Witnesses in Riggins trial tell of search for a body

Elkridge man, 43, charged in the death of his missing wife

July 07, 2001|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

For five years, officers, firefighters and dogs trained to find bodies searched for some sign of Nancy Lee Riggins -- in her house, in her neighborhood, by railroad tracks, even in the 60-feet-high sludge tanks that loom over the Patapsco Waste Water Treatment Plant, witnesses testified yesterday.

But they found no trace of the then-37-year-old Elkridge mother of one. No sightings. No blood or fibers. No trace evidence of any kind.

Shouldn't they have turned up something, though, if Paul Stephen Riggins killed his wife in their house, as prosecutors allege, Stephen Riggins' attorney asked Sgt. Charles Jacobs, one of the lead investigators on the case. Shouldn't something have been broken in the house? Shouldn't Stephen Riggins have had visible scratches and bruises on him?

But what if she had been strangled or suffocated as she slept, Deputy State's Attorney I. Matthew Campbell, the prosecutor, countered. Couldn't the crime have been bloodless?

"Yes sir," Jacobs answered repeatedly as the attorneys continued their questioning about burst blood vessels and the absence of bloody sheets.

Stephen Riggins, 43, is being tried before a jury in Howard County Circuit Court on a charge of first-degree murder. Judge Lenore R. Gelfman is presiding.

It is believed to be Howard County's first "no body" murder trial.

The prosecution left testimony about the couple's troubled marriage and about the last conversations Nancy Riggins had with friends July 1, 1996, for next week or later, and spent yesterday detailing the search for evidence in the days and months after Nancy Riggins was reported missing July 3, 1996.

Prosecutors theorized during opening statements Thursday that Stephen Riggins sneaked out of work at the Patapsco plant just before 10 p.m. July 1, 1996, killed Nancy Riggins at their Adcock Lane home and hauled her body to a trash bin, where it was collected with the rest of the trash and incinerated.

His wife was planning to leave him, prosecutors said, because she had discovered that he was having a long-running affair with the family's baby sitter.

Prosecutors introduced as evidence an audiotape of Stephen Riggins' first call to police. In a calm, steady voice, Riggins told dispatcher Debbie Saunders that he had come home to find their then-5-year-old daughter, Amanda, home alone.

They also introduced a series of police witnesses who testified about the statements Stephen Riggins gave them.

The police testified that Stephen Riggins told them he had thrown into the trash a note left by his wife saying, "Goodbye. Take care of Amanda. I won't be coming home."

He also told police that he thought his wife was having an affair with a man named Bob. He told Cpl. Luther Johnson that $2,500 in vacation money, a laptop computer, a week's worth of blood pressure medicine, a suitcase and some of Nancy Riggins' clothing and shoes were missing.

Johnson testified that, at one point, Stephen Riggins started crying and said, "I'm not ready for this."

Defense attorneys Joseph Murtha and George Psoras asked each officer the same question: Was anything out of place in the house and were there any visible marks on Stephen Riggins body?

No, the officers answered each time.

After a missing-persons report was filed, Jacobs testified, police searched the Riggins home and cars. They conducted searches by air and brought in bloodhounds and dogs trained to find cadavers.

They handed out missing-persons fliers in the neighborhood and in other areas, distributed information on Nancy Riggins to other police departments and contacted the news media.

As recently as April 25, divers went to the Curtis Bay area by the sewage plant to search for Nancy Riggins' body after someone told them Stephen Riggins had commented that his wife was in the water, Jacobs said.

Those searches turned up nothing, he said. Searches of financial records also turned up no activity by Nancy Riggins on the couple's bank and credit accounts after July 1, 1996, state's attorney's office investigator Frank Curran testified.

Testimony is expected to resume Monday morning.

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