Peruvian nanny Monica Rivera-Valdizan vanished in Palm Beach County, Florida, one night. Sadly, three days later, her beaten body was found under bushes at the side of a road. She’d been violently raped and strangled...
A caring, young Christian woman with a fiance at home in Lima, Peru, Monica Rivera-Valdizan had come to Florida to improve her English.
On a temporary work visa, she took a job as a live-in nanny in Palm Beach County with a couple who had three children, including a newborn baby.
Monica, 26, was described by her father as ‘an angel of this world’ who always wanted to help others.
She wasn’t the type to disappear for a few hours, much less overnight…
So her employer Esther Berglas had ‘an awful feeling’ when, three months into her job, in January 2004, Monica’s bed was empty one Saturday morning. It hadn’t been slept in.
An orthodox Jew, Esther was observing the Sabbath day and her faith prevented her from using technology like a phone or car to search for Monica.
Instead, Esther ran around locally, asking friends to ring hospitals, police.
Back home in Lima, Monica’s fiance Juan Trelles, a chef, repeatedly called Monica’s mobile phone, wondering fearfully why he couldn’t reach her.
Most evenings, Monica would walk to a local grocery shop near the Boca Del Mar community where she worked. The search for Monica continued, but the staff in the shop couldn’t account for her whereabouts that Friday night.
Then, two days after her disappearance, a resident found Monica’s bruise-covered body dumped under bushes by a main road.
She’d been the victim of a brutal murder.
An autopsy determined she’d been raped and severely beaten before being strangled to death.
Police searched in vain for her attacker, as the neighbourhood lived in fear.
Later in court, Assistant State Attorney Cheryl Caracuzzo said that people ‘were afraid to even go outside their homes due to the brutality of this case’.
Then, a whole year after Monica’s murder, dad-of-two Jerry Wiggins was arrested in connection with a rape case in Charlotte, North Carolina.
His DNA matched that found under Monica’s fingernails, a result of clawing at her attacker in self-defence. It also linked him to a violent home invasion in 2003, in which a couple had been held at knifepoint.
Monica’s parents and fiance hoped they would finally get justice, but Wiggins’ attorney managed to delay proceedings by pleading mental incompetence.
Incredibly, it was nearly 10 years before Wiggins went on trial. By this time, Monica’s Christian parents had been able to forgive their daughter’s attacker.
In October 2014, Dr Juan and Rosa Rivera travelled from Peru and spent two weeks in court as Wiggins, 38, faced charges of first-degree murder, kidnapping, sexual battery and attempted sexual battery.
Prosecutors said Monica had been snatched on her regular evening walk and ‘fought like a wolverine’ as Wiggins dragged her away before raping and killing her.
The key witness was Jermaine Wiggins, a nephew of the defendant, who testified Jerry Wiggins admitted the crimes to him.
The jury heard Jermaine repeat what he said his uncle had told him…
‘I saw her, I followed her, I grabbed her and she fought back, and then it all happened.’
But Wiggins’ lawyer continued to plead the attacker was mentally ill.
Already serving time for the rape of a 14-year-old girl in 2003, jail records indicated Wiggins was receiving anti-psychotic drugs and sedatives because it appeared he was bipolar or schizophrenic.
In the middle of the trial, Wiggins was examined by a psychologist, who found him ‘marginally competent’, with an IQ of 64.
However, Judge John Kastrenakes said he believed Wiggins was faking insanity to derail his trial, and he was sure Wiggins understood the legal proceedings.
The jury deliberated for six hours before finding Wiggins guilty of all charges. He received three consecutive life sentences plus five years.
The judge condemned the unspeakable acts on Monica.
‘It’s as brutal a murder as I’ve seen in 33 years of being in the criminal justice system,’ he stated.
A statement from Monica’s family read: She had no wings or halo – and, like any person, she had her shortcomings. But she had virtues worth emulating. Her appearance was radiant, graceful and of a contagious happiness and vivacity. She was always willing to serve, or help towards improving the welfare of others.
But the trial was not to be the end of the story…
In December 2016, only two years after the trial, Wiggins reportedly smoked a cigarette before jumping from the second floor walkway of his prison cell block.
CCTV footage showed another inmate trying to grab him, but Wiggins fell head-first onto the cement floor.
He died in hospital as a result of head trauma.
A month later, it’s believed he was buried by his family in a New Jersey cemetery.