August 17, 2016
What Happened to Tiffany Sessions?
Much like the case of Julie Love (which I wrote about here), the disappearance of Tiffany Sessions is etched in my mind as an indelible memory from the 80s, helped in part by the fact that Tiffany Sessions and I were the same age and both college students at the time.
Tiffany would disappear from Gainesville, Florida, the same town that would be rocked by serial killer Danny Rolling a year and a half after her disappearance. The Gainesville Ripper's (as Rolling was dubbed by the overzealous media) crimes and capture would take much of the national news away from Tiffany.
Tiffany had been a student at the University of Florida, majoring in finance. She was twenty years old that February of 1989, a pretty girl with blonde hair and brown eyes. She left her residence at the Casablanca East Condominiums, dressed in red sweatpants, a long sleeved white pullover sweatshirt, and Reeboks, carrying a Walkman, and telling her roommate she was going to take a walk. The only other item Tiffany had with her was her ladies silver and gold Rolex watch.
Witnesses would later come forward to say they had seen Tiffany that Friday evening, some saying she had been speaking to several unidentified individuals in a vehicle. and possibly entering the vehicle. Authorities have never been able to confirm or deny these reports or whether that woman was Tiffany Sessions.
The case went cold until 1994, when a missing child's hotline received a tip about Tiffany, the caller claiming that Tiffany was being held against her will in Austin, Texas, with two other missing young women (Tracy Kroh and Elizabeth Miller) and the three were being forced to work as prostitutes. Tracy had disappeared from Pennsylvania in 1989 and Elizabeth from Colorado in 1983 but the police departments from all three states (including Florida) got together to investigate before determining the tip was nothing but an elaborate hoax and the case went cold again.
Inmate Michael Knickerbocker, sentenced to life for a 1989 rape of a Gainesville college student the same age as Tiffany, and the 1989 shooting death of a 12 year old Starke girl, told fellow inmates that he had chained Tiffany to a tree the night of her disappearance and then murdered her shortly thereafter, disposing her body in the Calosahatchee River near Fort Myers. Authorities searched the area but found nothing of note (which is not surprising given that the waterway could have taken any evidence quite a distance away and enough time had passed to destroy any remaining evidence.) In August of 2002, investigators searched an area outside of Gainesville where he claimed to have buried her sweatshirt and recovered a piece of bloodstained material. Tests were run to determine if the blood matched Tiffany's DNA but the results have never been announced. It's been said that the material does not match that of a sweatshirt.
Finally, in February of 2014 the biggest break in the case happened as Alachua County named Paul Rowles as Tiffany's abductor. Rowles appeared to have been a career criminal, sentenced to prison in 1976 for the 1972 Miami rape and murder of his neighbor, released in 1985 and then sentenced again in 1994 for sexual battery, kidnapping and lewd and lascivious molestation against a 19 year old woman who escaped. Rowles was such a sociopathic and terrifying individual that his first wife, the one who came home one day to find out that her husband murdered their neighbor, refused to sign a sworn statement against him, forty years after the crime and even as he lay dying in prison of cancer. After his death, DNA linked him to the unsolved 1992 homicide of Santa Fe College student Elizabeth Foster whose body was found in a shallow grave only a mile from where Tiffany disappeared. He was also known to have worked at a construction project along Tiffany's normal jogging path. Furthermore, a day planner Rowles kept in prison had the notation "#2" written in on February 9, 1989 . . . the date of Tiffany's disappearance. Serial killers are notorious for remembering the dates of specific events in their "careers." If Paul Rowles killed Tiffany Sessions, she would indeed have been his second victim.
Tiffany Sessions is still missing and her case officially unsolved. What do I think happened? I believe she went for what was a normal walk that late afternoon of February 9, 1989. On this day she went by herself rather than with her roommate, with sad consequences. I believe Paul Rowles was at the construction site and saw Tiffany, a pretty victim of opportunity. He likely lured her with some type of ruse, abducted and assaulted her and then killed her. I think he buried her, wearing the Rolex watch that has never turned up despite its serial number being on a hot list, in the area where he would dispose of Elizabeth Foster three years later. Rowles would angrily deny to investigators shortly before his death that he had anything to do with Tiffany Sessions but killers lie.
What about Michael Knickerbocker, who claimed to have chained Tiffany to a tree and killed her? More lies. Knickerbocker was not even in the Gainesville area when Tiffany disappeared so I believe that rules him out completely.
Paul Rowles was a known and convicted sex offender and murderer. Tiffany was the right age and in his "territory." Tiffany's father Patrick believes that Rowles killed his daughter but so far, Tiffany hasn't been found. A search of the 10 acre area where Elizabeth Foster was found has been conducted but finding human remains nearly thirty years after being buried or placed there is a long shot. The Sessions family would like to find Tiffany and bring her home.
Anyone with information is urged to contact Det. Kevin Allen of the Alachua County Sheriff's Office at (352) 384-3323 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Find out more about Tiffany and her case at www.tiffanysessions.org.