For more than a decade, Paul Stephen Riggins resolutely maintained that he did not kill his wife. After all, there was no body, blood, fibers or crime scene. His conviction was based solely on circumstantial evidence.
Earlier this month, however, he led Howard County detectives from prison, where he is serving a life sentence for killing Nancy Lee Riggins, to a patch of woods off Hanover Road in Anne Arundel County. There police found human remains and are awaiting the results of DNA analysis to confirm a match with Riggins' wife, the department announced yesterday.
The discovery is a payoff for police and prosecutors Mary Murphy and I. Matthew Campbell, who made the decision in 2001 not to seek life without the possibility of parole in the hope that Riggins would one day admit guilt and tell investigators where he put Nancy Riggins' body to gain favor with the parole board.
Stephen Riggins, 50, is not up for parole until 2016. But Howard County State's Attorney Timothy McCrone, who was in private practice when he represented Nancy Riggins' relatives as they gained custody of the couple's then 5-year-old daughter, Amanda, said that he's sure Riggins hopes this will improve his chances for release.
McCrone said that in the years since Riggins' 1996 disappearance her parents have died.
"Unfortunately, this didn't happen during their lifetime," McCrone said. "But I know that finding her remains was one of their most important priorities. I'm sure they're happy somewhere."
One of Nancy Riggins' sisters, who raised Amanda, declined yesterday to speak to a reporter but said through Amanda's former attorney, Tobey Glee Brehm, that they were "waiting and hopeful" for DNA results.
"We all believed she had been incinerated and that we would never know," said Brehm, an Ellicott City attorney. "If it is confirmed, perhaps it's a better closure than the existing situation was."
The case came to light when Stephen Riggins reported his wife missing to police on July 3, 1996. But the circumstances of her disappearance quickly turned menacing and sensational.
First, investigators learned that Nancy Riggins apparently had left Amanda behind at their Elkridge home, as well as a car, money, purse and checkbook.
Then investigators learned the disappearance occurred several hours after the family's baby sitter told Nancy Riggins that she had had an affair with her husband that began when she was 14 and lasted four years. Nancy Riggins then threatened to tell the girl's mother, and Stephen Riggins told the baby sitter he would "take care of it," according to testimony cited in a 2004 Sun article.
Police worked quietly, and even equipped the baby sitter with a wiretap to try to lure Stephen Riggins into a confession. Meanwhile, Nancy Riggins' colleagues at the Giant Food store in Burtonsville kept her disappearance in the public eye, holding vigils every year on the anniversary of her disappearance.
Without a body, a grand jury didn't hand down an indictment for four years.
"I'm in shock," said Leeann Kotler, a friend of Nancy Riggins, who still works as a cashier at the Montgomery County grocery store. "I'm pacing my house. Everybody from work has been calling me. I have all these mixed feelings."
Sun reporter Liz F. Kay contributed to this article.