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Cold case: Fate of missing man haunts his family

Ruben Wiggins
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Ruben Williams

Wiggins grave

Rocky Mount Telegram

Sunday, March 25, 2018

GRIMESLAND — The family of a Pitt County man missing for three decades believes he was fed piecemeal to hogs by the man who killed him.

Ruben Primrose Wiggins, 50, has been missing since November 1988. His story is just one of dozens of missing persons cases, unidentified bodies and unsolved murders in Eastern North Carolina.

Clues including a suspicious Sunday morning phone call, a bag of marijuana, an abandoned vehicle and a stolen chainsaw point to Ruben Wiggins' dismemberment.

According to his brother Norman Wiggins, Ruben Wiggins lived a quiet life in Grimesland, a small town of about 400 residents that is a 20-minute drive east of Greenville on N.C. 33.

Ruben Wiggins — who was ruggedly handsome with a reddish complexion and salt-and-pepper hair — never married or fathered children. He worked in Bridgeton for Georgia-Pacific Railroad, a job he held since he was 20 years old. Norman Wiggins said his brother's defining virtue was his generous spirit. And Ruben Wiggins was down to earth: He drove a 10-year-old Oldsmobile.

A lovable rogue and black sheep of the Wiggins family, Ruben Wiggins smoked weed and sold a little on the side.

All that changed on Nov. 20, 1988, when Ruben Wiggins received a surprise 10:30 a.m. phone call.

Norman Wiggins said detectives told him the caller couldn't be ascertained because there were too many small phone companies involved.

“Back then I think we had Carolina Phone,” Norman Wiggins said. “But I can't be sure. We were told the call went through New Bern and other places and couldn't be tracked down.”

Ruben Wiggins acted fearful and refused to say who the call was from. He had $500 cash when he left his home in a 1978 light blue Oldsmobile, according to archived news reports.

“He sold marijuana,” Norman Wiggins said. “He left that day with a bag to sell. I believe he was robbed for it. He left out of the yard in that Oldsmobile of his and we never saw him again.”

A couple of weeks later, on Dec. 1, 1988, Ruben Wiggins' Oldsmobile was found abandoned in a wooded area off Maple Cypress Road in western Craven County. Ruben Wiggins was nowhere to be found.

Ruben Wiggins often cut down trees for cash. He had three chainsaws in his trunk the day he disappeared.

“What used to puzzle me is that he left with three chainsaws, but when his car was found, one of them — a Stihl — was missing,” Norman Wiggins said. “If they wanted to steal the chainsaws, why only take one of them? I'll tell you — they used one to cut him up.”

Perhaps the saddest part of the twisted tale is that Norman Wiggins doesn't believe his brother's assailants were strangers.

“Oh, he knew them,” Norman Wiggins said. “Ruben was like an older brother to one of them. He helped raise him and everything. His nickname was 'Tootsy.'

“He was a friend of Ruben's; he was not a friend of mine or the family.”

Authorities confirmed “Tootsy” was a suspect in the disappearance, but he died in a car wreck not long afterward. The newspaper is withholding the full identity of the suspect pending further legal developments.

After all this time, if Ruben Wiggins was left in a shallow grave or covered up in hole, his body would have been found, Norman Wiggins said.

“That's why I believe 'Tootsy' fed him to his hogs,” Norman Wiggins said, repeating a rumor often whispered among folks in the Grimesland area. The theory is believed by some detectives and has been investigated thoroughly, according to a local law enforcement official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he isn't authorized to speak publicly about the case.

Ruben Wiggins was declared legally dead in 2007. A tombstone inscribed with his name sits over an empty grave in the family's private cemetery in the Chicod community.

Ruben Wiggins was the middle child of five siblings. Norman Wiggins is the youngest brother. Only he and another brother, Marvin Wiggins of Goldsboro, remain alive.

The others died of natural causes, which Norman Wiggins can accept. But losing a brother and not knowing what really happened to him is much more difficult — and painful. And it hasn not gotten any easier over time.

At the time of his disappearance, Ruben Wiggins, a white male with brown eyes, was 5-feet, 10-inches tall and weighed 180 pounds. He was wearing a gray shirt, tan work pants and black boots. He had a gold watch with the initials GP inscribed on the face.

Anyone with information about Ruben Wiggins' whereabouts or fate is asked to call the Pitt County Sheriff's Office at 902-2800 or Pitt-Greenville CrimeStoppers at 758-7777.