Tiffany Sessions planned to be gone for less than an hour when she left her flat on Thursday, February 9, 1989, in the afternoon. The 20-year-old had been trying to lose weight before a ski trip with her father. Since going back to the University of Florida after winter break, she had been on a health kick and going for a power walk every day. Kathleen Hsu, Tiffany’s flatmate, would sometimes go on walks with her, but on this day, she was getting ready for an evening class and chose to stay at the Gainesville flat she shared with Tiffany.
Tiffany only had her Sony Walkman with her when she left. She didn’t bring her flat keys with her because she planned to be back before Kathleen had to leave for class. She thought her flatmate would open the door for her. She was going to study with a friend that night, but she said she’d be back before Kathleen had to leave for class at 7:00 pm.
Someone always knew they could count on Tiffany. If she said she would be somewhere at a certain time, she would be there. Her flatmate started to worry right away when she wasn’t back by 7:15 pm. Kathleen slowly drove along the path Tiffany usually took, looking for any sign of her because she thought she might have hurt herself on her walk. She was not to be found.
Kathleen went back to the Casablanca East apartment block by herself. She thought Tiffany would be waiting for her outside, but it was clear she hadn’t made it back to the house. Even though Tiffany had only been gone for a little over an hour, Kathleen was worried enough that she called Hilary, Tiffany’s mother, and told her that Tiffany hadn’t come back from her power walk. Then she called the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office to say Tiffany wasn’t there.
Hilary went to Gainesville right away, and so did Patrick Sessions, Tiffany’s father and ex-husband. He left Miami to make the trip. They thought the search for Tiffany would be going strong when they got to her flat. They didn’t know that police rarely go out looking for missing adults, especially in college towns. The Alachua County Sheriff’s Office took Tiffany’s missing person report, but they couldn’t find any signs of foul play along the path she would normally walk, so they told her parents there wasn’t much they could do.
Hilary was sure Tiffany would never go somewhere without telling someone. Tiffany was a junior at the University of Florida studying finance. She was a great student and was known for being very responsible. She had pledged to a few sororities her first year, but she didn’t join any of them because she was afraid that the social obligations would get in the way of her studies. At the time, she wasn’t seeing anyone, and she would never leave on her own.
There was a bright red sweatshirt, a grey and white sweatshirt and white trainers on Tiffany when she left her apartment that night. The only thing she had with her was her Walkman. She had left her wallet, keys, ID, car, and all of her other personal items behind. Before going for her run, she took off most of her jewellery except for a silver and gold Rolex watch that her dad had given her. That was one of her most valuable things, and she joked with Kathleen that anyone who tried to steal it would have to fight her to get it. Her flatmate was afraid that Tiffany had gotten hurt while trying to fight someone.
Since police didn’t seem willing to start looking for the missing college student, Hilary and Patrick knew they had to figure this out on their own. Patrick, who worked as a media executive for one of Florida’s largest real estate development firms, called everyone he knew right away to ask for help finding his daughter. The case got so much attention that the police couldn’t escape it.
Soon, dozens of Patrick’s coworkers and friends came to Gainesville to help with the search. He hired a private investigator and rented a helicopter on Friday so that Patrick could look over the search area from above. The helicopter flew over a 300-acre area of land near the Casablanca East Apartments several times but didn’t find anything of interest.
Four deputies from the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office and three German shepherds and a bloodhound were sent to search Tiffany’s usual walking path through the woods on Saturday. By mid-afternoon, they stopped looking because they hadn’t found Tiffany in the woods and there was no sign that she had been hurt.
The sheriff’s office said that Tiffany’s disappearance was out of character and therefore suspicious. However, they also said that no one had seen her being taken and they couldn’t rule out the idea that she had left on her own.
Friends and family of Tiffany said that there was nothing in her personal life that would make her want to run away. Tiffany and her mother have always been very close. Hilary called Tiffany her best friend. Hilary and Patrick broke up when Tiffany was only two months old. When Patrick left Hilary, he also left Tiffany and didn’t help her as she grew up. Their relationship didn’t really start until Tiffany was 18. His intense search for her after she went missing may have been motivated by guilt as well as love.
As the search for Tiffany grew, police started getting a lot of leads. Some people who lived near the lonely path Tiffany would walk remembered seeing a woman walking on Thursday. At least one person said Tiffany had been talking to a man in a car. Someone else didn’t see Tiffany talk to the driver, but they thought the car might have been following her as she walked.
Some people thought Tiffany had been taken because there might have been a car following her. Patrick was told to go back to his home in Coconut Grove in case someone called with a ransom demand. He did so, but by Sunday night, there had been no calls, making the idea that she was kidnapped to get money start to look less likely.
Hilary, Patrick, and a huge group of volunteers did everything they could to let people know Tiffany wasn’t with her. Posters about the missing person were made and put up all over Gainesville. By the end of the weekend, there was one in every petrol station, hotel and restaurant in the city.
