Murders of 2 college students in Florida spark fears there will be more: Part 1

Christina Powell and Sonja Larson had just moved to Gainesville in 1990 when they were found stabbed to death and mutilated. Wayland Clifton, then chief of police, felt the suspect would “hit again.”
9:28 | 04/13/21

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Transcript for Murders of 2 college students in Florida spark fears there will be more: Part 1
It stands as one of 1990's most shocking stories. 18-year-old Sonja Larson was found murdered. 17-year-old Christina Powell. 18-year-old Christa Hoyt. Early this morning Three young women, all students have been found. There was a mutilation -- Manny Taboada, Tracy Paules -- Brutally murdered at their apartment. I said, hey, lord save me now This was the ultimate nightmare for parents who are sending their kids off to college. In a space of, you know, three days, one after another after another, students in apartments being killed, totally vulnerable. Now that the death toll has reached five, students are talking of returning home. I'm terrified. I couldn't sleep last night. It's really scary. What's the worst that could happen? Well, this was the worst that could happen. Me and the devil They have a serial killer -- Serial killer is on the loose. I'm John donvan. And in the early '90s, ABC news sent me to Gainesville, Florida, to cover the story of the Gainesville student murders, one of the most horrifying stories that I had ever covered. Today people walk and wonder if he walks among them. Me and the devil Gainesville is a college town located in north-central Florida. It's a beautiful area of the state. My name is Paige beck, and I've been here at the station for more than 31 years. We don't have high-rise buildings here. It sti really has a small town feel. The university plays a major role here. It's the major employer. It's a really well regarded research university, and a really large, beautiful campus. It's known for its partying. The students come here with the idea that they're going to have lots of fun. Football is definitely king. So we're a very student-populated area. We have a large amount of apartment complexes. A lot of houses and a lot of streets. But there's part of it that's just wooded. But once you're about 30 yards into these woods, you feel like you're in another place, in a secret, hidden place. So, it's an incredibly easy place to go under cover, especially at night. During the summer, it's a little slower. You could literally drive through town during the summer without hitting your brakes probably. Around the second week of August, there's a lot more activity. You'll see the traffic really pick up in Gainesville. The students are coming back. That energy of the city really picks up. There was a lot of excitement over the start of a new semester, gator season. The legendary band Fleetwood Mac of "Go your own way" fame was booked to headline homecoming. You can go your own way go your own way And two of the new students caught up in that excitement, Sonja Larson and Christina Powell. They were moving to Gainesville to begin classes. My name is Allison emery and I was Christi Powell's best friend. Christi and I met in high our graduation was outside. For real? For real. We were just so excited about the next phase of life, about moving forward, about college. All the books, tuition, room and board, paid in full. Compliments of Mr. -- Of mom and dad. As soon as she know she'd been admitted to Florida, she was all gator all the time. She got a beautiful gold gator necklace from her parents as one of her graduation presents. Never took it off. You have to promise me four years from now, y'all will be going down to Gainesville. If you make it down the aisle, we'll be there. My name is Ada Larson, and I'm the mother of Sonja Larson. Sonja! Sonja! Sonja and I were very close. Sonja was the dream child. Don't worry, be happy! Everybody who knew her said she was an incredibly sweet, lovely girl. She was a lot more reserved. And she liked to work with children. So, these two young women, they had met over the summer doing some courses, and they decided to be roommates. We looked and looked for a dorm that she could go to, because I hated the fact that she was going to be in an off-campus location. But we couldn't find any. They were booked full. So Christie Powell and Sonja Larson had found an apartment in a complex called williamsburg apartments. So this was move-in day for them. And this was going to be their first night in their new place Christi's sister and brother-in-law, as I recall it, were supposed to bring her bedroom set and all the things that she was supposed to have in the apartment. And so they arrived Saturday morning, and nobody answered the door. There were some notes on the door from friends like, "Hey, we went out." We had no way of reaching her. The phone hadn't been installed she hadn't called us, and finally the Powells, who lived closer, went over there. Her parents came down, you know, to figure out where she was and what was going on. They banged on the doors, and ultimately, I think, got a maintenance person at the apartments to ask -- to be let in. I'm wondering if it would be possible to have officer -- meet me? Okay, what's the problem there? I have two girls. The parents suspect there's some thing's wrong them or they've disappeared or something and did not show, and my manager implores me not to go in by myself but to be accompanied by a police officer. Okay, go ahead. We'll have someone meet you. And an officer, ray barber, went to the door. And the Powells were behind them. My maintenance man broke the door in, and I was standing behind him, and the deputy sheriff was behind me. Then when he went in, I followed him in the apartment and saw the young lady on the bed. And you could see -- you could see her in a -- in a bad and I just turned around and walked out. My maintenance man unfortunately ran down the stairs, screaming oh, god, oh, god. And came out and he threw up. And the sad, sad part about it is we had the parents behind us on the stairs. When he came out throwing up, the parents knew that something was not good. I need a supervisor, and I.D. Criminalistics and detectives to respond down here to this apartment. The police officers who went in there would later say that they have never seen a crime scene like this. Two women who had had a terrible ending to their lives. Downstairs, Christina Powell was lying, having been stabbed to death, having been raped. He had mutilated her breasts. Sonja Larson, who was on her waterbed, she had multiple stab wounds to her arms and her torso. And there's something that's -- that the officer noticed right away that was very unusual. She was posed. All her clothes were off. She was lying back on the bed with her feet on the floor. And her hair was fanned out, almost like a display. A shocking value. I screamed, and my husband didn't know what was happening. He came out and took the phone, and it was just a horrible, horrible day. We just got in the car and headed for Gainesville. And I had to have my husband stop at the side of the road, and I looked outside, and the stars were shining. And I just looked at god and I said, god, why? How could this possibly Happ? Why did this happen? Wayland Clifton was the chief of police in Gainesville. And he gets the call. And I recall him telling me that he didn't really want to have to go down on a day when he was home watching football, but the officer who called him said, no, you've got to get here. Two white females that are deceased in this apartment right behind us. My great concern as I went home that evening, rather late, was that we have an individual that, in my mind, personally, I felt would hit again. Sheriffs officials will only say the woman appears to be in her late teens. And then we found out about the third murder. Just eight hours after the first two. So we knew there was a monoer the out there. But now the blood lust was just up to a whole different level.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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