At the height of their affair, Paul Stephen Riggins would periodically call his longtime lover - the family's teen-age baby sitter - to tell her that his wife had left him.
But it was a lie. Whenever the baby sitter called Nancy Riggins at work at the Burtonsville Giant store later in the day, she was always there.
So when Nancy Riggins turned up missing, her 5-year-old daughter apparently left alone in the Riggins' Elkridge house July 2, 1996, the sitter was worried.
"I knew something was wrong because I knew Nancy would never have left on her own accord and left Amanda in the house," the former baby sitter testified yesterday in Howard County Circuit Court on the fifth full day of testimony in Stephen Riggins' murder trial. Riggins is charged with first-degree murder in the disappearance of his wife, whose body has never been found.
The Sun is not identifying the sitter, who is 23, because she was a juvenile victim of a sex offense. Stephen Riggins pleaded guilty to sexual child abuse as a result of their affair.
With her testimony yesterday, the sitter offered a glimpse of what has remained a mystery for the past five years: the extent of her affair with Stephen Riggins, details of an alleged threat he made against his wife and explanations he gave about his wife's disappearance.
The sitter, a petite woman with short dark hair, walked to the witness stand, passing the bespectacled Riggins without a glance and spoke of an intimate affair that started when she was a chubby-cheeked girl about to turn 15 in 1992.
Despite the affair, she said, she loved Amanda and was fond of Nancy Riggins.
"They were my second family," she testified. "She was my second mother."
Stephen Riggins frequently told her his wife was leaving and even offered up a plan, she said: He had bought Nancy a house in Pennsylvania and had it furnished. Nancy was going to get a job with her uncle there, but Amanda would stay behind with him because Nancy feared that her child would get into trouble up there.
In the spring of 1996, he asked if the sitter, who was a freshman at UMBC, would schedule her classes so she could take care of Amanda on Tuesdays and Thursdays once Nancy was gone, she testified.
A few months before Nancy Riggins disappeared, the sitter arrived at the Patapsco Waste Water Treatment Plant to find an angry Stephen Riggins. Riggins, who worked at the plant, told her that Nancy had found one of the word puzzles the pair frequently did, writing love notes in the margins, and accused him of having an affair. He said he denied it. He was angry that Nancy had violated his privacy, the sitter said. He told her he "wanted to kill" Nancy, she said.
First, she said, he told her he could get a gun from a friend, but the sitter told him he had too weak a stomach for that.
"He said he could strangle her and he could bury her or put her body in the truck with the waste" and nobody would find her, the sitter testified.
On June 30, 1996, Nancy Riggins called the sitter and confronted her about the affair. The sitter said she lied at first and said it was a one-time fling but called back the next day to tell Nancy it had been going on for four years.
That night, she said, Stephen Riggins left work to meet with her at the Super Fresh store near his Adcock Lane home and she told him Nancy Riggins had threatened to call her mother to tell her about the affair. Riggins followed her as she drove home, where she could see him backing up his driveway.
The next day, Nancy Riggins was gone. Riggins told her his wife had left a note saying she was not coming back, the sitter said.
On July 3, 1996, the sitter was caring for Amanda while Stephen Riggins was at work, when police stopped by the Riggins house. Later, she walked through the house with Stephen Riggins' best friend, she said. " ... To see if there was anything abnormal or out of place," she said. "Everything was normal, the way it normally was."