Everything that happened in Gainesville, Fla. happened very fast. The murders spanned just a few nights in August 1990. First, on the 25th, a Friday night, it was Sonja Larson and Christine Powell. On Saturday, it was Christa Hoyt. On Monday, the 27th, it was another pair of roommates, Tracy Paules and Manny Toboada. All of them were killed in their apartments. Hoyt's body was found propped up on a bed, bent over at the waist. Her nipples had been sliced off, and her severed head perched on a shelf on the other side of the bedroom. Some of the others were also mutilated. Every time, the weapon was a knife. Never a gun.

“We slept with steak knives last night,” one frightened junior at the University of Florida told the Associated Press at the time. Young people had just come back to town for the fall semester; four of the victims were students at the university. They were all living off campus, in the sort of ramshackle apartment buildings in dodgy neighborhoods that broke students often live in. There were no cell phones, no surveillance cameras back then. It was not so long before Ted Bundy, himself an accomplished killer of university students, had died in Florida’s electric chair.

Stories about the Gainesville mutilations were rampant. The bodies had been posed to strike horror in whoever came upon them. And the press kept repeating one rumor in particular, about a decapitation. You could not blame people for being afraid to walk the streets at night.

But the killings stopped after Paules and Toboada. Something changed. The police, for quite a while, didn’t know exactly what happened.