Death Row Fiction
by Confessed Serial Killer Danny Rolling
Editor's Foreword to the Second Edition
By Sondra London (2022)
I was Danny Rolling's long-time co-author, creative coach, and collaborator in multiple projects, including the publication of his life story and the detailed confessions to his murders.
In June of 1992, he wrote to me asking for my help in telling the story of his life and crimes. It was a week after he'd tried to kill himself, and just days since he'd been charged with the five murders he had committed in Gainesville, Florida, over the Labor Day holidays in 1990.
The fear generated by these notorious serial murders was so extreme that it inspired Kevin Williamson to create the Scream movie franchise. But the true story of Danny Rolling is much more complicated and profound than the superficial screen thriller.
When I first started working with Danny, he was utterly demoralized, with no self-esteem whatsoever. It was immediately evident he was gifted with a creative spirit, because he was so proud of the songs he had recorded that he insisted that I hear them, in his initial contact letter.
He also embellished his handwritten letters with spontaneous graphic effusions from the very beginning. Only with coaching, encouragement and moral support was he able to develop the confidence to dedicate himself to developing the skills in self-expression that he demonstrated eight years later, when he completed Sicarius.
Our entire collaboration was conducted via correspondence. We wanted to be able to discuss his story in person, but for reasons of their own, authorities refused to allow it.
On February 5, 1992, Special Agent Ed Dix of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement arranged our one and only personal visit, which was held behind glass and witnessed by two uniformed officers taking notes.
That was the only time we met, and we couldn't get any story-telling done that way, because I was forbidden even pencil and paper; never mind camera or tape recorder.
Ultimately, it was all for the best, because it does authenticate everything I have reported. It's not biased hearsay. It's all in writing, signed and dated.
I held Danny Rolling to a strict agreement to reserve the rights to his story exclusively to me.
After years of frustration with Corrections refusing personal visitation, I agreed to release him of his obligations to me so he could pursue a social life, and make some money selling his artwork. During that period we remained on friendly terms and exchanged letters occasionally.
At that time, a Death Row inmate in Florida was only permitted to have one social visitor on their list at a time. An arrangement was made with a local woman who was related to one of the guards, allowing her to visit him. This gave him some relief for a while, but he kept corresponding with quite a few people before selecting Miss Cath T_ , a self-professed witch living in Massachusetts, to come visit him.
Rolling had already started composing Sicarius as far back as 1999. Then when Cath entered the picture as his Muse, he wrote her into the story.
All the while, Rolling sent me excerpts of the Death Row fiction he was creating. Besides Sicarius, his compositions included Kid Cid, Spooky Tooth, a couple of short stories I've released in other books, and the medieval series in my personal collection, Legends of the Black Marsh.
For years, the notorious murderabilia dealer Ken Karnig advertised the original handwritten manuscript of Sicarius for $5,000. Danny Rolling would have literally killed Karnig, had he known his precious manuscript had somehow fallen into such despised hands.
Karnig had earned Rolling's ire as far back as 1996, when Karnig publicized a hateful lie that Rolling was having gay sex with another convict. I can certify this rumor was utterly false, because Rolling's Classification Officer Steve Arnold reliably informed me that the guy sending Karnig the scurrilous allegations had never come anywhere near Death Row, where Rolling was in isolation. Nor was Rolling known to engage in gay sex in any case.
After all these years away from Danny, working with this story has been like having a seance with my old partner in crime. I can definitely feel his unique presence, though it's more like seeing him "through a glass darkly."
My source is a rare orphaned book with very few copies extant: a slim paperback printed twenty years ago, with cramped, narrow margins set with pale, fading type, on 220 pages of coarse 8.5"x5.5" yellowed paper.
Offset printing at best gives graphics a challenging texture comprising blobs of black ink, so considerable intervention was required in the restoration of the illustrations, overriding the artifacts picked up along the way.
