University of Florida student Tiffany Sessions disappeared Feb. 9, 1989, 30 years ago, in Gainesville. Here is a look back at the case and the effort to find her, from the Miami Herald archives.
Detective W. Beck puts out police tape cordoning off a site in Gainesville believed to be part of the investigation of the murder of Tiffany Sessions. Miami Herald File
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Published Feb. 12, 1989
Tiffany Sessions, a 20-year-old finance major at the University of Florida, was indulging in one of her favorite pastimes — power walking — when she disappeared on a dark, wooded road near her Gainesville apartment.
She is an avid athlete whose family’s wealth has allowed her to indulge passions for skiing and horseback riding.
Two years ago, she took up power walking as an alternative to jogging because she was troubled by shinsplints. Last week, Tiffany had been looking forward to an annual ski trip in Aspen, Colo., with her father, Patrick Sessions, the president of the Weston Division of Arvida, the South Florida real estate giant, said her grandmother Ellen Sessions.
Friends and relatives described Tiffany as cheerful, energetic and somewhat headstrong — a person with strong opinions who never hesitated to express them.
“She’s a strong woman, both physically and emotionally, which I’m hoping will stand her in good stead with whatever is going on now,” Ellen Sessions said Saturday from her Coral Gables home.
“She’s vivacious, very attractive, very bright,” said Marla Tannenbaum, public relations manager for Arvida’s Weston division, where Tiffany worked as a receptionist last summer.
Tiffany’s parents were divorced a year after her birth at Doctor’s Hospital in Coral Gables. As a child, she traveled around the country with her mother, Hilary Sessions, who was in the U.S. Air Force.
She went to schools in Davis, Calif.; Austin, Texas; and Boxborough, Mass. — where her mother’s parents had a farm — before enrolling at Lawrence Academy, an exclusive boarding school in nearby Groton, Mass.
“When we moved back up to Massachusetts in 1975, I bought her a pony and she was old enough to handle the pony,” said Hilary Sessions. “She was 7 at the time. She’s been riding ever since.”
Tiffany rode competitively and went fox hunting with the Groton Pony Club.
Hilary Sessions was remarried to Douglas Brown, the president of South Florida Fishermen near Tampa, but kept the Sessions name. They live in Valrico.
Patrick Sessions was remarried to Kitty Sessions and they have a son, 16-year-old Jason, who attends St. Andrews School in Boca Raton. Patrick and Kitty have since divorced.
Tiffany Sessions disappeared while jogging in Gainseville in February 1989.
At the University of Florida, Tiffany has been a serious student. She took part in the whirl of pledge parties her freshman year but decided not to join a sorority because she felt it would distract her from academics, her mother said. That’s also why Tiffany decided to move from her dormitory room to an off-campus apartment she shares with a friend, 23- year-old Kathleen Hsu.
Despite a serious bout of mononucleosis her first semester, Tiffany decided not to drop out of school and ended up with a C average. Then she made an agreement with her father: If she got a B average or better, he would pay her car insurance.
Since then, she has had a 3.5 grade-point average, her mother said. Tiffany told her parents she wanted to go into business, perhaps get a real estate broker’s license.
“She wants to be an officer of a company,” Hilary Sessions said. “She doesn’t want to be a grunt.”
February 05, 2014 12:03 PM
8/1/01–nuri vallbona/herald staff–miami Patrick Sessions’ daughter, Tiffany, disappeared in 1989 in Gainesville. He sees many parallels between his daughter’s case and Chandra Levy’s and tries to help other parents of missing children. Miami Herald File
Published Feb. 12, 1989
Police and dozens of friends and relatives of 20-year-old Tiffany Sessions pursued a massive search for her Saturday after finding no sign of the University of Florida junior, who has been missing since she went for a walk Thursday evening.
Tiffany’s father, Arvida executive Patrick Sessions, chartered a helicopter to scan a 300-acre wooded area near the Casablanca East Apartments, where Tiffany roomed with another UF student, and Alachua County sheriff’s deputies combed the woods with three German shepherds and a bloodhound.
