crime

In late August 1990, WPLG Miami reporter Connie Hicks rushed to Gainesville to cover a surprising string of murders that had occurred.

The series of murders, now known as the Gainesville Murders, was a killing spree by Danny Rolling from Aug. 24 to 27. Rolling killed five college students: Christa Leigh Hoyt, Christina Powell, Sonja Larson, Manuel Taboada and Tracy Inez Paules.

 Hicks tried to get a local perspective of the disaster by knocking on residents doors across town but was met with only silence.

“The fear was palpable,” Hicks said.

The 70-year-old remembered the deafening silence that filled the city as no one would dare to open their door for her, too scarred from recent events.

Sunday, the season four premiere of “How It Really Happened” on HNL will air the two-part special “Mystery of The Gainesville Murders.” Part one will air at 9 p.m. EST and part two will air directly after at 10. The show is hosted by Hill Harper, an actor who has starred on shows like “The Good Doctor” and “Limitless." 

Part one will focus on family members and their thoughts during this time. It will also follow the investigators’ original search for the killer. Part two will focus more on the trial and how investigators achieved Rolling’s guilty verdict. 

The show will have audio and video footage from the events including interviews with family members of the victims, investigators and students who were present at the time of the murders.

Executive producer Nancy Duffy said the process of creating the show started six to seven months ago. She had heard of the Gainesville Murders before but with research she found the story of a college town in a state of panic because of a string of murders interesting.

Duffy’s process for acquiring all of the interviews was difficult, especially with victims’ family members. The family members of the Gainesville Murder victims are known for not wanting to speak to the press, but Duffy said it was the compassion they saw in her Ted Bundy epsisode from the last season of “How It Really Happened” that convinced them to be interviewed. Even family members known for almost never speaking to the press like Mario Taboada, who is the brother of the murdered student Manny Taboada, agreed to be interviewed.

“I think when they saw the work on the Ted Bundy episode we did last season, they were like, ‘Ok these people won’t make it into something we don’t want it to be,’” Duffy said. 

Hicks, now an assistant professor at Barry University in Miami, was among those interviewed for the program. She said she was delighted to be interviewed and was pleased someone was doing a follow up.

“It was interesting to relive it again, because I had put out my mind,” Hicks said.

Hicks, who was a reporter in Miami-Dade area from the ‘80s to the early 2000s was used to writing stories on violent crimes. For her, the Gainesville Murders were another story, but what stood out to her was how Gainesville didn’t seem like the type of town where these types of things occur.

Duffy was attracted to the Gainesville Murders because of the juxtaposition between the party college town and gruesome murders too. It was this that initially piqued her interest to do the episode. But it was the family and their strength that made it season premiere episode worthy.

They were fearless through everything and were the true heroes of the story,” Duffy said.