Victim: Jessica Ridgeway, 10
Age at time of murder: 17
Crime location: Westminster, Colorado
Crime date: October 5, 2012
Crimes: Abduction, kidnapping, torture, & murder
Murder method: Strangulation and drowning
Weapon: Zipties & hands for strangulation & a bathtub filled w/ water for drowning
Murder motivation: Sexual fantasy
Sentence: 40 years to life plus 86 years
Incarceration status: Incarcerated at an undisclosed location
Sigg kidnapped Jessica as she walking to school, bound her, and took her to his residence where he brutalized her. He then murdered her by strangling and drowning her and dismembered her body. Sigg later admitted that he was fulfilling a sexual fantasy. Rather than being an impulsive youthful act, the crime had been planned for months. Sigg also attempted to kidnap a female jogger prior to murdering Jessica.
Sigg pleaded guilty to all counts. The first-degree murder charge carried an automatic 40 year to life sentence. The judge added 86 years on top.
On October 5, 2012, 10-year-old Jessica Ridgeway was abducted by Austin Sigg while walking to school in Westminster, Colorado. Sigg, 17, grabbed the girl as she walked by and pulled her into his car. He bound her arms and legs with zip ties and took her to his residence. Sigg carried Jessica to his bedroom. He forced her to change into a new shirt and pair of shorts. He confined her in his bedroom for several hours, cutting her hair, and making her watch a movie. He tried to strangle her with zip ties, but they did not have enough leverage so he tried strangling her with his hands. When he noticed that Jessica was still twitching and alive, he filled a bathtub with hot water and pushed her face into it, drowning the child. Sigg dismembered her body with a saw and razor blade, removing her head and limbs. Sigg also removed many or her internal organs. Before discarding the dismembered remains, Sigg inserted a one to one and a half-inch wooden cross inside her. He later claimed that he did this to make police believe a religious zealot had murdered the girl. He later told police that he was fulfilling a sexual fantasy. The killer had spent months planning the crime, searching the Internet for chloroform recipes and the “Top Ten Places People Get Abducted.” Four months before murdering Jessica, Sigg tried to kidnap a woman jogging by shoving a chloroform-soaked rag in her face. Unlike Jessica, she was able to get away.
Like many children, Jessica Ridgeway was told to be wary of strangers. She was urged to scream if someone tried to grab her.
Those warnings are reflected in a notebook the fifth-grader kept in her desk at school. For a class assignment, she jotted down the four kinds of sentences. In both tiny and oversized letters, she wrote an example of an imperative sentence:
“Do not play at the park alone.”
And an exclamatory sentence:
“Watch out for strangers!”
Just over a mile away from Jessica’s tree-lined suburban neighborhood in Westminster, Austin Sigg grew up with an early fascination with pornography and mortuary science. His parents sent him to a faith-based counselor in an effort to set him back on the right path.
The events on the morning of Oct. 5, 2012, taught a terrifying lesson to parents everywhere. Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, the world can take your child away.
In her final moments of freedom, Jessica scooped up handfuls of fresh snow and packed them into a snowball.
Down the block, in his Jeep parked where he knew no one could see him, Sigg watched the 10-year-old carry the snowball toward him. He waited until she reached the end of the sidewalk and had to cross the street.
He watched, slumped on the gray leather seats in the back of his gold vehicle, as she turned and began walking past.
When Sigg sprang from the Jeep, Jessica screamed, but no one heard her.
The details of Jessica’s final hours are known only by her killer. But documents, court testimony, interviews with prosecutors and newly released videotaped statements from Sigg outline the intersection of a troubled 17-year-old and a happy girl just after she left her home at 8:35 a.m.
The evidence shows Sigg as an adept and callous liar, whose chilling confessions may have been understatements or outright fiction.
After his arrest, Sigg spent hours describing to investigators what he says was a crime at a “random place, random time, random everything.” His defense attorneys argued that his actions were impulsive and that he struggled to understand them.
But prosecutors and court testimony suggest Sigg, who pleaded guilty to all of the charges against him on Oct. 1, spent months planning and studying, searching the Internet for chloroform recipes and the “Top Ten Places People Get Abducted.” Sigg’s confidence in his method, however, may have led to some of his greatest missteps.
