Tiffany Sessions Cold Case: Detectives to identify serial killer Paul Rowles as murder suspect

12:08 PM, Feb 5, 2014   |    comments
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(CBS NEWS) -- This Sunday will mark the 25th anniversary of the day Tiffany Sessions vanished. Her parents and detectives have spent the entire time looking for any trace of her, and finding nothing.

But now, "48 Hours" correspondent Tracy Smith reported on "CBS This Morning," there's a major development in the case -- one of Florida's most famous missing persons cases.

Detectives tell CBS News they think Tiffany Sessions was the victim of a known serial killer.

Tiffany Sessions, a 20-year-old college student, disappeared on February 9, 1989. The junior at the University of Florida went out for her daily power walk and disappeared. Tiffany's parents Pat and Hilary rushed to Gainesville to look for her.

"We all were trying to get a handle on what possible explanation," said Tiffany's father, Pat Sessions. "Did she have a boyfriend nobody knew about? She didn't have her wallet, her driver's license. Her car was there. And that was the scary part."

Hilary Sessions had just seen her daughter at Christmas one month earlier. 

"She came up to me and she gave me a hug," Hilary Sessions recalled. "And it was a hug that I'd never had before. And she gave me a big kiss and said, 'Mom I love you'."

See Also: Mother writes about search for missing daughter

Jim Eckert, one of the lead detectives in 1989 added, "This woman literally vanished off the face of the Earth."

In desperation, Pat Sessions, a marketing executive, did what he knows how to do best. He organized press conferences, bought in famous faces like football Hall of Famer Dan Marino and politician Jeb Bush, and he coordinated one of the biggest, private searches in Florida history. 

More than 700 people showed up, they searched the swamps around Tiffany's walking route, they blanketed the state with fliers, put Tiffany's face on billboards, and answered the hotline.

At the time, it was unprecedented at the amount of attention that Tiffany Sessions' disappearance received. And yet...

"No leads," said Eckert. "No physical evidence."

Pat Sessions said, "It was pretty obvious to all of us, you know, that we were in a huge problem.  If anything was going to turn up then, it would have turned up in that search."

There were grueling ups and downs for the 20 detectives who worked this case for more than two decades, but for one detective, the time to solve it is now.

Detective Kevin Allen, of the Alachua County Sheriff's Office, said, "I go to bed thinking about that case.  I wake up thinking about that case."

On Thursday, Allen and his colleagues will announce that they believe Paul Rowles, a known serial killer, is a lead suspect in the disappearance of Tiffany Sessions.

Rowles died in prison last year of natural causes. He had been serving a life sentence for first-degree murder and was a registered sexual predator.

His last known victim, Elizabeth Foster, was found just one mile from where Tiffany disappeared. Right now police are excavating the site where Foster's body was found, hoping to find Tiffany.

The Orlando Sentinel also reports Rowles left behind an address book that noted the date of Sessions' disappearance.

Pat Sessions said, "Twenty-five years ago we started. I hope we're gonna finish."

Asked how long he will look for her, Pat Sessions said, "Well, I think until the day I die. How do you not look for your kid?"

If anyone has information about this lead suspect Paul Rowles please contact Detective Kevin Allen, Cold Case Homicide, 352-384-3323 or email him: kallen@alachuasheriff.org.

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