from first one problem and then another all my life," he would later say to Judge Stan Morris.
"But there are some things you just can't run from, and this is one of those."
About this story
Information for this article was taken from Mary S. Ryzuk's "The Gainesville Ripper" and John Philpin and John Donnelly's "Beyond Murder." Articles from The Independent Florida Alligator, St. Petersburg Times and The Gainesville Sun were used. An interview with Harry Krop was also used in the reporting of this article.