And Sigg’s confidence in investigator’s methods — he believed they already had linked his DNA to Jessica’s murder and an attack on a jogger at Ketner Lake — turned out to be another mistake.
Only when Sigg surrendered did he and authorities discover the error that lab technicians had made in handling the DNA sample he had brashly offered to investigators. An error that said Sigg had been cleared.
Kind and caring
Jessica loved to make up dances and giggled at words she made up and hummed to melodies. Her bright-blue eyes were never lost behind her purple glasses.
At Witt Elementary School, the joyous little girl was loved by her teachers and classmates. She spent her last morning peeling an orange with her mother and eating a granola bar for breakfast.
Sigg’s elementary school teachers also described him as kind and caring, according to testimony from his attorneys.
But by age 12, Sigg was viewing child pornography and was sent to therapy. By Sigg’s own admission, the sessions did little and his addiction quietly grew over the years, until he was viewing violent images of children being raped, strangled and dismembered.
Sigg’s interest in mortuary science struck some as odd, but not alarming. In his interview with investigators, Sigg’s younger brother recalled a “slightly creepy comment” his brother made about one of his classes in which he “was learning how to kill people and be able to get away with it,” according to a report by Anna Salter, a psychologist who testified for the prosecution.
A friend of Mindy Sigg, Austin’s mother, later recalled conversations the women had before Jessica was kidnapped. Mindy Sigg joked about her son’s interest in body decomposition and said she had helped Sigg practice restraining someone with zip ties, said Chief Deputy District Attorney Hal Sargent.
Sigg’s girlfriend would later tell investigators he stayed at her house one night a week, Sargent said. Mindy Sigg told detectives her son was gone up to four nights a week. No one is sure where he was the other three nights.
“What he does in the part of his life he keeps hidden — that’s what you make ghost stories out of,” Sargent said.
In the weeks before Jessica’s death, Sigg went out “hunting,” driving his Jeep around neighborhoods.
“Anytime I would even see someone out walking while I was in one of those modes, my heart would instantly start beating really fast,” Sigg told investigators in an interview they videotaped.
Four months before Sigg took Jessica, he tried to kidnap a woman jogging at Ketner Lake by shoving a chloroform-soaked rag in her face. The woman was able to fight him off and call police.
Still, Sigg said he learned from his first try. Months later, he went looking for someone smaller. Someone he could overpower.
“I would lie to her”
Sigg found Jessica walking to school, less than a thousand feet from her front door.
He lunged from the back seat of his Jeep and grabbed the little girl — whom he says he had never seen before. Sigg pulled her into the back seat and bound her feet and hands with zip ties.
Jessica asked him who he was. Did he know her mom?
“She kept asking me questions. I would answer them and I would lie to her,” Sigg said. “I would tell her that everything was going to be OK. I would just lie to her.”
As Sigg carried Jessica up to his room, the little girl who loved animals saw cat boxes. She asked about the cats, and then asked what he was going to do to her.
Investigators aren’t sure whether the wisps of compassion Sigg says he showed her — cutting the zip ties off her wrists, playing cartoons for her, assuring her she’d see her mother again — actually happened or were more lies.
In his room, Sigg said he stared at Jessica before he made her change out of her urine-soaked clothes and stuff her belongings into her backpack. He gave her a white shirt and black shorts from his closet.
Then, he said, he told her to turn away from him — and then he strangled her. He dismembered her body and initially hid her remains in a pool shed behind his house.
Jessica was dead before her mom called 911 that afternoon.
Searching for an adult
For the next 17 days, investigators scoured neighborhoods and collected about 700 DNA samples.
The day Jessica disappeared, a team of prosecutors began building a case. Two days after Jessica disappeared, investigators found her backpack on a sidewalk in a Superior subdivision. Jessica’s purple glasses were inside.
“The glasses tell you she’s dead,” Sargent said. “There’s a reason he chose the items that smelled of urine, her jacket and socks and other items of clothing he threw out. He chose carefully.”
Sigg said he dumped the backpack to lead investigators away from his house. Investigators matched DNA found in the backpack to the DNA recovered from the jogger.
