‘Sweetheart Murders’ of John Riggins and Sabrina Gonsalves on People Magazine Investigates

The so-called ‘Sweetheart’ murders of John Riggins and Sabrina Gonsalves, both just 18 when they were killed, features on Investigation Discovery series People Magazine Investigates this week.

Riggins was a popular sports lover and Gonsalves was ready to get her college career started. People thought they made a sweet couple.

However, their teenage romance was brought to an abrupt end when the pair of them failed to turn up to a surprise party being held for Gonsalves’ elder sister Andrea on December 20, 1980.

In the morning friends and family became very worried and started searching for the couple, with police finding Riggins’ van the day after. There was nothing to indicate a crime had taken place in the van but shortly afterwards their bodies were found in a nearby ravine.

Both had duct tape around their eyes and mouths and both had slit throats, Riggins also had a head injury and Gonsalves had been sexually assaulted.

The nature of the crimes made police think they might be dealing with a well organised serial killer, someone who’d brought everything they needed to commit the murders with them. The investigation spanned two states and they received hundreds of calls about the case, but soon it went cold.

There were a few suspects but DNA recovered in the 1990s from a blanket at the crime scene cleared all of them. Then in 2002 investigators had some luck and there was a DNA match with Richard Hirschfield, who was already in prison for numerous sexual crimes. It also turned out he had a friend who lived across the street from where Gonsalves lived with her sister and his brother lived close to where the bodies were dumped.

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His brother was interviewed by police and the next day he killed himself, leaving behind a note that read: “I have been living with this horror for 20 years. Richard did commit those murders, but I was there. I didn’t kill anyone, but my DNA is still there.”

Finally in 2013 Richard Hirschfield was found guilty and sentenced to death, with the judge saying: “The terrifying methods used to subdue and kill these two young innocent persons are so horrendous, so evil, the weight of this factor alone is simply overwhelming.”

People Magazine Investigates airs on Mondays at 8/7c on Investigation Discovery.

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