About 12 hours after Nancy Lee Riggins hung up the phone with friends and family for the last time, her husband stood in their Elkridge garage and vacuumed out the back of the family van.
That action, the morning of July 2, 1996, was odd even for the meticulous Paul Stephen Riggins, the Riggins' former neighbor, George Lovell, testified yesterday on the fourth full day of testimony in Stephen Riggins' murder trial.
Riggins usually pulled both vehicles - the van and a Hyundai - out of the garage at the same time and cleaned them from top to bottom: vacuuming the inside, washing inside the windows and cleaning the wheels once or twice a week, Lovell said.
Riggins told him then that he had returned home to find his wife missing and their then-5-year-old daughter home alone. But he also said he believed Nancy Riggins hid that morning and left only after watching him come home, "because he knew she wouldn't leave the baby alone," Lovell said.
Stephen Riggins, 43, is being tried in Howard County Circuit Court on one count of first-degree murder, though investigators have never found Nancy Riggins' body.
In opening statements last week, prosecutors theorized that no trace of Nancy Riggins has been found because she was dumped into a trash bin, the contents of which were incinerated.
Yesterday, prosecutors continued to offer witnesses who saw and heard from Nancy Riggins, then 37, on what investigators believe were the last few days of her life. To each of them, Nancy Riggins said the same thing: She wanted to divorce her husband and sell her Elkridge house, and had plans to see a lawyer July 2, 1996 - the day after her friends say they last saw her or spoke to her. Amanda would stay with her, she told her friends, according to testimony.
"I knew from the beginning that she did not just disappear. ... Amanda was her whole life. She would not have left without her," said Leeann Kotler, one of Nancy Riggins' friends and co-workers from the Giant Food store in Burtonsville.
That last detail is one prosecutors have stressed during the course of the trial. To prove murder, they must first prove that Nancy Riggins did not walk away from her life. Friends and neighbors testified that Nancy Riggins doted on Amanda - her only child and, because of physical complications, the only child she would ever have - and would never leave her.
Even Stephen Riggins commented that his wife would not have left his daughter by herself in the house, Lovell said.
During that morning conversation at Riggins' garage, Riggins told Lovell he came home that morning to find his wife gone and their daughter alone in the house.
While Stephen Riggins told friends and neighbors that Nancy had walked away, he offered a different account to a woman who answered an ad to rent rooms in the Riggins house on Adcock Lane in late July 1996.
Sharon Kurinij testified that as she looked at the rooms, Riggins told her that he was cutting grass one day and watched as his wife got into a car with a man named Bob. He said he had gotten a letter from his wife saying she would not return, a letter only he and his lawyer had seen, she said.
Also yesterday, prosecutors put Stephen Riggins' younger brother, Chris, one of the last people believed to have spoken to Nancy Riggins, on the witness stand.
Defense attorney Joseph Murtha asked if Stephen Riggins had been divorced in the past. Twice, Chris Riggins said. So, Murtha asked, Stephen Riggins knows how to leave a relationship and move on? "That's correct," Chris Riggins said.
He said he did not ask his brother what might have happened to Nancy Riggins.
"I hardly ever talked about it," he testified. "It's not something I wanted to know."
Testimony is expected to resume this morning.