On Oct. 10, Sigg placed Jessica’s torso in two black garbage bags and left it alongside 82nd Street in Pattridge Park Open Space in Arvada — just 9 miles from her home.
“There’s a reason he picked that spot,” Sargent said. “He wanted her found.”
Federal and local authorities were certain they were looking for an adult, and prosecutors began considering it as a death penalty case.
The torso was so clean when they found it that investigators had to swab it twice before they were able to collect a partial DNA sample. That sample matched the other DNA collected.
But investigators still had not linked the DNA from those cases to any of the hundreds of samples they had collected and tested.
On Oct. 17, the investigation grew closer to Sigg as neighborhood canvassing expanded.
Two days later, a friend of Mindy Sigg’s called the FBI and expressed concerns about Sigg. The woman recognized the photo of a wooden cross that was found with Jessica’s body.
Sigg, who prosecutors say was confident he had not left any DNA behind, provided FBI agents with a DNA sample and said he was home sleeping when Jessica was kidnapped. They noticed a cross Sigg was wearing and asked him about it.
He calmly answered the questions, and the investigators left his home without suspicion. His DNA sample was sent out with a batch of others.
On Oct. 22, media reports said a DNA link had been made between Jessica’s death and the attack on the jogger. Sigg told his classmates he felt “wobbly” and “tremendously” sick. He slept in his mother’s bed that night.
The next day, Sigg told his mother he had something horrible to tell her. Immediately she asked him if it was about Jessica, Sargent said.
Mindy Sigg called Westminster police about her son and asked them to send officers. She cried and hugged him while they waited.
The sudden confession from a juvenile shocked law enforcement, who had been searching for an adult male.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Sargent said. “We wondered if it was a mistake. That was the first question: Was this a false confession?”
But the details Sigg described for almost six hours were too precise, too graphic to be made up. At the same time, investigators were removing the rest of Jessica’s remains from his home.
Sigg calmly described himself as a monster.
He admitted that he was consumed by some sort of sexual drive when he grabbed Jessica, but maintained he did not sexually assault her. Later, he admitted that was a lie, too.
Still, investigators were missing the final link. An early result showed Sigg’s DNA did not match the samples taken from Jessica and the jogger. During his interview with police, Sigg repeatedly asked about his DNA, and detectives asked whether anyone had helped him.
The Colorado Bureau of Investigation tested hundreds of DNA samples obtained by swabbing the cheeks of men in the neighborhood.
They sent back empty envelopes labeled with the names of those who had submitted the samples — an empty envelope meant the DNA did not match samples from Jessica or the jogger.
Sigg’s envelope had come back empty, too.
But hours into Sigg’s interview, investigators learned that his sample had been lost in a batch and hadn’t yet been tested.
They ordered an immediate test and received confirmation: Sigg’s DNA matched the sample found on the jogger, Jessica’s water bottle and her remains.
Because Sigg was three months short of his 18th birthday when he killed Jessica, he was not eligible for the death penalty. But District Attorney Pete Weir and his team worked to ensure that Sigg, who turned 18 in jail, would never leave prison.
Despite the DNA misstep, prosecutors say Sigg’s DNA would have eventually been tested. The case the team spent almost a year building was so strong, they say, it would have ended in a conviction had Sigg not decided to plead guilty to all charges two days before his trial was scheduled to begin.
“Frankly, it’s a testament to this team and to law enforcement to be able to collect the evidence and piece it together,” Weir said. “There was no defense in this case.”
Nov. 19, 2013, By Elizabeth Chuck
A teenager who pleaded guilty to the brutal killing of a 10-year-old girl in Colorado has been sentenced to life in prison.
Austin Sigg, 18, was not eligible for the death penalty because he was 17 at the time of Jessica Ridgeway’s death. He didn’t show any emotion as the judge handed down his sentence Tuesday in Golden, Colo.
The judge gave Sigg the possibility of parole after 40 years, but because first-degree murder was just one of 15 counts to which Sigg pleaded guilty, he will spend to rest of his life in prison.
“This case cries out for a life sentence,” District Judge Stephen Munsinger said while giving Sigg an additional 86 years for the other crimes he was found guilty of, which included sexual assault and the kidnapping of Jessica plus the attempted kidnapping of a jogger.