By mid-day Saturday, sheriff’s deputies suspended the search, saying they had found no trace of Tiffany in the woods near the isolated, unlighted road where she had gone walking at dusk Thursday.
“There’s no question it’s suspicious,” said sheriff’s spokesman Spencer Mann. “There’s no immediate signs of criminal wrongdoing — in other words, nobody saw her grabbed and put in a car. But there is no question that she was going out on a short walk.”
Hours after her disappearance, her father’s friends and co- workers at Arvida’s Weston Division in West Broward raced to Gainesville on chartered and commercial flights to join the massive search.
Tiffany, wearing red warm-up pants, a white T-shirt and Reebok sneakers, left her apartment about 6 p.m. Thursday for her daily speed-walk in the cluster of apartment complexes two miles south of the University of Florida campus. She told her roommate she would return in an hour.
With Tiffany still gone at 8 p.m., her worried roommate, Kathleen Hsu, called the Alachua County Sheriff’s Department. Then she called Patrick Sessions at his Coral Gables home.
An hours-long search by deputies Thursday night was fruitless. Patrick Sessions, the president of the Weston Division of real estate giant Arvida, arrived in Gainesville at 9 a.m. Friday and was joined by dozens of friends, family members and Arvida executives. They combed the area and handed out 3,000 fliers bearing a photograph of the five-foot three-inch, blond Tiffany.
Weston vice president Roy Rogers drove from Fort Lauderdale to Gainesville and stopped at every rest area along the highway, asking whether anyone had seen Tiffany.
“Basically what we’ve been doing is a ground and air search,” Mann said. “We’ve divided about 40 people into different teams and did a grid search of the property.”
Sessions hired Wayne Black, a former investigator for the Dade state attorney’s office, who specializes in missing person cases and kidnappings, to help in the search.
In addition, the FBI was said to be aware of the case and standing by if necessary.
“Every guess is that she has been abducted, for whatever reason, I don’t know,” Patrick Sessions said Saturday afternoon.
When she left the apartment Thursday, Tiffany was wearing a silver and gold Rolex watch and a Walkman portable radio. She told roommate Hsu that she would be back before 7 p.m., when Hsu was due to leave for a class.
Tiffany didn’t take her house keys because she expected Hsu to let her back into their apartment.
“She said, ‘I’m only going to the top of the hill,’ which meant a shorter route,” said Hsu, a senior pharmacology major. “She knew she had to be back before I was going to leave.”
Tiffany, an avid horseback rider and skier, took up speed walking two years ago because jogging bothered her shinsplints, her mother said.
Her walking route took her along a wooded road that wended its way among clusters of apartment buildings populated mostly by UF students.
Kim Carter, 26, another UF student, had been jogging the same route later Thursday evening, and she was out again on Saturday.
“This is pretty scary,” she said.
Nevertheless, she said she felt the route was safe and planned to continue running there. Normally, Tiffany went walking with Hsu or other friends, mother Hilary Sessions said.
She was trying to lose 14 pounds because her father had promised to give her money if she lost weight, her mother said. Although the road is dark, there are plenty of cars and joggers, said Hilary Sessions.
On Friday night, she handed leaflets to about 20 passing joggers. Tiffany’s family and friends described the finance major as a serious-minded student who chose studying over partying. She moved into the Casablanca Apartments last year because dormitory life was too noisy and distracting.
“The first year living in dorms she wasn’t too happy,” her mother said.
Family members said they knew of no personal problems that would cause Tiffany to disappear.
“I don’t think there’s a chance that this is an accident,” said Patrick Sessions. Said family friend Betty Lou Ellis: “It’s every person’s nightmare.”
Despite speculation that Tiffany had been kidnapped, the family has received no calls or notes. Police and investigator Black said there has been no ransom demand, but they have asked Sessions to return to Coconut Grove today in case he is ed.
“They really want me around my phone in Miami,” Patrick Sessions said.
Patrick Sessions, 43, has built a reputation as an aggressive promoter and developer with Arvida, the giant real estate company that bought up thousands of acres of South Florida land in the 1950s and developed much of Boca Raton.
