ORLANDO, Florida (Reuters) - Twenty-five years after a University of Florida co-ed vanished and was presumed dead, detectives have identified her likely murderer as a deceased serial killer who jotted down the date of her disappearance in papers he left behind.
Tiffany Sessions, 20, an economics student in her junior year, went for a walk near the Gainesville campus of Florida’s flagship university on February 9, 1989, and never returned.
Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell said there is a high probability that Sessions was killed by convicted murderer and rapist Paul Rowles, who died in prison last year at age 64.
“I believe it is” him, Darnell said on Thursday.
Detectives focused on Rowles after DNA linked him to the murder in 1992 of another Gainesville co-ed, 21-year-old Elizabeth Foster.
Foster’s body was dumped in a wooded area in Gainesville, leading detectives this week to dig further through the site in an unsuccessful attempt to find remains or evidence of Sessions.
“Paul Rowles has a horrible history of violent crimes against women: murder, rape, kidnapping,” Darnell said.
Darnell said Rowles was living in Gainesville at the time Sessions disappeared and was not at work that day and night.
Rowles’ first conviction was for the 1972 murder of Linda Fida in Miami, for which he was given a life sentence, according to a timeline prepared by investigators.
Paroled after nine years, Rowles moved to Gainesville in 1988, nine months before Sessions’ disappearance.
In 1994, Rowles kidnapped a young Clearwater girl and took her to a wooded area of Gainesville. In that case, he was convicted and sentenced to 19 years for armed kidnapping and sexual battery of a minor.
Detectives interviewed Rowles after Foster’s death, but he did not confess to Sessions’ murder.
When Rowles died, his belongings went to a friend who allowed detectives to examine them.
Darnell said they found a calendar on which Rowles had written “#2 2/9/89.”
The date coincides with Sessions’ disappearance and, if Rowles was indeed her murderer, she would have been his second known victim.
Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Gunna Dickson