Prosecutors, friends and family members urged the judge during the first day of the sentencing hearing on Monday to give Sigg the maximum sentence allowed.
“A part of me died that cold October day in 2012,” Scott Fischle, a close friend of Jessica’s family, said, the Associated Press reported. “She was a kind, sweet, innocent child who was bound for greatness in this world.”
Jessica was walking to school on Oct. 5, 2012, when she was abducted. Her Westminster, Colo., community in Denver’s western suburbs frantically searched for her for five days, before dismembered human remains identified as hers were found in a park. More remains of hers were later found at the house Sigg shared with his mother.
“Evil is apparently real. It was present in our community on Oct. 5, 2012,” Munsinger said of Sigg while sentencing him Tuesday.
Sigg pleaded guilty in October to the 15 counts, which included first-degree murder, sexual assault of a child and charges stemming from an attack on a 22-year-old female jogger in May 2012. In the latter case, investigators say Sigg tried to use homemade chloroform on the woman, but she escaped.
Sigg’s lawyers had argued that because he was a juvenile at the time of the crime, state law required the judge to give him a sentence that made him eligible for parole after 40 years.
“Your honor, you are sentencing a child today,” Defense attorney Ryan Loewer said. “Life with the possibility of parole in 40 years is the only possible and legal sentence.”
Earlier in the day, chief deputy district attorney Hal Sargent talked about the nearly two hours that Sigg is believed to have kept Jessica in his room after he snatched her off the street.
“It’s painful to imagine what he did to her in that time,” he said.
He said Sigg first tried to strangle Jessica with zip ties, but the zip ties “didn’t have enough leverage,” according to what he later told police. Instead, he strangled her with his hands, and when he noticed her body was still twitching with signs of life, he filled a bathtub with hot water and pushed her face down into it.
“I don’t want to go into all of the details of how he carefully, methodically dismembered her,” Sargent said.
For months, Sigg has sat emotionless in court as the gory details of Jessica’s death and dismemberment were disclosed, The Denver Post reported. But on Monday he cried while listening to the girl’s family describe the 10-year-old they no longer get to watch grow up.
“I miss her with every breath,” said Christine Ridgeway, Jessica’s grandmother, The Denver Post reported. “There are no more hugs or kisses or her little toes digging into mine on the couch.”
Jessica’s mom, Sarah Ridgeway, played a slideshow of photos of the fifth-grader while music played.
“I don’t think that the defendant has the right to hear how he affected me, my family or who Jessica was,” she said, according to the AP. “Once we walk out of this courtroom we’ll not remember his name and we’ll only remember Jessica and the legacy she created.”
Earlier Monday, a psychologist hired by prosecutors told the judge that Sigg was “sadistic” and planned the attack.
“He certainly had no empathy for Jessica Ridgeway,” said Anna Salter, who studies sex offenders.
Salter said Sigg was sexually aroused by dismembering Jessica’s body — something he did by hand in a bathtub, according to investigators. She added that he may have been trying to fulfill a sexual fantasy when, before killing Jessica, he cut her hair and forced her to change into his clothes.
Defense attorneys said Sigg’s mother inhaled paint while she was pregnant with him, and that trauma he experienced before and during his birth caused him to have head and intestinal deformities.
Sigg was arrested after his mom called police on Oct. 23, 2012, when Sigg confessed to her that he had abducted and killed Jessica. He didn’t admit to sexually assaulting her, but evidence of sexual assault was later discovered.
Salter said Sigg’s mother found child pornography on his computer in 2008, when he was 12 years old. His stepmother had sent him to counseling, and doctors urged his father to add parental controls to their computers and TV.
Watching pornography was part of Sigg’s planning, Salter testified, according to The Denver Post.
“This was not an impulse he had and then felt horrible about later,” Salter said.
Former classmates at the high school that Sigg attended until dropping out after his junior year described him as smart and interested in mortuary science and said he was bullied for having a high voice.
By Jordan Steffen for the Denver Post
November 19, 2013
GOLDEN — As Austin Sigg was sentenced on Tuesday to a life behind bars, a judge and prosecutor said Sigg himself offered the best word to describe what he had done to Jessica Ridgeway: evil.
