Crime

Prime Suspect in Tiffany Sessions 1989 Disappearance Named by Detectives

Detectives are set to announce who they believe to be the suspect in the 1989 disappearance of Tiffany Sessions, a University of Florida student.

The Sessions case has been one of Florida's most notorious unsolved crimes, but now the Alachua County Sheriff's Office is poised to announce that Paul Rowles, a convicted murderer and sex offender, is their prime suspect.

Rowles died in state prison last year.

Detectives have reportedly found an address book that belonged to Rowles. The notebook contains a scribbled numer: 2989 -- the date which Sessions vanished. The 20-year-old University of Florida student disappeared while taking a walk near her Gainesville apartment on February 9, 1989. Her body has never been recovered.

Next to that number in the notebook, is scrawled: "#2"

Police believe this may be a reference to Sessions being Rowles' second homicide victim.

Rowles had been sentenced to life in prison in 1976 for a murder he committed in Miami. He was paroled in 1985.

Then, in 1989, Rowles worked as a pizza delivery man in Gainesville. He also held a construction job at a site near where Sessions made her routine evening walks.

Authorities believe Rowles may have even delivered a pizza to Sessions at one point.

Five years after Sessions' disappearance, Rowles was arrested again, this time for kidnapping and raping a teen girl from Clearwater. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison after confessing to the crime.

Meanwhile, Sessions' disappearance remained a cold case, despite the national media attention, and even calls from Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino -- who was a personal friend of Tiffany's father -- pleading for the public's help.

But in September 2012, Alachua deputies found DNA linking Rowles to the 1992 homicide of a woman named Elizabeth Foster.

Foster's body was found in a shallow grave in a wooded area not far from where Sessions took her evening walks.

This eventually led cold-case detectives to reopen the Sessions case in 2013. Detectives recently launched a large dig in woods near Session's old apartment, and near where Foster's body was found, in hopes they may find clues.

Detectives visited Rowles in a prison hospital, where he was serving time for kidnapping and sexual battery, in hopes of getting a deathbed confession.

When detectives got to Rowles, he was on life-support. They had brought a photograph of Tiffany to show him. But he never opened his eyes. Rowles died soon after. He was 65.

Detectives are still working feverishly to get a real break in the case. But this is the closest anyone has ever gotten to solving the Sessions mystery.

So far, authorities have yet to find any clues in the dig. Tiffany's family, meanwhile, continues to ask the public for their help. Maybe now that Rowles will be announced as the prime suspect, someone out there may emerge with vital information.

"Pieces of this puzzle are still being put together," Tiffany's mother, Hillary, said. "We're looking for a very small needle in a very large haystack."

Send your story tips to the author, Chris Joseph. Follow Chris Joseph on Twitter



KEEP NEW TIMES BROWARD-PALM BEACH FREE... Since we started New Times Broward-Palm Beach, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of South Florida, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering South Florida with no paywalls.
Chris Joseph
Contact: Chris Joseph