Update: Family, sheriff urge public's help in search for Tiffany Sessions' body
Published: Wednesday, February 5, 2014 at 8:34 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, February 6, 2014 at 1:11 p.m.
(Updated at 1 p.m. Thursday) All Hilary Sessions wants to do is put her only child, Tiffany, to rest.
After a 25-year search, Sessions pleaded at a press conference on Thursday for anyone in the public to come forward who has information about the disappearance of her daughter, Tiffany Sessions, or about her suspected killer, Paul E. Rowles.
Sessions, a 20-year-old student at the time of her 1989 disappearance, was taking a walk near her apartment when she vanished.
“I know it can be closed,” she said. “It's been a 25-year struggle. I just want to give her a Christian burial. I would not want to have her at a site like this.”
Alachua County Sheriff's Office personnel has been digging four-foot holes for about two weeks now at a site near the Security Mini-Storage on Southwest 13th Street where Elizabeth Foster, one of Rowles victims, was buried, said Sheriff Sadie Darnell.
Darnell said they suspect that Tiffany Sessions may be buried nearby.
“It is highly, highly probable that Paul Rowles murdered Tiffany,” she said. “We are asking anyone in the public who knows something to come forward. We want to have the last piece of the puzzle so that we can bring this family to peace.”
- Monivette Cordeiro
Convicted murderer and rapist, now dead, named as suspect in Tiffany Sessions disappearance
(Original article) A now-dead convicted murderer and rapist, whose cases stretch from Miami to Gainesville, has been identified as the main suspect in one of Gainesville's most mysterious crimes — the disappearance in 1989 of University of Florida student Tiffany Sessions.
Authorities say the evidence points to Paul Rowles, who died in a state prison last year.
"I'm optimistic. I think it's him. I really do," Patrick Sessions, Tiffany's father, told The Sun on Wednesday. "I feel like we've accomplished something. We've been flailing around for 25 years, and I think now we've made the breakthrough that we need."
The Alachua County Sheriff's Office will hold a news conference today to discuss the case.
Neither Sessions' body nor clothing or belongings have been found since her disappearance on Feb. 9, 1989, and a DNA match has not been established between her and Rowles.
When she vanished, she was taking a walk from her condominium at Casablanca East off Southwest 35th Place north of Williston Road, authorities have said. She left with a Sony Walkman but no other belongings, such as her keys or wallet.
Her disappearance has been linked to Rowles through the death in 1992 of Elizabeth Foster, a Santa Fe College student. Foster was abducted and her body found buried off U.S. 441 south of Williston Road.
DNA tests linked Rowles to the Foster slaying. Rowles died in prison last year, and Sheriff's Office cold case detective Kevin Allen asked for his belongings, Sessions said.
Among the belongings were a notebook and writings that Sessions said provide the strongest evidence linking Rowles to his daughter.
Rowles had been convicted of murdering a Miami woman, Linda Fida, in 1972. He was sentenced to life in prison but was paroled in December 1985.
He moved to Gainesville in 1988, according to Sheriff's Office documents
In 1994, he was accused of kidnapping and sexually assaulting a teenager from Clearwater. He was sentenced to 19 years in prison for that crime.
The Fida case is mentioned in the writings provided to Allen. A possible reference to Foster and a possible reference to Sessions are also in the writings.
On one page is written the date of Tiffany's disappearance, 2/9/89. Written on both sides of it was "#2."
Sessions said he believes that is a reference to his daughter being Rowles' second murder victim.
"We know the girl he killed in Miami was No. 1. He got paroled and then started this rampage that we believe included Tiffany," Sessions said. "None of us have been able to come up with an explanation for why, 13 years after Tiffany disappeared, that this guy would write in a book 2/9/89 and put the No. 2 by it."
Sessions said he hopes the revelations and today's news conference will lead to fresh clues about Rowles' activities in Gainesville that could result in more evidence and perhaps the finding of Tiffany's body.
Paul Rowles' violent past
Documents provided to The Sun indicate Rowles had a troubled history since childhood.
He was born in 1948 in Wilkinsburg, Pa. His mother, a nurse, was in and out of mental hospitals and received shock treatment, according to a psychiatric evaluation that University of Florida staff performed in 1994 on Rowles. His father on three occasions tried to hang himself, Rowles said. The report states that Rowles' father was physically and verbally abusive.
At age 8, Rowles choked a female cat. One document said the cat died, while the psychiatric evaluation indicated he stopped choking the cat before it died and that he cried when discussing it.
By the time he was 12, Rowles had developed sexual fantasies of domination and rape of women, Sheriff's Office documents show. He would stalk women and peep through windows. Violent sexual fantasies continued as he got older, the documents state.
Authorities say that on March 29, 1972, Rowles murdered Fida, who lived in his Miami apartment complex. He strangled her to the point of unconsciousness and stabbed her in the breast after she died, authorities said. Rowles was convicted, sent to prison and paroled in 1985, according to the Florida Department of Corrections.
Rowles was accused of kidnapping a teenager in Clearwater on Jan. 31, 1994, after breaking into her home. He choked her and threatened to put a 6-inch knife in her heart. He also sexually battered her at her home, authorities said.
Rowles drove her to Jacksonville, stopping in Gainesville along the way. They stopped at a Steak 'n Shake and a nearby wooded area at which Rowles said, "this is the kind of place people dump things they don't want to be found again," according to documents from the Sheriff's Office.
In a Jacksonville apartment, he again sexually battered the girl, the documents state. At one point, he went to the kitchen. The girl ran from the apartment and reported the abduction.
DOC records show he was convicted of kidnapping, two counts of sexual battery with a weapon, one count of attempted sexual battery and lewd and lascivious assault.
He was in prison on those crimes when he died.
Authorities say they suspect that between the Fida murder and the crimes with the teenager, Rowles killed Sessions and then Foster.
Connection to Sessions
A DNA match in September 2012 between a hair and a mouth swab led authorities to suspect Rowles in Foster's death. Information was forwarded to the State Attorney's Office, which was considering the case when Rowles died in February 2013.
Rowles now has been linked to the Sessions case from the notebook that the Sheriff's Office got after his death.
State Attorney Bill Cervone said he has not been contacted by the Sheriff's Office regarding the naming of Rowles as a suspect in the Sessions case. Cervone said police agencies sometimes will do that despite a suspect being dead.
"Now and then they have come and talked about a case so they can have an imprimatur on a statement saying we believe somebody did it," Cervone said. "I have not been involved in anything the Sheriff's Office has done to this point."
Patrick Sessions will be in Gainesville for today's news conference. He is a South Florida developer who enlisted the aid of high-profile friends, including former Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino, in a campaign to help solve the case.
Now he said he hopes the latest news might spur memories in people who knew Rowles, including former co-workers at a Pizza Hut or Crom Equipment Rentals from 1989-93, which could help the case.
In April 1991, the Sheriff's Office questioned Rowles after he was spotted in a wooded area behind a business in the 3500 block of South Main Street with gloves and a towel, authorities say.
Sessions said Rowles also drew the attention of authorities after the 1990 Gainesville student murders — the slayings of five UF and SFC students. Drifter Danny Rolling pleaded guilty to those crimes and later was executed.
"Where he got on everybody's radar was the murders. He got caught up in that sweep, but nothing came of it," Sessions said.