Suspect named 25 years after UF student disappeared

By Jim Piggott, General assignment reporter, jpiggott@wjxt.com
Published On: Feb 05 2014 11:37:00 AM EST
Updated On: Feb 06 2014 09:30:14 AM EST

VIDEO: A big announcement will be made regarding the abduction of a University of Florida student. Tiffany Sessions disappeared nearly 25 years ago in one of Gainesville's most mysterious crimes. Authorities now believe Paul Rowles, a convicted murderer and rapist who died in prison, had something to do with her disappearance.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -

Nearly 25 years after University of Florida student Tiffany Sessions went missing, investigators have named a suspect in her abduction and probable murder, sources told Channel 4.

That man, Paul Rowles (pictured below), was a convicted killer and sexual predator who died in prison. He was sentenced to life in 1976 for murder in Miami-Dade County and was released in 1985.

He moved to Jacksonville, and in 1994 was sentenced to at least 19 years on convictions of sexual battery, attempted sexual battery, lewd and lascivious molestation and kidnapping. He died in prison of natural causes in February 2013.

Sessions was 20 years old when she disappeared on Feb. 9, 1989.Paul Rowles

Session disappeared in 1989, and now the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office is saying Rowels could be the prime suspect in her disappearance during a news conference Thursday morning. Wednesday night Patrick Sessions, Tiffany’s father, was at the scene of the dig alongside of police.

“We have a very serious suspect that we believe was involved in Tiffany’s abduction. When we talk about that, we have evidence and are working on that right now,” said Patrick Sessions. 

Investigators said Rowles kept a journal of his killings and in that he listed his first victim as “number one.” Then next to the number is a notation that reads “2/9/89 #2.” Feb. 9, 1989, is the date that Tiffany Sessions disappeared and police believe that #2 refers to Sessions as Rowles' second victim.

Jacksonville Attorney, Richard Kuritz, prosecuted Rowles for kidnapping in the 90’s.  At the time, police didn’t know he may be involved in Sessions’ disappearance. 

“Nobody contacted me about that. We had concerns, like I said, there were other homicides going on and I learned that talking to some of the other authorities, but I don’t recall them specifically mentioning her name,” said Kuritz.

According to the Alachua County Sheriff's Office, Sessions told her roommate at about 6 p.m. she was going for a walk and never returned. An extensive search provided few clues about what happened to her.

However, the investigation by the Alachua County Sheriff's Office, FBI, Florida Department of Law Enforcement and Sessions' parents has continued since that time.

Sunday marks the 25th anniversary of the case.

The Sheriff's Office said to commemorate Sessions' disappearance and discuss the naming of a suspect, the news conference will be Thursday morning. It will release details of the investigation, case photographs and information regarding the suspect in hopes that disclosing it will result in leads from the public that may help solve the case.

The news conference will take place at 10 a.m.

Kuritz said he remembers Rowles' case well.

"He kidnapped her and brought her up to Jacksonville," Kuritz said of the victim. "He sexually assaulted her near an apartment complex by (Jacksonville University). In this situation, he fell asleep and she was able to walk out, where apparently the other victims were not able to walk away."

From that, police were able to arrest Rowles, but there was no connection or evidence linking him to Sessions, even though the victim in the Jacksonville case was kidnapped from the same area Sessions disappeared from.

It was shortly after Rowles' death last year when investigators were able to link him to another killing -- that of 21-year-old Elizabeth Foster. She was killed three years after Sessions went missing. Foster's body was found in a shallow grave a mile from where Sessions disappeared. New DNA evidence links Rowles to Foster's death.

None of that was known when Rowles was in court in 1994.

"There was some concern about it, but there was never enough evidence to put anything on it," Kuritz said. "I remember talking to other jurisdictions if they were going to be comfortable with my disposition, because he was going to be in 20 years and that's plenty of time to build a case."

It was after his death when police made a connection and why they believe he may have been a serial killer. There is also a report in the Orlando Sentinel that Rowles left behind an address book that noted the date of Sessions' disappearance.

One thing Kuritz does remember about Rowles is his personality and how he seemed to resemble another serial killer

"This guy was somebody very similar to a Ted Bundy," Kuritz said. "He was able to charm women, get them to trust him and leave bars with him, walk with him and go places with him. He was very charming that way. It's very scary."

Deputies are asking anyone with information about the Sessions case to call Cold Case Detective Kevin Allen at the Alachua County Sheriff's Office at 352-384-3323. Callers can also remain anonymous and be eligible for a reward of up to $1,000 for information leading to an arrest by calling Crime Stoppers at 352-372-STOP (7867). Anonymous tips may be left at www.alachuasheriff.org.

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