Gulf veteran was killed by relative, police say

March 26, 1991|By Jim Schaeferand Nancy Ann Jeffrey | Jim Schaeferand Nancy Ann Jeffrey,Knight-Ridder News Service

DETROIT -- Army Spc. Anthony Riggs, whose killing evoked a national cry over the tragedy of random street violence in the United States, died at the hands of a relative, police said yesterday.

"This crime had absolutely nothing to do with random street violence," homicide inspector Gerald Stewart said yesterday.

The killing March 18 made international news when police said it appeared Specialist Riggs had survived the Persian Gulf war only to be gunned down in a street robbery on the east side of Detroit. The Las Vegas native, stationed at Fort Bliss, Texas, had been in Detroit for less than 24 hours.

Yesterday, police questioned two relatives in connection with the killing and arrested one of them. Today, Specialist Riggs' 19-year-old brother-in-law is expected to be charged with murder, police officials said.

Specialist Riggs' wife, Toni Cato Riggs, 22, also was questioned yesterday, an investigator said, and is considered a suspect.

She was released after her attorney, Samuel Gardner, obtained a writ of habeas corpus, which orders police to come to court and show they have enough evidence to hold someone or release the person.

Late yesterday afternoon, Toni Riggs left Mr. Gardner's law offices without commenting to a crowd of reporters.

With her aunt, Marjorie Cato, leading the way through the crowd, Toni Riggs ducked into the front seat of their car and sat with her head bowed, shielding her face with her hand.

Mr. Gardner declined to discuss the case.

Although police said they consider Toni Riggs a suspect, they wouldn't discuss a motive, saying a news conference probably would be held today.

Anthony Riggs had been loading belongings into a car and van to move his family to suburban Warren from Ms. Cato's Conley Avenue home when someone shot him in the head and stole his car in the early morning hours of March 18.

The car, packed with belongings, was found abandoned less than 2 miles away with everything intact. Last week, detectives found a handgun in a trash bin two houses away from the Cato household.

Police and a friend of Anthony Riggs said the couple's 2-year-old marriage had become unstable.

Sgt. Gary Welliver of El Paso, Texas, served with Specialist Riggs in Saudi Arabia and said Specialist Riggs had told him his wife wanted a divorce and $500 a month in support.

Sergeant Welliver said yesterday in a telephone interview that Specialist Riggs was going to accept the divorce "but he wasn't going to give her a penny."

Since Specialist Riggs left for the Persian Gulf region in September, Toni Riggs had run through $8,000 in savings and spent every paycheck Specialist Riggs got as well as a re-enlistment bonus, Sergeant Welliver said.

Specialist Riggs had taken out a life insurance policy shortly before he left for Saudi Arabia. A customer representative for the Massachusetts Indemnity & Life Insurance Co. confirmed yesterday that a death claim has been filed for an Anthony Riggs, who took out the policy in El Paso.

In addition, the U.S. military's group life insurance offers up to $50,000 in benefits for the beneficiary of a soldier who is killed. Soldiers receive full coverage unless they opt out of the policy or request a lower level of coverage. An Army spokeswoman said she could not disclose Specialist Riggs' coverage status.

Sergeant Welliver was one of about a dozen soldiers in the 3rd Battalion, 43rd Air Defense Artillery, who returned to their home base at Fort Bliss March 8. Shortly after getting off the plane, Specialist Riggs grabbed Sergeant Welliver's arm and said, "I need to talk bad," Sergeant Welliver said.

The next day, Specialist Riggs came to Sergeant Welliver's home after crying and sorting out his thoughts, Sergeant Welliver said.

"He was crushed" by his family problems, Sergeant Welliver said.

Sergeant Welliver said it was clear that Specialist Riggs was having marital problems when his wife would call every few weeks to their barracks in Saudi Arabia.

"They'd be yelling and arguing. You could hear them down the hall," Sergeant Welliver said. "He'd end up crying and have to see his platoon sergeant to chill out."

One of the topics of dispute was Toni Riggs' plan to buy a house in Detroit, Sergeant Welliver said.

"He couldn't figure why she was doing this when he lived and worked in El Paso," Sergeant Welliver said. Sergeant Welliver said Specialist Riggs told friends his wife had "destroyed his life."

But Specialist Riggs still hoped his wife would change her mind, Sergeant Welliver said.

Specialist Riggs' mother, Lessie, said yesterday in a television interview from Las Vegas, "I'm very glad that they got somebody in custody. To know that my daughter-in-law was a part of it or to think that she's a part of it -- I think is the most monstrous thing."

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