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Couple Charged in Slaying of Woman : Crime: The Van Nuys resident was fatally shot and her Volkswagen stolen during a trip home from Arizona in 1990.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

After a two-year hunt by police, a married couple who investigators said dealt in stolen Volkswagens were arraigned Wednesday on charges of murdering Jamie Michele Bowie of Van Nuys, who disappeared on Interstate 10 nearly two years ago as she returned from Arizona.

Bowie, 24, was targeted because of the mint condition of her royal blue VW Beetle convertible, which was sold in Fresno two days after she disappeared on April 16, 1990, Riverside County Sheriff’s Deputy Sal Pina said. Her body, shot twice, was found in a secluded citrus grove two miles north of Indio about a month after her disappearance.

On Wednesday, Billy Ray Riggs, 45, and his wife, Hilda Sims, 28, were each formally charged in Indio Municipal Court with Bowie’s death, robbery at gunpoint and the theft of her car, said Pina and Riverside County Deputy Dist. Atty. Randall White.

The murder charges against them carry “special circumstances” allegations, meaning that if convicted they could face the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole.

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Both Riggs and Sims, who is six months pregnant, pleaded not guilty and were held without bail in the Riverside County Jail in Indio.

Riggs and Sims, subjects of an intense police search, were arrested Jan. 17 after their names and photographs were broadcast a week earlier on the TV crime show “America’s Most Wanted.”

Pina said the program generated more than 200 calls and letters to authorities, including several from relatives of the fugitives. One anonymous tip led police to the couple’s Inglewood apartment, which they fled--leaving Chinese food still warm on a coffee table--after seeing themselves on TV, Pina said.

But the tipster also gave police the address of an apartment in Panorama City where the couple sought refuge with a friend and were arrested without incident, Pina said.

The couple also maintained apartments in Beaumont, Tex., and Phoenix, Pina said.

Riggs, a convicted auto thief who is still wanted for auto theft and parole violation in Texas, made a living by selling Volkswagens, either bought or stolen, Pina said.

Pina said it was Bowie’s Beetle that caught the couple’s attention after it broke down on the freeway. They had seen her at the Tiger Truck Stop near Quartzsite, a town near the Arizona-California border, helped her repair her car, and offered to follow her back to Los Angeles in case it broke down again, Pina said.

“They knew they wanted her car,” he said.

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An Oklahoma native who moved to Los Angeles in January, 1990, Bowie was supposed to start a new job when she returned from Arizona, where she had been visiting a college friend.

But Riggs and Sims allegedly kidnaped Bowie at gunpoint after taking her to dinner at a Sizzler restaurant in Banning, then drove her to a remote agricultural area north of Indio.

There, Pina said, Sims remained in the car while Riggs walked Bowie over to an irrigation ditch. He shot her at point-blank range in the back, then shot her a second time after she fell to make sure she was dead, Pina said.

Riggs and Sims took Bowie’s keys, stole her car and burglarized her apartment in Van Nuys, Pina said. He said investigators found many of Bowie’s possessions in the couple’s Inglewood apartment.

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The couple sold the car two days later, using their own names, and were identified as the murder suspects several weeks later after the state Department of Motor Vehicles processed the paperwork, Pina said.

They managed to elude authorities until the Jan. 10 broadcast of “America’s Most Wanted.” At the time, Pina said, Riggs had a plane ticket to the Turks and Caicos Islands, a former British colony in the Caribbean, and had remained in town only because he had trouble obtaining a passport.


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