The text presented another level of challenge. Using Optical Character Recognition software to render the image of a page into word-processed text might sound utopian, but it is fraught with pitfalls, requiring intensive focused attention to "every jot & tittle." The word "I" is often rendered as the number "1," for example. A "Barn" becomes a "Bam," and so forth. And the punctuation marks are often left hanging between two spaces, instead of attached to words. Sounds picayune, but my Dear Reader would be distracted to see commas hanging out alone on every single page.
I had to do more than restore the text to what was printed, because there were discernible printed errors, such as the name Diabolis, which appears in print as Disbolis. That's one time when the scanner caught what was in the book, but the book had failed to capture what was encrypted in the handwriting. I relied upon my years of personal experience with this author to rectify those errors as well.
As I worked my way through this project, the original intention of the author is what I have sought to discern. There were so many choices I had to make, when I would imagine Danny peering over my shoulder saying, "That's right, you got it," as satisfied with my interventions as he was when he wrote in The Making of a Serial Killer:
Sondra, the way you have completed this difficult and mysterious work is first-rate. My words are only the raw material. I love the way you have reworked them. In some places, your touch is ever-so-light, like the wings of a butterfly fluttering from petal to stem. In other spots, you have had to wrestle a sentence, word or phrase onto the anvil of clarity and hammer it into shape with the weight of experience -- all for the best. I couldn't be more delighted.
There are several places in Sicarius where Danny includes the full text of a song his character hears on the radio, as well as one entire chapter of the Bible. I exercised my editorial discretion in streamlining these recitals down to references, in context. They were really just too long.
There were considerable punctuation errors, introduced either by the author in his handwritten manuscript, or by the person who keyed in the text. I chose to standardize the punctuation, because these deviations are meaningless, and serve only to distract from the story itself.
Danny had an idiosyncratic tendency to spell out sound effects. At first, I thought okay, well, it's authentic, that's most definitely a Danny Rolling original! But the more I toiled over the text, the more I respected my own annoyance with this extraneous indulgence, and suspected my Dear Reader might well feel the same. So I did go back and simply delete most of them, which took nothing from the narrative and I believe will make the story easier to absorb. This is a service I would perform for any client who has retained me to edit their manuscript for release to the public. And it is definitely well within the scope of the editing I did do when Danny Rolling was still on board to interact and approve. There are plenty of sound effects still in place, but only because they are integral to the narrative.
My editing does not interfere with the story itself, nor is the unique character of the homicidal author mitigated or distorted. I have not added or deleted anything beyond what I account for here.
The printed book tabulated 64 short chapters, under six "Parts." The "Parts" are now listed in the Table of Contents as chapters. Instead of enumeration, I used an illustration or dingbat for a break. The major illustrations appeared in the printed book. I have added pictures from my own extensive archives of original Rolling artwork.
The original handwritten manuscript is most likely in the hands of a private collector. The paperback edition is a rare book now, but completists are urged to acquire it as well.
But for now, this edition will serve as my best effort at mediating between a novice writer with a colorful original work, and an audience who might want to see it. I just made the original work a little more readable in type.
This book is not for you to "like" the way you would your favorite best-seller. It's not commercial fiction. It is offered for you to use as I have, as a glass to peer into the mind of the homicidal maniac who brought it forth by hand, word by word, from a dungeon at the dead end of Murder Road.
Although the genre is fiction, its provenance is all too real. If you want to know how a condemned serial killer thinks, you will not be disappointed with Sicarius. If you want to know more about his crimes, his other works, and the rest of his life story, please see:
- The Making of a Serial Killer
- Danny Rolling, Serial Killer Interviews
- Beyond the Making of a Serial Killer
AVAILABLE IN PAPERBACK & KINDLE
SICARIUS BY DANNY ROLLING
RUNCIBLE TALES |
SONDRA LONDON DOTCOM
SEE ALSO THE AUTHOR'S LIFE STORY
THE MAKING OF A SERIAL KILLER 2D ED