The slaying of Clayton “Cotton” Riggins, 72, seems all the more mysterious because the man had no obvious enemies and neighbors who were his friends neither heard anything nor saw anyone suspicious, though their homes are close together and none have double-paned windows.
Family and friends were stunned at the news of his death, and described Riggins as a kind man who doted on his dogs, shared fruit from his backyard and spent many weekends with his young grandson.
Rhonda Rallios, 42, of Lathrop, said her husband and her six children are devastated by the slaying of her father.
“It’s sickening to me this would happen,” Rallios said.
Riggins worked for more than 30 years as a brakeman and conductor at Southern Pacific and then Union Pacific Railroad, she said. He went to what was then called West Park Elementary School, and he graduated from Tracy High School.
Riggins lived in the same Carlton Way home since 1945, when he bought it, Rallios said, except for a brief stint in Lathrop, where he had a girlfriend for a time. His wife Sharon Riggins, died of an aneurism when she was 40, said Rallios.
Riggins belonged to the Mount Oso Masonic Lodge, and was an avid sports fan and fisherman, and an Air Force veteran who got his nickname “Cotton” from his wiry head of hair.
Neighbors Tina Wellman, 42, Mario Rodriquez, 32, and Amanda Aills, 25, live in two houses on one parcel just west of Riggins’ single-story craftsman home.
Wellman 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. Rodriguez said he was having trouble with his truck battery.
Wellman decided to look in on Riggins on Tuesday afternoon, 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.
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 neighbors 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.
Rallios would drop off her 8-year-old son Lennon every other weekend, she said, because Riggins was close to the boy, having lived with him for a few years after his mother’s divorce, though Rallios has since remarried.
Neighbors said Riggins would take Lennon 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.
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 and Rallios said it's unimaginable that someone would have wanted to kill Riggins.
All three neighbors 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.
And investigators 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.