The Sweetheart Murders

A Birthday Gift May Yield Clues About A Brutal Double Murder

This story originally aired Jan. 27, 2007. It was updated Aug. 2, 2007.

In 1980, a young couple was murdered as they were heading to a birthday party. As correspondent Troy Roberts reports, it would take many years, a journalist's persistence and a clue found on a birthday present that would bring the homicide investigation to the next level.

More than 25 years have passed since Andrea Gonsalves Rosenstein lost her beloved baby sister Sabrina in a savage double murder. And not a day goes by that she doesn't think of her.

"We loved the beach; she loved to swim," Andrea remembers. "She especially loved the horses with me. I've made a real effort in my life to connect her into my life, her memory into my life, in any way that I can."

That connection is very much alive in Andrea's first-born, whom she named after her sister. Ever since she was a small child, Sabrina Rosenstein—now 22—was aware of her family's loss.

"There was always a sense of something terrible that had happened to my family that most people haven't experienced and can't understand," she explains.

In the summer of 1980, Sabrina Gonsalves was dating John Riggins, and working for the recreation department in the town of Davis, Calif. They were both 18, about to start college and were in love.

John Riggins was a hometown hero, a popular high school athlete, and the son of a prominent physician.

"I think he got a great enjoyment out of life at this point in time. And he had all the world to look forward to," his father remembers.

But the two sweethearts would disappear into the thick fog on the night of Dec. 20, 1980. Sabrina and John were expected at Andrea's birthday party that night, but they never showed. By morning, with still no sign of the couple, Andrea's disappointment turned into fear.

"The fog would sock in Davis for days sometimes but that night was really, really bad," Andrea recalls. "And I thought maybe the van went off the road. And they're in the field somewhere, hurt. And we have to find them."

Police insisted they had to wait 24 hours before they could begin searching. Besides, they said, Sabrina and John had probably eloped.

"I was furious and said 'No, this is completely out of character, these are not typical 18-year-olds whatever a typical 18-year-old is…that they would never do this," Andrea remembers.

That morning, the Riggins family and friends organized their own search but police finally found the van a day later, abandoned some 20 miles from Davis. Someone had rummaged through it—even tearing open the gifts that were meant for Andrea. But there was no sign of Sabrina or John.

Hours later, the search for the couple was over—their bodies had been hidden in the brush.

"It looked like both victims had simply been thrown into the ditch and discarded as used garbage," remembers Ray Biondi, now retired, who was a detective with the Sacramento Sheriff's Department.

Asked what he was thinking when he saw the bodies and how they were wrapped in duct tape, Biondi says, "We were looking at somebody who came prepared to commit these murders and was not afraid to get up close and personal and kill the victims. Had absolutely no regard for other human lives."