Write about murder in Gainesville, become a suspect

Maybe because “Gainesville Ripper” Danny Rolling turned to poetry and art in prison while awaiting trial for the 1990 student murders, the police department serving my alma mater has a history of targeting writers and artists as potential killers.

More than twelve years after Rolling pled guilty, that tradition is still going strong.

The university police at Gainesville’s University of Florida have targeted a graduate student in the English program over his publication of a piece of horror fiction on his LiveJournal. The police have repeatedly visited the student and demanded that he submit his fingerprints and DNA to them so that they can compare the fictional murder he described in his story to evidence from any similar unsolved murders.

Philip Sandifer is a graduate student in U. Fla’s English program, and keeps a personal creative writing journal called “Pulp Decameron,” where he posts very short stories in the styles of various pulp genres. The stories are released under a Creative Commons license. One story, I am Ready to Serve My Country, is a first-person account of a murderer who executes two victims before applying to the military.

On May 12, detective Sanders of the University of Florida police left him a voicemail asking him to contact her. This began a series of meetings and calls with the University Police in which detectives repeatedly pressured him to allow them to fingerprint him, so that they could compare his prints to evidence from unsolved murders. They cited his publication of the horror fiction as the reason.

Has anybody at the campus police department read Harry Crews?

Update: The Stranger’s Brendan Kiley finds echoes of Martin McDonagh’s The Pillowman, in which “a writer living in a police state … gets arrested and interrogated because he wrote stories about fictional murders that kind of resembled real-life murders.”


You might want to subscribe to my free Substack newsletter, Ancestor Trouble, if the name makes intuitive sense to you.