Tina Wellman, 42, who has lived for two years next door to the home of Clayton “Cotton” Riggins, said she and others next door hadn't spotted the 72-year-old since the weekend, and noticed the hood of his pickup had been open for a couple of days.
So she decided to look in on Riggins, as neighbors have done many times before whenever it had been awhile since they'd seen or heard from the retiree who lived alone. She opened the unlocked front door and found his body lying in blood on the floor.
Police said Riggins was beaten to death with an as-yet-unidentified object, and are still looking for clues to solve Tracy's fourth homicide of the year.
Wellman, and other next-door neighbors Mario Rodriquez, 32, and Amanda Aills, 25, are shocked at Riggins death.
Rodriguez, who moved to Tracy only a couple of years ago, considered Riggins his best friend in town, and the two planned to go fishing in the San Joaquin Delta this weekend for striped bass.
The three said Riggins spent a lot of time inside his home, but would come out and tell stories. Riggins and Rodriguez would occasionally go out for burgers, and Rodriguez said he helped Riggins build a fence about a year ago.
They said Riggins has a daughter who lives in Lathrop and would often drop off her 8-year-old son for the weekend, when Riggins would take the boy and Rodriquez' 8-year-old nephew to the movies at times.
They said Riggins was kind to Rodriquez' nephew, offering him sodas or ice cream when he'd see the boy outside.
“If you saw him you'd think he's the neighborhood grandpa,” Aills said.
Riggins would share apricots and grapes from his backyard, the three neighbors said, and would sometimes tinker outside his single-story craftsman home, which he told Rodriguez he bought in 1945 for $14,000.
Rodriguez said Riggins went to South/West Park Elementary School and then Tracy High School, and the neighbor thought Riggins had worked for the railroad, and gotten his nickname from his wiry head of hair.
The trio said Riggins loved his two dogs, and was constantly spending money for treats and other goodies for them. He recently spent $500 for surgery on one of his pooches.
“I wish I had someone who spent as much money on me as he did on his dogs,” Ailles joked.
The neighbors said it's unimaginable that someone would have wanted to kill Riggins, and they were surprised they saw no one and heard nothing when he was killed since the homes are perhaps 20 feet apart. None have double-paned windows.
All three were questioned a lot by police, they said, and officers took a swab of Wellman's saliva and fingerprinted her since she found the body, she said.
An autopsy was scheduled to be performed today, police said.
And invetigators ask that anyone with information or anyone who frequents the area of Tracy Boulevard and West Carlton Way to contact Tracy Crime Stoppers at 831-6847 or the Tracy Police Department at 831-4550.
Contact Tracy Press City Editor Eric Firpo at 830-4223 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.