A lot of people called the police because they saw the Tiffany’s missing poster and thought they knew something that could help with the case. Most of the calls were from people who thought they saw the missing woman. Detectives checked into each possible sighting but couldn’t confirm any of them.
The FBI was part of the investigation by Monday. Tiffany had probably been taken by someone, and since Interstate 75 was only minutes away from where she was last seen, it would have been easy for her captor to take her out of state. The FBI offices in Jacksonville and Miami began talking to all of Tiffany’s family, friends, and classmates to find out if there was anything in her past that could have made her a target for kidnapping. At first, they were interested in her ex-boyfriend, who had just been arrested in Florida on an Indiana warrant, but they later found out that he had nothing to do with her disappearance.
A lot of people from the University of Florida came out to help look for Tiffany. In a wooded area near the Casablanca East apartments, students, professors, and even the college dean helped search. The University also made sure that a picture of Tiffany was shown at the start of all videotaped lectures that business students watched.
Dan Marino, quarterback for the Miami Dolphins, cut short his trip to Disney World on Tuesday to go to a news conference about the case and ask for Tiffany’s safe return. Marino is a family friend and had met Tiffany several times. The extra star power helped make the case news across the country.
The case also interested John Walsh, who is the host of America’s Most Wanted. He talked about it on his show. The number of tips called in went through the roof because of all the media attention. In the hours after AMW aired, police got more than 400. A lot of reporters from all over the country also called to say they wanted to cover the case.
There were hundreds of tips because of the national attention, but none of them helped police find Tiffany. On February 18, there was another large-scale physical search. It took more than 1,000 volunteers working together to cover more than 10 square miles of land in Gainesville’s woods and fields. They found a cow skeleton, a few old refrigerators, and bags of old clothes, but nothing that had anything to do with Tiffany’s disappearance.
Volunteers went door-to-door in Gainesville handing out missing person flyers to try to get new information for the police. Out of worry that Tiffany wasn’t in Florida anymore, more than 400,000 missing posters were made and sent all over the country.
Hilary and her husband ran a seafood business in St. Petersburg, Florida. They had customers in the US as well as in Japan, Oman, and Thailand. In every box they sent, they put a Tiffany’s missing poster and told the recipient to hang it up somewhere noticeable.
At each truck stop they stopped at on their way across the country, long-haul truck drivers hung up a bunch of posters. He got posters to put up at military bases in the US and other countries from a family friend whose son was in the army.
A toll-free number was set up to help deal with the hundreds of tips that came in from the international search. There were thousands of calls, but no real leads were found. She told a reporter that she was at the point where she would welcome a ransom request because it would give her something to think about. Her mother was sure her daughter was still alive and being held captive somewhere. She would have done anything to get her back.
Patrick said he would pay a $75,000 reward for information that led to Tiffany’s safe return two weeks after she was last seen. He later raised the reward to $250,000. He thought that the money offer would be enough to get the kidnapper to come forward, but no one claimed the reward.
Weeks went by and nothing changed. When the investigation had been going on for two months, the case wasn’t being talked about every day in the news. The Alachua County Sheriff’s Office said that investigators didn’t know anything more than they did the night the 20-year-old went missing. They couldn’t find any physical signs that would help them figure out what might have happened to her.
Detectives had talked to thousands of people, followed up on more than 2,000 tips, and looked into hundreds of possible sightings of Tiffany but still couldn’t find any solid leads. Five billboards with Tiffany’s picture and information about her case were put up in several Florida cities in May to try to get the investigation going again and find new leads. There were more and more tips, but none of them revealed anything new.
Private investigators went through Tiffany’s address book and talked to everyone who was listed. They also looked through her photo albums and talked to everyone who was in them. Tiffany had carefully marked each picture with the names of everyone in it and the date it was taken, which made the job easier. The people they talked to couldn’t give them any information that would have helped them solve the case.
Late in June, Patrick got a call from two men who said they had taken Tiffany and were guarding her somewhere on Cedar Key, which is about 60 miles from Gainesville. They told Patrick that if he didn’t pay, Tiffany would be taken by boat to Panama or Trinidad and he would never see her again. He had to pay $200,000.
In just 48 hours, the so-called kidnappers called Patrick almost a dozen times, and each time they got more angry. Patrick called the FBI because he thought something was wrong. The men were caught on camera using a payphone at a petrol station in Dania, Florida. They were calling Patrick and being rude to him at the time. Both were arrested on federal extortion charges after they told police they had nothing to do with Tiffany’s disappearance and only wanted to get Patrick to pay them money quickly.
Over the next year and a half, the investigation didn’t move forward much. By the end of 1990, the FBI admitted that the case was no longer being looked into. The Alachua County Sheriff’s Office still wouldn’t close the case. There would be no end to its opening.
Tiffany was officially dead in September 1994. Hilary had asked the judge in Tampa to do what she wanted. She did this not because she thought Tiffany was dead—she still believed her daughter was alive and well—but because she wanted to use Tiffany’s $50,000 life insurance to keep looking for her.
