March 01, 2005 12:00 am  • 

DU QUOIN - Authorities have made an arrest in connection with the kidnapping and possible attempted sexual assault of a Du Quoin woman from a church parking lot earlier this month.

Dennis Riggs, 20, of 214 N. Maple St. was arrested at 9:45 p.m. Saturday by Du Quoin Police. He was formally charged Monday in Perry County Circuit Court with armed robbery, aggravated vehicular hijacking and aggravated kidnapping. He is being held in the Perry County Jail on $50,000 bond.

Police hope the arrest will ease the public fear that brought back memories of a time not so long ago when James Joseph terrorized the county with a series of sexual assaults that ended when he was arrested and sentenced to prison.

In the latest case, a Du Quoin woman was leaving church about 8:35 p.m. Feb. 20 and when she climbed into her unlocked car a man wearing a ski mask popped up from the back seat and brandished a knife to her head. She was parked on the parking lot east of Faith Assembly Church of God at 539 N. Maple St. at the time and he told her to drive to a specified location.

However, the woman, who has been identified by authorities only as a woman in her 40s, began driving erratically and failed to comply with her kidnapper's orders, police said. Finally, the man jumped out of the car in the St. Johns area and ran off, taking a small amount of cash with him, Lt. Jamie Ellermeyer said. The woman was unhurt.

Authorities quickly and thoroughly investigated and in fact determined that the same perpetrator apparently previously had entered another vehicle in pursuit of a victim. They believe he left that car because it was a two-door with little room in the back seat.

They found some evidence at the crime scene and beefed up patrols around the area and the city, Ellemeyer said. Officers spoke to a number of people and auxiliary officers assisted with the investigation. Finally, on Saturday night Sgt. Gerry Whitley spotted someone who appeared to have evidence matching some left at the crime scene; that person turned out to be Riggs, who police say was already a suspect. Riggs was brought to the police station for questioning and soon arrested. Ellermeyer said authorities believe the motive in the kidnapping was a planned sexual assault.

Ellermeyer said Riggs had been attending the church where the kidnapping occurred. Ellermeyer credited Whitley for astute police work, saying, "He did an excellent job, being out there, being aware of everything."

Riggs made his first court appearance Monday and public defender Tom Mansfield was appointed to represent him. He's set for a preliminary hearing at 9 a.m. March 26.

State's Attorney David Stanton said if convicted of the pending charges, Riggs could be sentenced to a term of six to 30 years in prison and would have to serve 85 percent of his sentence. Asked if there will be additional charges pertaining to the planned sexual attack, Stanton said he'll be reviewing reports but there is "a good possibility."

Ellermeyer said police are uncertain if this attack is related to an incident Dec. 15 when a woman was pulled from her bicycle on North Chestnut Street and a masked man began sexually assaulting her. She screamed and fought and he ran away, although he was seen by city water department employees working late nearby. Ellermeyer said Riggs has been questioned regarding that assault but at this point authorities aren't charging him.

mathis5@hcis.net 618-357-8391

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