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Billboard put up in search for woman Sign off U.S. 1 seeks clues in July disappearance


Howard County police and the employer of an Elkridge woman who has been missing since July erected a 12-foot-high, 42-foot-wide billboard this week, seeking clues along the route her husband travels to work.

The move may be aimed at unsettling the woman's husband, who has acknowledged under oath that he is suspected of murdering her.

The billboard, which was posted early Wednesday, is off heavily traveled U.S. 1, just north of Route 100 in Elkridge. A 141-square-foot color photo of Nancy Lee Riggins, 38, is coupled with the word "MISSING" in bold red letters and a telephone number to contact county police.

The display is 2 1/2 miles from the Rigginses' Elkridge home in the 6100 block of Adcock Lane and 1.2 miles from her husband's job at Viking Freight trucking company in the 7400 block of U.S. 1.

Police would not say whether the billboard's placement was an effort to put pressure on the missing woman's husband, Paul Stephen Riggins Jr.

"The placement was in conjunction with the police department and Giant Food," Nancy Riggins' employer, said Sgt. Steven Keller, a police department spokesman. "It was chosen because of the volume of traffic, the proximity to where Ms. Riggins is missing from and the availability of that spot.

"To speak to whether it is unsettling to a person, it may be, but our job is to investigate a missing persons case," Keller said.

"We believe she did not leave voluntarily and therefore, obviously, we believe someone else is involved. We will not comment on specific suspects who have not been charged or for whom a warrant does not exist," Keller said.

But police Detective Mark Miller, the lead investigator in the case, confirmed to The Sun that he has told a Pennsylvania newspaper, "When you get down to it, everything points to the husband."

In a deposition for a child custody case last month, Stephen Riggins, as he is known by his family and friends, refused to answer questions under oath about his activities the day his wife disappeared, saying: "Upon 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."

Stephen Riggins did not return telephone messages left by a reporter this week. In the past, he has threatened to file trespassing charges against the reporter if he returns to the Rigginses' home.

Riggins told The Sun during interviews last summer, "My neighbors look at me funny. I'm like everybody else -- I just want to know where my wife is."

Nancy Riggins was last seen at a Columbia swimming pool on the evening of July 1. Her husband told police that when he

arrived home about 6 a.m. July 2 from his job in Curtis Bay, he found his daughter sleeping and his wife missing.

Riggins did not report his wife missing until the morning of July 3.

Police have termed the case "suspicious" because Nancy Riggins left behind her purse, credit cards, car, keys and her now 6-year-old daughter, Amanda -- a child born prematurely and the only child doctors said she could ever have.

Amanda is living with her mother's parents, Robert and Delia Cunningham, in New Castle, Pa., an old steel- and coal-mining town about 50 miles northwest of Pittsburgh.

The Cunninghams are fighting Stephen Riggins for custody of their granddaughter. A hearing in the custody case is scheduled Feb. 6 before Howard County Circuit Judge James B. Dudley.

During a telephone interview this week, the Cunninghams hailed the posting of the billboard as a welcome move to help solve the mystery of their daughter's disappearance. Because five months have passed since she vanished, the Cunninghams are looking for any help they can get in solving the mystery.

"It's very hard because she was here almost every Christmas," Robert Cunningham said. "There just isn't any logical explanation for her disappearance."

Added Delia Cunningham: "In all this time, I thought she would have been found. I don't know that the billboard will get any kind of real results, but it'll give the public something to think about. I think it's a good idea."

The billboard was the idea of Nancy Riggins' co-workers at a Giant Food grocery store in Burtonsville. They have been passing out fliers since her disappearance. "We couldn't very well get everybody with a flier," said Tina Leisher, a co-worker.

Giant's corporate office agreed to pay $900 to print the yellow, self-adhesive vinyl sheet that is affixed to the board, and the billboard company, Baltimore-based Eastern Outdoor Advertising Co., donated the labor and the space.

Jean G. Smith, executive vice president for Eastern Outdoor, said the billboard will remain up as long as the police need it.

"I think they're on the tail of something and are going to make an arrest," Smith said. "And I hope they do."

Some of Nancy Riggins' co-workers who helped plan the billboard were out Wednesday afternoon taking pictures of the display.

"We just want her found," Leisher said. "We're not giving up. That's what friends are all about -- close friends, true friends."

Pub Date: 12/20/96

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