“Evil is apparently real,” said Jefferson County District Court Chief Judge Stephen Munsinger. “It was present in our community on Oct. 5, 2012. On that day, its name was Austin Sigg.”
In a complicated sentence, Munsinger imposed the maximum sentence for several of the 15 counts, ensuring that Sigg, 18, will never leave prison.
Sigg pleaded guilty to all of the counts against him in October, including first-degree murder in Jessica’s death and attempted kidnapping for an attack on a jogger at Ketner Lake in May 2012. Because Sigg was 17 when he killed Jessica, the first-degree murder charge carries an automatic sentence of life in prison with the possibility of parole after 40 years.
Munsinger, however, ordered Sigg to serve an additional 86 years after he becomes eligible for parole. The judge rejected defense attorneys’ arguments that such a sentence was unconstitutional or cruel and unusual punishment.
“This case cries out for a life sentence,” Munsinger said.
Law enforcement, prosecutors and Jessica’s family exchanged hugs and wiped away tears after the sentencing.
“The damage, the hurt, the loss remains,” District Attorney Pete Weir said after the hearing. “We hope for closure for families but at times I think that’s a hollow term.”
He added: “The full weight of the law has come to bear on Austin Sigg. It’s not enough. More is needed, but it’s all we can do.”
Sigg declined to speak during his two-day sentencing hearing. As Munsinger went through the charges, listing the maximum allowable time for most of them, Sigg stared forward. He did not look back at Jessica’s family or his mother, Mindy.
Mindy Sigg repeatedly sobbed while gruesome details about her son’s crime were discussed. But as Munsinger ordered Sigg’s sentence, she calmly stared forward toward her son.
Jessica’s mother left the courtroom before Chief Deputy District Attorney Hal Sargent began describing Jessica’s last hours alive.
Soft sobs and sniffles echoed in the packed courtroom as Sargent told how Sigg waited in the back seat of his Jeep, watching Jessica. He waited until she walked next to his car and then grabbed her, bound her arms and legs and threw her in the back seat.
“It’s painful to imagine what he did to her in that time,” Sargent said. “We know he sexually assaulted her.”
He described the nearly two hours Sigg kept Jessica in his bedroom, where he made her watch a movie while he cut her hair and laid out clothes for her to change into. When he tried to strangle Jessica with zip ties, the plastic cut into his hands and he later told police that he didn’t “have enough leverage,” Sargent said.
Sigg eventually strangled Jessica with his bare hands for up to three minutes. When he saw Jessica twitching, Sigg filled a bathtub with scalding hot water and forced her face down into it.
Sargent said he did not want to detail how Sigg methodically dismembered Jessica. Sigg told police at the time that he was fulfilling a sexual fantasy.
During Tuesday’s hearing, Sargent struggled to describe the crime.
“Perhaps Austin Sigg’s words are best,” he said. Sigg told investigators: “There is no better word to describe what I have done than evil.”
Jessica’s disappearance on Oct. 5, 2012, set off a massive search effort that at one point included more than 1,000 people and 75 local, state and federal law enforcement agencies.
On Oct. 23, Mindy Sigg called police after her son confessed to her that he had kidnapped and killed Jessica. He told his mother he was a monster and needed to be punished.
Jessica’s family declined to speak with reporters after the hearing, but Sargent said the family hopes that the community doesn’t remember Jessica for the way she died but for how she lived.
“He stole from Jessica her future,” he said. “Not only everything she was but everything she would be.”
Jessica’s family shared memories and photos of the joyous, caring girl on Monday. Sigg wept in court as he watched as images of Jessica, smiling behind her purple glasses, flashed before him. On Tuesday, defense attorneys presented, for the first time, a glimpse into Sigg’s childhood with a slide show that included photos of Sigg as a baby and smiling child.
For months, defense attorneys presented experts and arguments suggesting that Sigg was not mature enough or able to completely understand his actions. But prosecutors maintained that Sigg meticulously planned before he went “hunting” for the woman at Ketner Lake, and Jessica four months later.
“It’s a chilling thought to think of what a fully matured Austin Sigg is capable of,” Sargent said.