MARIETTA - A husband and wife that arrived in the area a couple weeks ago made a living breaking into homes and stealing cash, guns and jewelry, Washington County Sheriff Larry Mincks said.
But the alleged nomadic crime spree of Calvin Riggs, 28, and Misty D. Bennett-Riggs, 24, came to an end Thursday evening as they were arrested by sheriff's deputies and Belpre Police on fugitive from justice counts. They are wanted on burglary charges in Florida and West Virginia, the sheriff said.
Now, law enforcement agencies around the Mid-Ohio Valley are working to determine what houses were robbed and where the loot was stashed or pawned.
Misty D. Bennett-Riggs
"This was their way of life," Mincks said Friday. "They had four children that were traveling with them."
Those children, all younger than 10, were in the custody of a family member in the region Friday, while Calvin and Misty Bennett-Riggs are being held at the Washington County Jail.
Sheriff's deputies and Belpre Police had been investigating a rash of daytime burglaries over the last couple of weeks and were developing descriptions of the suspects and their vehicle, Mincks said.
On Monday, sheriff's Chief Deputy Mark Warden said there had been 10 breaking-and-entering incidents in the Belpre, Cutler and Little Hocking areas in the previous week-and-a-half, an unusually large number. Belpre Police Chief Ernie Clevenger said Friday there were between four and six burglaries under investigation in the city, and officers were still trying to determine which ones were connected to the couple.
"It's mainly focused on the east end (of Belpre) right now," Belpre Police Sgt. Mike Stump said.
Investigators are still trying to determine how many burglaries there were, but Mincks said it's likely more than 20. It was not immediately known if any burglaries had taken place in Wood County, and calls to the sheriff's office there and Parkersburg Police were not returned Friday afternoon.
The Washington County Sheriff's Office had been providing information on the thefts to groups like the Decatur Neighborhood Watch, Mincks said. On Thursday, the office received a call from a Little Hocking business about a suspicious individual. When a deputy went to question the man, he fled.
"He actually took off running, and we had to chase him down and subdue him," Mincks said.
The man was identified as Calvin Riggs, and soon, Misty Bennett-Riggs was also apprehended in Little Hocking, the sheriff said. In custody, the couple were cooperative, he said.
"They took us around to various locations and identified, 'Yes, that was one of the houses I broke into,'" Mincks said.
They told them where they had pawned stolen items or hidden them. Efforts to collect the materials involved travel to and assistance from law enforcement in Washington, Athens and Meigs counties in Ohio and Wood, Jackson and Mason counties in West Virginia.
"There's been an extraordinary amount of cooperation between an awful lot of law enforcement agencies in the Mid-Ohio Valley," Mincks said. "These people were cutting a pretty wide range here."
The sheriff said the couple would approach houses where no one appeared to be home and knock on the door. If someone answered, they would ask if they had any rabbits to sell or give some other reason for being there.
"If nobody came to the door, then whatever they could find they would throw through the window," Mincks said.
In some cases, rocks or bricks were used to gain access, he said. Once, the instrument of choice was a propane tank.
The primary items taken were guns, jewelry and cash, Mincks said. At one house, they allegedly stole $7,000 in cash and used that money to get an apartment at 2605A Athens County Road 159 in Coolville.
Before that, Mincks said, it's believed the couple was staying in West Virginia and crossing the Blennerhassett Island Bridge to look for potential targets in the Belpre area and beyond.
Marietta Police Capt. Jeff Waite said he did not believe the investigation was connected to any crimes in the city.
Riggs and Bennett-Riggs were each charged with two second-degree felony burglary counts on Friday, according to Washington County Jail officials. Mincks said additional charges are possible and would be up to the county prosecutor.
For now, the couple remain at the jail. Bennett-Riggs has a bond of $50,000 from Florida and Riggs a $5,000 bond, but Mincks said there is no bond on the West Virginia charges. Bond won't be set on the Ohio burglary charges until Monday, according to the jail officials.
Mincks said the crimes underline the importance of securing one's home, whether that's done with a security system or relying on neighbors to keep an eye out when no one's there.
Large amounts of cash should not be kept in the home, he said, and people should consider placing valuables in a safe or safe deposit box.
A release from the sheriff's office advises anyone with missing items who has not been reached by investigators to contact local law enforcement and file a report.