3 Points of View in True Crime Documentaries: Criminal, Victim, Detective

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The criminal, serial killer Danny Rolling, is introduced as a child. Here are his parents—see how poorly they handled him. See how his father disciplined him. See how his father, so strict, a cop, had him arrested. See how his father told him he was never wanted. One morning a boy wakes up and shoots his father in the face.

Is it a wonder he shot his father? the narrator asks. Is it a wonder he peeped on women, robbed grocery stores, murdered three people in Shreveport, Louisiana, before heading to Gainesville, Florida, where he raped and murdered four more women and killed a man? Old news feeds provide a taste of the fear he inspired—footage of students vacating the university, shots of helpless police officers, interviews of frightened citizens. Then reels covering his capture, trial, and his execution. And it feels like sensational justice.

No. Instead. Let us begin this story with the victims. It was a family weekend: a little boy, his loving grandfather, his beautiful aunt. A mild November Louisiana night. Dinner is on the stove. See how normal. See how every-day. See how it can happen to you. By the next morning, all three are dead and their killer is gone.

But maybe we start the story with the Gainesville, Florida, victims. Here are two beautiful brunettes. College students. The women who sit next to you in class, taking detailed notes in clear handwriting. That night, they were sleeping through a hot, humid Florida night. By the next morning, both are violated, dead, posed and their killer is gone. No justice could ever be enough.

Wait. Instead. We should begin this story with the cop who was called to the first Gainesville scene. He saw first hand the blood spatter, the translucent skin. The bits and pieces of the evidence puzzle are scattered from room to room. It will take hundreds of hours to assemble a clear picture. Meanwhile, the maintenance man who let the police officer into this hellscape is throwing up outside.

Now. Expand the story to include other cops, a whole force. They enforce curfews, conduct searches, gather more and more evidence puzzle pieces from the other crime scenes. Some of the officers bear witness to their friend and colleague, beheaded, gazing at her own body. Other officers take notes and photos over a nearby double homicide. Then one cop remembers a bank robbery and a pile of weird stuff found in the woods. Another cop receives a tip from Shreveport, Louisiana. Puzzle pieces click into place. By the next morning, they arrest a killer. The police understand justice mostly feels like doing the best you can with what you have—and it already feels ‘too little, too late’ by the time you’ve arrived.



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2 responses to “3 Points of View in True Crime Documentaries: Criminal, Victim, Detective”

  1. damagedskullwriterandreviewer Avatar

    Reblogged this on Damaged Skull Writer and commented:
    Powerful words from Jenny A Maloney that bring you images and feelings perhaps even better than the lengthy documentary could. Is there ever a definitive answer to the question of why?

  2. […] this bloody movie was inspired by real-life serial killer Danny Rolling, aka “The Gainesville Ripper.” In 1990, as the semester was just beginning for University of Florida students, Rolling broke into […]

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