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  • Writer's pictureDetective Williams

A Deadly Affair

Nancy Riggins, 37, appeared to have a storybook life: a 10-year marriage, a young daughter, a good job she liked in a local supermarket, and a home in the town of Elkridge, located in Howard County, Maryland. But looks can be deceiving…

On July 1, 1996, Nancy Riggins disappeared without a trace. At the time of her disappearance, Nancy and her husband, Stephen Riggins, Jr. had a 5-year-old daughter named Amanda who was often looked after by the couple’s babysitter, Amy. Though Nancy was loved in her community, her marriage with Stephen (Steve) was not going well. The couple often fought over trivial things and couldn’t see eye to eye with each other.

Stephen worked at a waste-water treatment plant and worked the overnight shift. His career consisted of two things: trucks and trash. He hauled sludge, waste, and recycling from place to place, sometimes simply moving it around a single lot. Nancy was the family's main breadwinner, and after she disappeared he quickly was mired in financial trouble. On July 2nd, after his shift at work, he claimed he came home and Nancy’s minivan was in the driveway and the door to the home was unlocked. Nancy was nowhere to be found and their daughter was alone in her bedroom asleep. Mr. Riggins informed officers that he found Nancy's "wedding rings on the master bedroom dresser.”

Steve also told authorities they were having relationship issues, the fallout of his extramarital affair. But the fact that young Amanda had been left alone made Nancy’s disappearance suspicious to detectives.

So why did Mr. Riggins wait over 48 hours to contact the police? He said he waited 48 hours before calling because he thought that was mandatory in Maryland.

Three days into their investigation, detectives learned that Nancy found out that Steve was having an affair with the couple’s 18-year-old babysitter. They also learned that Nancy was planning on divorcing her husband because of his affair.

The Riggins' babysitter, Amy, told investigators that on June 30th, Nancy had confronted her and threatened to tell her mother. When the girl told Steve about her encounter with Nancy, he told her, “Don’t worry about it,” and said that he’d “take care of it.”

“It became less and less of a missing person case, and more and more of a potential homicide case,” Greg Marshall, a retired homicide detective with the Howard County Police Department said. Suspicions intensified when investigators learned Steve asked the babysitter to move in with him four days after his wife went missing. He even gave the girl Nancy’s engagement ring.

Steve and Amy were both persons of interest and were brought in for further questioning. They were also given polygraph tests. While Amy passed hers, Steve showed signs of being deceptive. Investigators focused on Steve. They determined that he could have left his job and returned home without raising awareness at work. They also learned Steve had talked about killing his wife and had asked coworkers about handguns and how to dispose of a dead body.

About a week after Nancy's disappearance, detectives were able to get a warrant to search the Riggins' home and look at the vehicles. Searches turned up with no clues or leads. From the very beginning, authorities felt that Steve knew more than he was telling. To the patrol officers, “things just didn’t add up.”

The day after Nancy Riggins disappeared July 3, 1996, a woman who worked with her at the Giant supermarket in Burtonsville says she spoke face-to-face with Steve Riggins. "He tried to tell me that she just walked away," said Susan Austin. "But when you put his whole story together, it just didn't add up. It's the only conversation I hope I'll have in my life like that, where you have chills--goosebumps--and a sick feeling that something's wrong."

Laura Lane, another of Nancy's colleagues, agreed: "She would not leave her daughter. I knew right then and there, without a doubt, that something terrible had happened."

Her friends at the Giant didn't believe she simply would walk off without a hint or a goodbye to any of them. She had developed a solid group of close friends during her 15 years at the supermarket, most of them working in the front office. They went out for drinks after work and they hung out at the community pool. They were a big part of her life and she was a big part of theirs.

Her friends set out to determine what had happened to Nancy Riggins.

They searched the woods. They passed out thousands of fliers with Nancy's picture. They appeared on the Geraldo Rivera show. They got Nancy's disappearance chronicled in America's Most Wanted magazine and in Redbook. They persuaded Giant to install a billboard with Nancy's picture on it--located along the route Steve drove to work. Nancy's parents, Delia and Bob Cunningham appeared on the Maury Povich show to appeal for clues to their daughter's whereabouts.

"All of the search efforts for four years did not generate one call or clue where she could be," Jacobs said. "Not even one," Marshall added. "That's very unusual," Jacobs continued.

There is one thought that keeps coming up over and over when her friends discuss Nancy Riggins: She deserved better. Loyal to a fault, friendly, non-judgmental, and a good listener, her friends say she was the glue that kept both her family and her friends at Giant together.

But she also was troubled.

The last day she was seen alive, she shared in confidence with Margie Speake, another colleague from Giant, Riggins said she planned to leave her husband. Mrs. Speake says Nancy told her that she wanted an amicable divorce, one that would not upset her little girl. Speake and other friends said her decision was precipitated by a discovery: She had recently found out that her husband was having an affair with their babysitter and it began four years earlier when their babysitter was only 14 years old. Mrs. Riggins feared for her daughter's safety and was disgusted by her husband.

After the authorities spoke with Mrs. Riggins's colleagues, they reached out to Amy, the babysitter in hopes of getting her to wear a wire and Mr. Riggins would speak about their affair and how she was just a child when it occurred. Amy was unsuccessful in her pursuit. They also asked a family friend, John Thomas, to wear a wire but Steve always seemed to avoid the juicy topics. Still, detectives were convinced by witness statements and circumstantial evidence that Nancy had met with foul play. The State’s Attorney reviewed the case.