Sessions joined the company in 1981, and in 1987 was made president in charge of the massive Weston development near Interstate 75 in western Broward. The 10,000-acre development is expected have a population of 60,000 by the end of the century.
April 26, 2014 8:52 PM
08/14/09–Alexia Fodere for The Miami Herald: (R) Patrick Sessions father of Tiffany Sessions, who has been missing for more than 20 years, talks at Florida Missing Children’s Day event at Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office in downtown Miami on Monday afternoon. 2 of 2 pixs Miami Herald File
A FATHER’S DESPAIR
Published Feb. 13, 1989
Patrick Sessions’ friends call him “the Red Dragon.”
His slogan is “No surrender,” the name he gave the 42-foot yacht moored behind his Coconut Grove bay-front home.
But three days after Sessions’ 20-year-old daughter Tiffany, a University of Florida finance major, disappeared without a trace from her neighborhood near Gainesville, the fiery energy began to disappear from Sessions’ blue eyes.
As the hours passed with no new leads Sunday, the battle against despair grew more lopsided.
“The uncertainty is the worst part,” said Sessions, 41, a real estate executive, fingering the gray in his red beard. “I need to find Tiffany and find out what happened.”
Tiffany Sessions, a studious junior with a big exam coming up, left her apartment for a short walk at 6 p.m. Thursday and never returned.
The Alachua County Sheriff’s Department and local volunteers called off a two-day search Saturday after it failed to produce a single clue. FBI agents in Jacksonville and Miami are now involved.
“We’re interviewing everyone who knew her,” said Miami agent Dave Jellison. “Beyond that, there’s not much we can do except sit back and wait for new developments.”
Sessions, the president of Arvida’s Weston division, came home Sunday morning after two nearly sleepless nights in Gainesville to sit by his phone. Tiffany’s mother, Hilary Sessions, and stepfather joined the weekend search but left Sunday to keep a vigil in their home in Valrico, near Tampa.
“I’m just praying right now for a ransom call,” Patrick Sessions said. No ransom call came. And at sunset, Sessions confronted the fear that his eldest child has been murdered.
“If somebody starts bragging in a bar that they killed somebody, I want to know if it’s Tiffany,” he said. Tiffany Sessions, blond and brown-eyed, wore red sweat pants, a white sweat shirt and Reebok sneakers when she left the Casablanca Apartments.
Her sweatshirt, a memento of family skiing vacations, had a gray horizontal stripe with the word “Aspen” on it. She left jewelry, purse and keys behind, planning to be back before roommate Kathleen Hsu left home at 7 p.m.
A few minutes after 7, Hsu called the Sessions home in Miami to report Tiffany missing.
“We knew right away that something was wrong because if she was going to be five minutes late, Tiffany would always call,” said Margaret Pakuch, 30, Patrick Sessions’ girlfriend. Pakuch said she and Tiffany last talked on Wednesday. “She was feeling miserable — tired and run down. She had exams coming up. She was between boyfriends and complaining that she couldn’t meet anybody she really liked. She was really depressed. But it was nothing serious.”
The family briefly thought “she was just off on a lark,” said the missing woman’s uncle, Michael Sessions, a retired real estate consultant.
“But by Friday morning, everybody was convinced that there was a third party involved who was preventing her from getting in touch with us.”
Patrick Sessions, a man with powerful friends, propelled the search for Tiffany into high gear. Arvida public relations staff called television stations and newspapers across the state. About a dozen Arvida workers combed the dense woods near the young woman’s apartment and passed out fliers along Florida’s Turnpike and Interstate 75.
When sheriff’s deputies couldn’t locate bloodhounds, Sessions arranged for a phone call from the governor’s office. The bloodhounds were quickly found. When deputies had to return the search helicopter they’d borrowed from a local hospital, Sessions charted another chopper, piloted by a Vietnam veteran.
Patrick and Michael Sessions took turns aloft coordinating searchers.
“Frankly, we were looking for buzzards,” a weary Michael Sessions said Sunday. “The good news is, we didn’t find anything. The bad news is, Tiffany is still missing.”
Wayne Black, a former investigator for the Dade County state attorney’s office hired by the family to coordinate the search, said police have few leads.