Over the years, detectives have come up with a number of possible suspects in Tiffany’s disappearance. Convicted kil*ler Wayne Earl Delise was named as a possible suspect in 1995, but he wasn’t found to be guilty. After being found guilty of rape and sentenced to life in prison in Florida, Michael Knickerbocker wrote a letter to deputies in the late 1990s claiming to have done the crime. He later changed his story because he wasn’t sure of his own mental health, and detectives were able to rule him out because he wasn’t near Gainesville when Tiffany went missing.
In November 2018, 20 years after the case, the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office said they would be looking at it again. Because she was elected in 2006, Sheriff Sadie Darnell was the county’s first female sheriff. She really wanted to solve the case and made it her top priority.
Tiffany’s case was given to Detective Kevin Allen in 2013; he is part of the county’s “cold case” unit. He looked through the seven boxes of papers and six binders that made up the case file and knew right away that it would be hard. Tiffany’s body was never found, and no one ever came forward to say they saw her being taken. There were also no suspects in her mu*rder, even though the case had been open for more than 20 years. Darnell, however, was sure that her theory would finally make the case very clear. She told Detective Allen to pay attention to Paul Rowles.
The very long case file didn’t have any information about Rowles. He was on the radar of Alachua County police the year before when his DNA was linked to the mu*rder of Beth Foster in 1992. Many things about this case were the same as Tiffany’s, so Sheriff Darnell thought it was likely connected.
Beth was also 20 years old when she was taken in 1992. She was a college student. The last place she was seen was near where Tiffany had gone for a walk, and her car was found parked outside of the Casablanca East apartments. Beth’s body was found in a shallow grave in the woods less than a mile from where Tiffany had last been seen, ten days after she had disappeared.
In a strange twist, Hilary Sessions went to Gainesville at the same time that Beth’s body was found and asked police if it was possible that Tiffany had been k*illed by the same person. She was afraid that her daughter might still be hiding in the woods near where Beth had been buried and not been found. The police told her that they couldn’t say for sure that the two crimes were not connected, but they also hadn’t found any evidence that they were.
When Rowles was finally caught twenty years later kil*ling Beth, police thought it was possible that he had also k*illed Tiffany. He definitely had a bad history with women. In 1972, he was found guilty of k*illing his Miami neighbour, Linda Fida. At the time, James Woodard was the Assistant State Attorney. He said it was one of the cruellest mu*rder cases he had ever seen.
While Rowles could have been put to death, he pleaded guilty and was given a life sentence in prison instead. Woodard said that Rowles should never be able to get parole, and the judge agreed that he thought Rowles should spend the rest of his life in jail. The parole board didn’t agree, but he was still given parole in December 1985, which is crazy. He moved to Gainesville in 1988, and Tiffany was nowhere to be found six months later.
Rowles was working at a construction site near where Tiffany would walk every day when she went missing. He got away from the Gainesville area eventually without being caught by police.
Rowles was already in prison for life for ki*lling another woman when he was found to have ki*lled Beth. He refused to talk to investigators about Tiffany, even though they asked him to. Detectives wouldn’t give up. In January 2013, Sheriff Darnell sent Detective Allen to talk to Rowles in the hopes that he would finally be ready to do so. Rowles was in the hospital at the time, but he was already dead from lung cancer. He was in a lot of pain, so he was sedated so that no one could talk to him.
Detective Allen gave the ICU nurses a picture of Tiffany before he left the hospital. He asked them to show it to Rowles if he ever woke up. That’s not true. He went to the grave knowing what he might have known about Tiffany’s disappearance and died a few days later.
Sheriff Darnell told Detective Allen to get all of Rowles’s things that he had left behind in his prison cell. Detective Allen found something truly horrifying in an old address book from 2002: Rowles had written in the margin of one of the pages “#2 2–9–89 #2.” It looked like he was keeping track of the fact that Tiffany was his second victim on February 9, 1989.
The FBI sent the address book to be looked at more closely and found that Rowles’s handwriting was definitely in it. Rowles had written down the names of his other victims in the book, but he never mentioned Tiffany by name. However, the note was enough to convince many investigators that Rowles was the person they had been looking for for 25 years.
In an effort to finally close the case, police decided to search the area where Beth’s body was found in 1992 very thoroughly. In 2014, they dug up an area about the size of two football fields but found nothing. Investigators are sure that Paul Rowles k*illed Tiffany, but her case is still open and her body is still being looked for.
The last time anyone saw Tiffany Sessions, she was 20 years old. It was 1989. The finance major had big hopes for her future. One day, she wanted to be the CEO of a big business. She was smart, driven, and had the drive to make her dreams come true, but on a cold winter night, she disappeared without a trace, taking everything with her. Police think that Paul Rowles kil*led her, but as of July 2022, her body had not been found, and her family is still waiting for peace of mind. Please call the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office at 352–367–4161 if you know anything about Tiffany.