had begun exercising after Christmas break at the beginning of her second
semester of her junior year of college. She walked the same route around 5 p.m.
every day. The route took her along a wooded road, near clusters of apartment
buildings where other University
of Florida students lived.
left for her walk around 4:45 p.m. By 7 p.m., she had yet to return and her roommate, Kathleen Frezza, knew
something was very wrong. Kathleen left the apartment and drove along Tiffany's
route looking for any sign of her roommate. With no sign of Tiffany, Kathleen called the Alachua Co. Sheriff's Office and Tiffany's parents – Patrick
and Hilary Sessions.
No one could have predicted this would be the start of a
now 25 year long search for Tiffany Sessions.
roommate Kathleen described Tiffany as, "really warm and friendly. [She] always
had a smile on her face, always willing to help. You just got a really warm kind feeling from
her. She was pretty much always smiling."
and Hilary Sessions divorced when Tiffany was 8 months old. Tiffany was
raised by her mother, who was in the Air Force, and spent much of her childhood
traveling. They formed a strong mother- daughter bond. Even in college, Tiffany
would call her mother almost daily.
Hilary treasures the last memory of her
daughter from Christmas 1988. As Tiffany was leaving the house she gave her
mother the biggest hug and kiss and said, "Mom, I love you."
Tiffany didn't become close
with her father, Patrick Sessions, until her teenage years. With a successful
career as a marketing executive, Pat had a reputation of being a charismatic
and aggressive real estate developer in South Florida.
He oversaw the creation of Weston, a suburban community in Broward County, Fla, that attracted the rich and famous -- including many professional football
athletes, entertainers and politicians.
Tiffany also became close
with her half brother, Jason Sessions. Jason recalls fond memories of summers
on their dad's boat and their annual ski trips to Aspen in the winters. Jason was 17 when
Tiffany went missing and was actively involved in her search.
Pat Sessions arrived in Gainesville and sprang
into action. He used his business savvy to organize one of the largest missing
person searches in Florida
history. By utilizing the media, Pat was able to put widespread attention on
Part of Pat Sessions' plan involved
hiring Wayne Black, a private
investigator who specialized in missing persons cases. They coordinated their
search efforts with the sheriff's office. Black said, "From day
one he was so driven. He ran [the search] like a business."
Their friendship grew over the years and the men remain very close to this day.
Worried that Tiffany may have
been abducted and taken out of state, Pat Sessions knew he had to get the word out about
her disappearance on a national level. He scheduled his own press conference
and asked Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino and missing children activist
and "America's Most Wanted" host, John
Walsh, pictured, to join him.
Having been through the nightmare of having a missing child
himself, John Walsh was a source of strength for Pat and provided him with crucial
week after Tiffany had disappeared, Pat returned to Gainesville with a small army of volunteers
to conduct an air and ground search of the area. Over 700 people showed up to
help; including University of Florida students, naval recruits from the Naval Training
Center in Orlando, Marine
reservists and even members of the Miami Dolphins football team.
The searchers -- including Dolphins player John Offerdahl -- wore white
T-shirts with Tiffany's name and the toll free hotline on them. At the
height of the search the hotline was receiving as many as 600 calls a day.
all their efforts, the massive search turned up absolutely nothing. Tiffany's
whereabouts were still completely unknown. "This woman literally vanished off the face of the earth," said Jim Eckert.
weeks after Tiffany's disappearance, as tips continued to dwindle; Pat Sessions
offered a $75,000 reward for information on his missing daughter. At this point,
her disappearance was reclassified from a missing person to a kidnapping.
As weeks turned to
months, hope in the Sessions camp was beginning to wane. But there was one lead
that seemed credible.
A man who said he knew of Tiffany's whereabouts, claiming
she was sick and in need of medical attention. The caller then tried to extort
$200,000 from Pat Sessions, pictured, and threatened Tiffany's life.
In the end, the FBI caught the
man, who was a professional con artist, and he was sent away to prison for six
years and eight months. His information on Tiffany's whereabouts was completely
Three years after Tiffany's disappearance,
another student was found murdered in the Gainesville
area. Beth Foster, a student at Santa
Fe Community College,
was discovered badly beaten to death in a shallow grave in the woods – just a
mile from Tiffany's apartment complex.
With no leads, the Foster case went
cold. Hilary Sessions always believed Beth's murder was somehow connected to
the fifth anniversary of Tiffany's disappearance, Pat Sessions goes public with
his belief that Michael Knickerbocker, an inmate at Martin Correctional
Institute, had something to do with her disappearance.
convicted serial rapist and murderer, confessed to killing Tiffany in an anonymous
letter. When confronted about the letter, Knickerbocker never confessed to
detectives that he killed Tiffany, but he did admit he wrote the letter as a
cruel joke. Pat still believed Knickerbocker was involved, but police ruled him
out as a suspect.
As months became years and
leads dried up, there was one person who was always in Pat Sessions' corner: Sadie Darnell. Darnell first took interest in the Tiffany
Sessions case when she was working as a PIO for the Alachua Co. Sheriff's Office in 1989. While Darnell was never actually assigned to Tiffany's
case, she would mail and fax Patrick words of encouragement. In 2006, she was
elected Sheriff of Alachua County and started the County's first Cold Case Unit.
In 2013, she hired Det. Kevin Allen to work in the Unit and told him to
make the Tiffany Sessions case a priority.
Detective Kevin Allen said, "She
told me matter of factly, 'I want this solved during my tenure here."
In 2012, Sheriff Sadie Darnell took
interest in convicted murderer Paul Rowles when forensic technology was finally
able to link him to the Beth Foster murder. Sheriff Darnell suspected Rowles
could have also killed Tiffany Sessions when they learned he was living and
working in Gainesville
at the time of her disappearance.
When Det. Kevin Allen looked
into Paul Rowles, he found Rowles had a rather long and violent past. In addition
to Beth Foster, Det. Allen found that Rowles had killed others as well. In
1972, Rowles was convicted of murdering 20 year old Linda Fida in Miami and was sentenced
to life in prison. However, after serving only 13 years, he was paroled. Back
then due to prison overcrowding and high crime, the average life sentence was
only 15 years. Then in January of 1994, Rowles struck again when he kidnapped
and raped a 15-year-old girl in Jacksonville.
Rowles was convicted and sent to prison for good.
December 2013, Det. Allen went to confront Paul Rowles, who was 64 at the
time, but Rowles was in a coma and dying of lung cancer. When he died almost
two weeks later, Sheriff Darnell had the detective retrieve a box of Rowles's personal
belongings. What they found changed the entire investigation.
In the box was an
address book. Not only were the names of Rowles's victims listed, but in the
middle of the book was a date – 2/9/89. The date Tiffany disappeared. And on
either side of this date Rowles wrote "#2," indicating that Tiffany
may have been Rowles's second victim. Finally, investigators had a suspect.
Just three weeks after the
excavation on the 25th anniversary of Tiffany's disappearance,
Sheriff Sadie Darnell held a press conference announcing Paul Rowles as Tiffany's
abductor. Darnell hopes someone will come forward with new information that could
lead to Tiffany's remains.
without finding Tiffany, Pat and Hilary Sessions take solace in knowing who is
responsible for their daughter's disappearance. At the press conference they
expressed their gratitude for the help they have received over the years. They
are especially grateful to Sheriff Sadie Darnell and Det. Kevin Allen for
their dedication to Tiffany's case.