One possible witness, a neighborhood man, caught a glimpse of a woman who resembled Tiffany Sessions standing at the rear of a car on the wooded road near the apartments, talking to the car’s driver, Black said. FBI agents planned Sunday to question a Miami boyfriend of Tiffany’s who was arrested in Dade County over the weekend on an Indiana drug warrant, Black said.
Pakuch said the family met the boyfriend once but knew little about him.
“They both agreed it wasn’t going to be a serious relationship because they were so far apart,” she said. But Black said the boyfriend is not a suspect in Tiffany’s disappearance.
Patrick Sessions said he has asked Black to find a psychic.
“There isn’t anything too bizarre I’m not going to do,” he said. Sessions was the calm eye of a cyclone of activity in the Coconut Grove house Sunday.
A yellow tiger cat crouched on the stone steps at the door, its ears flattened as it watched a steady stream of visitors. Dozens of co-workers and friends tramped across Sessions’ pink marble floors and were put to work — printing fliers, passing them out in the Art Deco district of Miami Beach and in Coconut Grove, and logging phone calls at the family home and Sessions’ Boca Raton office.
Sessions thought of other parents who have endured the same anxiety his family suffers now. “I wonder, what would I do if I didn’t have the kind of influence and friends I have?” he said.
“God, it would be frustrating. “The one thing I’ve got to come away from this with is the feeling that I’ve done everything I could. I have to do that to live with myself, whatever happens.”
July 04, 2016 7:34 AM
Published Feb. 15, 1989
Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino and television anti- crime show host John Walsh joined a nationwide publicity campaign Tuesday to find Tiffany Sessions, who disappeared Feb. 9 from her Gainesville apartment near the University of Florida campus.
Marino and Walsh appeared with Tiffany’s father, Weston president Patrick Sessions, at a news conference before 20 television cameras and twice as many reporters.
“I know the nightmare of having a missing child first hand and what Pat is going through,” said Walsh, whose son Adam was snatched from the Hollywood Mall and murdered in 1981.
Tiffany Sessions, 20, a college junior, disappeared Thursday evening while she was taking a walk.
The blond, five-foot three-inch woman was last seen wearing a white pullover sweat shirt and red sweat pants. Tuesday, for the third time, dogs were used in an attempt to pick up the young woman’s scent in the area where she had been walking. The attempt was unsuccessful.
Orange County sheriff’s Deputy Bernie Greer led the search of the area surrounding Sessions’ apartment, working Tuesday from 7 a.m. until well after dark.
Late Tuesday afternoon, the dogs picked up her scent, but it turned out to be a false alarm.
“We can’t tell if it was made the day she came up missing,” Greer said. “It’s definitely her, though. Everybody’s got a very unique scent, just like your fingerprints.”
Walsh and Marino taped public service announcements written on the spot Tuesday. The announcements will be distributed to every television station in the state, mailed to stations in major markets and bounced off a satellite to any television station that wants them. Marino said he would his peers in other cities with NFL teams and ask them to help.
The interest generated by Sessions’ team of publicist friends and Arvida staff members drew representatives from virtually every news organization in South Florida and cameras from CBS, NBC and CNN.
“Other than the assassination of the president, in my 20-year career I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Dave Pearson of Pearson, McGuire Public Relations, which is taking part in the public appeal.
The national attention has prompted questions about whether the Sessions’ case would have received so much publicity had the young woman not been a member of such an influential family.
“I’m not going to apologize that I have a lot of friends,” said Sessions, president of Arvida’s Weston division. “This is not a money effort, but a friend effort.”
Sessions’ team has commitments for help from scores of businesses, large and small.
From Alamo Rent A Car to the Eckerd drugstore chain to the National Hotel and Motel Association. All have agreed to help distribute flyers. While the team works to keep the focus on the search, FBI investigators say no ransom demand has been made.
Sessions plans to meet with Gov. Bob Martinez on Friday morning and then fly to Gainesville to see what he can do there, Weston spokeswoman Marla Tannenbaum said.
“I don’t have any reason to think she isn’t alive,” Sessions said. “I have nothing to tell me she’s dead.”