A retired Folsom police detective testified today how he discovered the bodies of John Riggins and Sabrina Gonsalves to culminate the search that had been launched for the missing UC Davis students who were abducted and killed nearly 32 years ago.
Robert Repar said he and a Davis detective were searching a field in what he described as "a no man's land" near the Folsom and Rancho Cordova border. A former Sacramento sheriff's deputy testified earlier that the wooded area north of Folsom Boulevard and just east of Hazel Avenue was known to patrol officers as a place where they could find stolen cars and maybe come across some drug activity.
The officers were searching in response to a discovery earlier that day of a 1977 Chevy van that belonged to Riggins family. While looking through a field about a mile away from where the van had been found, Repar said he saw what at first appeared to be just a boot.
"As I looked close, I discovered there was still a leg in that boot," Repar testified in Sacramento Superior Court.
Repar was the first to discover the body of Sabrina Gonsalves and then the nearby body of John Riggins. The 18-year-old college sweethearts had been abducted two days earlier, on Dec. 20, 1980, after helping with the production of The Davis Children's Nutcracker at the Veterans Memorial Theatre. Both were bound in duct tape and had their throats slashed. Gonsalves had been sexually assaulted.
Richard HIrschfield, 63, is on trial for murder in the Gonsalves and Riggins slayings. He faces the death penalty if convicted.
Earlier today, retired sheriff's Lt. Terrell W. Dyer testified he saw the van while out on patrol around 2 a.m. on Dec. 21, about five hours after witnesses said they last saw Gonsalves and Riggins leaving the theater in Davis. Deputies were not dispatched to check out the vehicle until the next morning, when reports went out of the students' disappearance and that they were believed to be driving the van.
Dyer said he noticed the van because it was parked off of Folsom Boulevard in a dirt area just south of Highway 50. "It shouldn't have been there," he testified. Former Deputy Ray Dick was dispatched to check out the van at 7:46 a.m. the next day. He said he looked through the windows.
"There were boxes and what looked like torn Christman wrapping lying around inside the van," Dick testified. Repar then made the discovery of the bodies around 10 a.m., authorities said.
Prosecutors say they found a semen stained blanket inside the van that contained the DNA of Hirschfield. He was arrested in 2004. Yolo County authorities had prevously charged four other people with the Gonsalves and Riggins murders, but that case was dropped in 1993 when DNA tests on the blanket exonerated them.