by Robert A. Waters
On December 17, 1985, Paul Eugene Rowles walked out of prison. Nine years before, Judge Leonard Rivkind had sentenced him to life in prison and warned that he should never be released. His crime was typical of many “lust killers.” He stalked twenty-year-old Linda Fida, waited for her husband to leave, then broke into her home and brutally raped her. After torturing his victim, Rowles killed Fida by stabbing her in the breast. He later admitted that this was a long-held fantasy.
Rowles should have been in prison when Tiffany Sessions disappeared.
He should have been locked up when Elizabeth Foster was murdered.
He should have been incarcerated when his final victim, a fifteen-year-old girl, was kidnapped and raped—had she not escaped, she would no doubt have been murdered.
Before Danny Rolling, Alachua County’s most infamous criminal case was the vanishing of Tiffany Sessions. In 1989, the University of Florida co-ed left her apartment to go for a jog and was never seen again. John Walsh, Dan Marino, and other celebrities joined the search for Tiffany. Her parents kept the case alive for decades as they searched for her.
Unknown to investigators at the time, Rowles lived a short distance from Tiffany’s apartment. A witness reported seeing a truck similar to one he drove following Tiffany as she ran. But no one made the connection to the convicted killer who was supposed to be locked up. (After Rowles died in prison, a cryptic note in his diary included the date Sessions disappeared, and the number “2.”) Alachua County Sheriff’s Office recently announced that Rowles is the prime suspect in Tiffany’s disappearance.
Three years after Tiffany Sessions vanished, in 1992, Santa Fe Community College student Elizabeth Foster disappeared. She’d told friends she planned to go to Bivens Arm Nature Park in Gainesville. Eleven days later, Foster’s body was found. In 2012, a cold case unit tested DNA found on Foster—it matched Rowles who was now serving 69 years for numerous sexual crimes.
So how did Rowles beat the system in 1985, after having served only nine years? It was simple. At that time, all prisoners (except death row inmates) were eligible for parole. Rowles took a sex education course in prison and conned his instructors into thinking he was “cured.” Ignoring Judge Rivkind’s admonition, the parole board released him.
In reality, Rowles fantasized about raping women. At various times after his release, he was arrested for peeping, stalking, prowling, stealing women’s undergarments, and burglary. How such a disturbed individual could walk the streets under the radar defies comprehension.
Had Rowles been executed, or given a true life sentence after his first murder, several families would not be suffering as they are today.