“Given the fact that we did not have a body, they thought it was in the best interest of the state to wait and try to obtain additional physical evidence before they brought criminal charges,” Charles Jacobs, retired homicide lieutenant with the Howard County Police Department, explained.

The affair with the babysitter finally came back to haunt Riggins. The sitter told police that they began having sex when she was 14 or 15 and he was 34, court records indicate and on February 4, 1997, he was arrested on sexual child abuse charges. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 18 months in the Howard County Detention Center. He was released after 13 months.

He faced a custody fight with Nancy's parents, who saw their granddaughter's welfare as a top priority, Delia Cunningham said. The battle called into question Steve's care of Amanda and revealed that he was selling Nancy's possessions. The Cunningham's won custody and Amanda later was adopted by one of Nancy's sisters.

During a deposition in the custody battle, Steve Riggins responded to many questions with a statement prepared by his lawyer: "Upon the advice of counsel I am invoking the Fifth Amendment privilege because I am the target of a homicide investigation and any response I give may tend to incriminate me."

In August 2000, an inmate told authorities that Steve said he came home from work in the middle of the night and strangled Nancy. He never said what he’d done with her body, but the state’s attorney gave the green light to move forward. On September 21, 2000, Steve Riggins was arrested for first-degree murder. Prosecutors knew the case was an uphill battle: There was no body, no murder weapon, and no DNA or physical evidence. When Steve was finally arrested for the murder of his wife, Nancy, he was living in a rented room above a recycling center.

Homicide cases are like puzzles, Chuck Jacobs believes, and in order to catch a suspect, you have to play with each piece of evidence. You follow its curves and study its spaces, trying it out in one spot and another until it finally fits into the picture.

The detectives turned a room at the police station into the "Riggins command post," filling it with charts, maps, lists of witnesses, and volumes and volumes of notes.

Yet week after week, month after month, the state's attorney's office told them they didn't have enough evidence to charge Riggins with a crime in connection with his wife's disappearance.

"They kept pushing us for that one piece of evidence, one more piece of evidence," Marshall said.

Without a body, homicide of any kind isn't an easy charge to prove, and Nancy Riggins had vanished.

Authorities won't say exactly what led them to begin presenting evidence to a grand jury in June, only that it was a combination of new and old evidence. After hearing testimony from 30 people over three months, a majority of the 23-member grand jury concluded it had sufficient evidence to charge Riggins with first-degree murder.

In July 2001, Steve’s trial began. The prosecution emphasized Steve was obsessed with his teenage girlfriend and that his wife planned to divorce him and report his illicit relationship with a minor.

On July 20, 2001, the jury returned after four hours of deliberation. Steve, then 44, was convicted on November 29 and sentenced to life behind bars. The sentence will allow him to seek parole after he serves 15 years, reported The Baltimore Sun. The investigators were pleased with the verdict but frustrated that Nancy’s body was not found.

Although a number of "no-body" homicide cases have been prosecuted across the country, including three in Montgomery County, State v. Paul Stephen Riggins is Howard County's first.

There was just no way, Tina Leisher said, that anyone or anything could "erase Nancy out of existence."

With every day that went by, with every flier they handed out, and every memorial ceremony they held to mark the anniversary of Nancy's disappearance, her friends held onto a simple belief: They were drawing closer to the day when her disappearance would be explained.

On the evening when Steve’s verdict was read, five women gathered at Margie Speake's house. Candles glowed in windows and on tables. Two trays of cookies sat untouched. Three bottles of white zinfandel drained quickly.

Hours after learning of the grand jury's decision, the women didn't know whether to be happy or sad.

"It was a very, very odd feeling," Speake said. "You kind of trembled inside and thought, finally, this is the way it should have been."

In October 2007, Jacob and Marshall visited Steve in prison, they wanted closure for Nancy’s family and closure for themselves. They told him that if he’d tell them where Nancy’s body was they’d testify that he did that at his parole hearing.

Two weeks later, Steve Riggins took authorities to a patch of woods about three miles from where he had lived with his wife and daughter.

“He pointed to an area and said, ‘She’s right over there,’” detectives said. The remains found were later confirmed to be those of Nancy Riggins. Nancy can now have a proper burial.

If you suspect infidelity in your relationship, call Legal Eye Investigations at (410)921-5804

Missing Adults: What to Know, What to Do


§ 3-601. Procedure for taking missing person reports.

(a) Mandatory waiting period prohibited.

(1) A law enforcement agency may not establish a mandatory waiting period before taking a missing person report.

(2) A law enforcement agency shall make every effort to inform the general public and the family of a missing person that the agency does not impose a mandatory waiting period before taking a missing person report.

(b) Acceptance of reports made in person; taking electronic reports. In accordance with subsection (a) of this section, a law enforcement agency:

(1) shall accept without delay a report of a missing person provided in person; and

(2) may accept a report of a missing person by phone or other electronic means if:

(i) that form of reporting is consistent with the policy of the law enforcement agency; and

(ii) the reporting person completes the report in person as soon as possible.

§ 3-602. Uniform report form.

On or before October 1, 2008, all law enforcement agencies in the State shall begin using a uniform report form developed by the Police Training Commission in accordance with § 3-207 of this title when taking a missing person report.

§ 3-603. Unidentified human remains.

(a) Filing DNA samples and photographs. The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner shall maintain files of DNA samples and photographs of unidentified human remains.

(b) Cremation subject to Health - General Article. The cremation of human remains is subject to the provisions of § 5-502 of the Health - General Article.

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