GAINESVILLE — Alachua County Sheriff’s deputies confirmed Thursday morning that the suspect in the disappearance and murder of Tiffany Session in perhaps the state’s most mysterious missing person case is a dead man who didn’t admit to anything.
The top suspect, Paul Eugene Rowles, died last year in prison while serving a `19-year prison sentence on an unrelated kidnapping and rape conviction. He was 65 when he died one year ago next week and never confessed to the disappearance of 20-year-old Sessions, who went missing during a regular evening walk on Feb. 9, 1989.
In an area where law enforcement officials believe the remains of Sessions may be buried, deputies laid out reasons for their theory that Rowles was the man who kidnapped and killed the University of Florida student who grew up in Valrico.
He lived here at the time. His DNA was linked to the murder of another young woman buried in the same area where a backhoe dug this week looking for Sessions’ remains. Thirteen years after Sessions’ disappearance, Rowles scribbled in a journal while in prison: “2989,” which is the date Sessions went missing. Next to that he wrote “#2,” leading detectives to believe Sessions was his second victim.
He had served 12 years in prison for the 1972 murder of a woman in Miami.
“This has been a long journey,” said Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell, who said the evidence, though largely circumstantial, points to Rowles.
She and detectives here are convinced of that.
“Paul Rowles has a horrible history of crimes against women,” she said. “All indications point to him. He lived in this community at the time. He murdered in this community.”
Though it is “highly, highly probable” that Rowles kidnapped and killed Sessions, Darnell said, more information is needed. Though she put out a call for help, anyone who lived in Gainesville or anywhere else where Rowles had lived is asked to come forward with what may be that last piece of the puzzle to put the case to rest, particularly for the Sessions family.
Hilary Sessions was at the news conference and watched from afar as the backhoe dug in the woods near Williston Road and Southwest 13th Street.
“If they find her remains,” she said, “I’ll be a little happier. I want to give her a Christian burial. I do not like leaving her in a site like this.”