Detectives have identified a suspect in the 1989 disappearance of a University of Florida student.
The Alachua County Sheriff's Office on Thursday announced that now-dead convicted felon Paul Rowles is the prime suspect in the case of Tiffany Sessions, who disappeared while going for an evening walk 25 years ago Sunday. She was 20.
Authorities linked her case to Rowles, a serial killer who died in prison last year. He was sentenced to life in prison in 1976 for a murder in Miami and was paroled in 1985.
The Sheriff's Office is digging up land off of Williston Road and SW 13th Street in Gainesville for possible evidence. It's the same place where investigators found the body of another woman, Beth Foster, in 1992. Investigators believe Rowles is linked to both cases.
"Paul Rowles has a horrible history against women -- murder, rape, kidnapping. We seized evidence items. All indicators pointed to him," said Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell.
On February 9, 1989, Sessions had gone out for a power walk and never returned home to her apartment. The case has been a mystery ever since.
Last January, right around the time the Sheriff's Office had assigned a cold case detective to the case, DNA evidence linked Rowles to an unsolved rape and murder from 1992.
"I don't think we ever really connected the dots on Paul Rowles pertaining to Tiffany Sessions, the DNA hit on Beth Foster, who was also a 21-year-old college student murdered and left in the field behind us," Detective Allen explained.
Detectives put together a map showing how close the two women lived in proximity to Rowles, the locations where they disappeared, the location where Rowles worked, and where Foster was buried. They also illustrated this with a timeline of events.
Detective Allen said he found a clue that really convinced him that Rowles was their suspect in the disappearance of Sessions. It was an entry in a journal which Rowles kept with him in prison until the day he died.
"If there was any one day permanently etched in my mind it was 2/9/89. I opened the address book and there it was. My feet started to come out from me. I held on the person next to me," said Detective Allen.
Rowles had written "2/9/89 #2" in his diary. Detective Allen believes the "#2" signifies that Sessions was the second murder he had committed.
"Under the totality of circumstances, the correlation is too random not to be related to Tiffany Sessions. That, and in addition to that he documented all of his other victims in the same address book," Allen explained.
"It's not a smoking gun but its darn close," said Tiffany's father, Patrick Sessions.
Other details include witness statements reporting a woman who fit Session's description walking along her regular exercise route and talking to a man in a big, red truck. Rowles drove a red Ford Bronco at the time.
Investigators ask everyone to please look at the pictures they have released of Rowles over the years. Detectives want to talk to anyone who might have known Rowles or have spoken to him. They say that person might hold a key detail that could help in officially solving the case.
"Please come forward. It's very important to me that I find out, because this is my only baby, my only masterpiece. I just want everyone to know the last 25 years have been a struggle, and it would be nice to finally put her to rest after all these years," pleaded Tiffany's mother, Hilary Sessions.
Sheriff Darnell says people should not have any fears in calling detectives. Rowles is dead and there will not be a trial in the is case. The number to call with information: Alachua County Sheriff's Office (352)955-1818.
According to Florida Department of Corrections records, Rowles was sentenced to life in prison in 1976. Rowles was released from jail in December of 1985. Records also show Rowles went back to prison in July 1994 after being convicted on charges of kidnapping and sexual battery charges on a child under 16. He was sentenced to more than a 100 years in jail but records show Rowles passed away while in custody on February 12, 2013.