A Widow In A Deadly Web

Police in Detroit charge Toni Riggs with murder

The widow wore black, sobbed, leaned over the casket and kissed the cold cheek of her dead husband, Army Specialist Anthony Riggs. But Toni Riggs made a very bad impression on those who knew her well. When Army Specialist Ronald Howard, one of Riggs's buddies, heard his friend had been gunned down in Detroit, he thought, "He was set up." And when the dead soldier's mother, Lessie Riggs, confronted the Detroit police, she says she was told that the widow and half her family were under suspicion. "I never thought it was a drive-by shooting," she said last week.

Neither did the law. NEWSWEEK has learned that Riggs was carrying $200,000 in life insurance. Also, within 48 hours of the shooting, the FBI told Detroit police that an informant was saying that Toni Riggs's brother, Michael Cato, 19, had shot Riggs. The signal for the hit allegedly was a flick of the porch light at the house of Toni's grandmother and aunt. The cops found a gun in a garbage can not too far from where Riggs died. After tracing it to Cato, they collared him and charged him with first degree murder. After he implicated Toni Riggs, they charged her with the same crime.

The widow and her brother said they were innocent. But certainly Toni had her talons deep into Riggs. When they got together in Germany about two years ago, she was escaping her first marriage. Problems began after she said she wanted to join the Army. Who would take care of her little girl Ambere? And how would Toni, porky of temper and silhouette, make the Army's 150-pound weigh-in? According to Howard she failed the physical, flunked the written exam. At one point, Riggs moved her to his mother's in Las Vegas. There she watched TV, ran up phone bills, lusted for a BMW and a full-length fox coat. When he married her, she wasn't quite divorced.

Other incidents troubled Riggs as well. While he was in Saudi Arabia, he told friends she phoned to say she had been raped. His mother and his friends wondered if she was covering something up. When Riggs got back to Fort Bliss, friends say, he found tens of thousands of miles on his car. One day the chime on his digital watch went off while he was out driving with Ambere. "Daddy, do you have a beeper like Mommy?" the little girl asked. Riggs told friends he was shocked: Toni had no job; he wondered what she could need a beeper for.

Friends say Toni wanted a divorce and $500 a month in alimony. Riggs told them he wasn't going to pay; according to Howard, he was also going to cancel the $150,000 life-insurance policy he had added to his $50,000 Army policy when he went to war. While he was away, his wife had moved most of his belongings to Detroit; just to get his feet on the ground at Fort Bliss, he had to borrow a pair of tennis shoes. He decided to drive to Detroit to get his stuff and drop Toni. Howard told him, "Look, man, let me give you some advice: put your wife on a bus." Instead, Riggs told Howard, he made the drive for Ambere's sake.

The rest was a story worthy of James M. Cain. Before leaving Saudi Arabia, Riggs wrote his mother, "Toni has wrecked my car. She's now bouncing checks. I don't know what's on her mind." The postman delivered the letter two days after the murder. About then, Toni was filing a claim on the life insurance, and police were tracing the gun that had made its way from a dead man through the crack-house scene to Cato. Toni and her brother are being held without bail. Lessie Riggs wants to move her son's body from Detroit to Las Vegas for a more decent burial.