Missing woman stumps police Friends say she would not have left only child, 5, alone

July 28, 1996|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

Nancy Lee Riggins vanished July 1, leaving behind her purse, credit cards, car, keys and her 5-year-old daughter -- a child born prematurely and the only one doctors said she could ever have.

The disappearance of the Elkridge woman -- known to be a meticulous organizer and a loving mother -- seems strange to those who know her. Howard County police investigators term her disappearance "suspicious."

Friends and co-workers say Nancy and her husband, Paul Stephen Riggins Jr., were having marital problems, and just weeks before she disappeared she talked of divorce. The Rigginses' relationship appeared to be tense from its beginning, according to court records.

But those who know Nancy Riggins insist that she never would have left without her beloved daughter, Amanda.

"She would not have left Amanda willingly. She loved that baby too much," said Susan Austin, a co-worker, friend and neighbor.

With passage of four weeks without a word from the 37-year-old woman, her relatives, friends and neighbors are on edge.

"My neighbors look at me funny," said Paul Riggins, 38, who has retained an attorney and refused to answer a reporter's detailed questions. "It seems like the police are here every day. I just want this thing to die down. It's like I went to hell and back. I'm like everybody else, I just want to know where my wife is."

Thousands of fliers with a picture of Nancy Riggins have been circulated in Central Maryland. Howard County police have posted her name on a nationwide missing-persons list through the National Crime Information Center.

Last week, co-workers held a vigil at the Giant grocery store in Burtonsville where she has worked for eight years.

Usually, missing people in Howard turn up within hours or, at most, two days, police said. And when missing people are alive, officers said, they usually call to reassure family, friends or their employers.

Of the 92 people reported missing in Howard this year, only three cases still are open, including the Riggins case. Her disappearance is the only one of the three in which foul play is considered a possibility, police said.

"It's a very active, priority investigation for us," said Lt. J. Terry Schlossnagle, commander of criminal investigations for the county Police Department.

Because of the possibility of foul play, police have taken the unusual step of assigning four detectives to the investigation. Most such cases are assigned one.

What concerns police most is that it is unusual for a parent to leave a child. Amanda was found alone, asleep at the Rigginses' home in the 6100 block of Adcock Lane. No sign of forced entry was found.

Paul Riggins told police that he noticed that a small suitcase and some of his wife's "personal belongings" were missing -- but not the essentials for a long getaway.

And Nancy Riggins' actions in the days before she was reported missing -- though sometimes unusual, friends said -- conveyed no plan to leave.

On Sunday, June 30, she worked from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Co-worker Susan Austin was there.

"She asked me if she could walk my dog while I was gone on vacation," said Austin, who planned to leave the next Wednesday -- the day Nancy Riggins was reported missing.

Sandra Ross, one of the Rigginses' child care providers, saw Nancy Riggins at the Giant that Sunday.

"She hugged me," Ross said. "She has never hugged me in the store like that."

Paul Riggins told police he last saw his wife about 7: 30 a.m. the next day, July 1. That was when he came in from his job in Curtis Bay and the time she was leaving to take Amanda to day care and go to work.

She arrived at the Giant at 9 a.m., but she appeared to be preoccupied.

"She wasn't herself," said Tammy Haas, a co-worker. "It was like she was distant. Usually, we all kept each other laughing but she wasn't her normal self."

Just after 5 p.m., she waved goodbye to Haas and left to pick up her daughter from day care. She was rushing to meet friends at a pool in Columbia.

It was there that Nancy Riggins was last reported. She met friend and co-worker Margaret Speake at the pool at 6: 30 p.m.

"We talked about spending the Fourth of July together," Speake said. They left the pool about 8: 45 p.m.

Nancy Riggins wasn't scheduled to work the next day. But Paul Riggins told police that when he arrived home that morning, he found Amanda alone in the house asleep -- and his wife gone.

However, he didn't report her absence until Wednesday.

Paul Riggins won't discuss details, and his attorney refused to comment.

Amanda is staying with her mother's family in New Castle, Pa.

Nancy Riggins' mother and father have not heard from her, police said. Her parents did not return a reporter's calls.

It is apparent that the Rigginses have had troubles, but it is not clear these problems played any role in Nancy Riggins' disappearance.

In September 1988, she filed a battery complaint against her husband, Prince George's County District Court records show. The charges were dropped, and the couple married that December, records show.

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