By Walton Golightly
They appeared to be happily married. Roger Scaggs, 58, was a successful businessman; his wife, Penny, 54, spent most of her time entertaining the elderly at nursing homes in Austin, Texas. She also gave classes to young brides on how to be the ‘perfect wife’ based on Biblical teachings. A wife, she said, should love her husband unconditionally and obey his every order.
But when the couple celebrated their 35th wedding anniversary in early 1996, things were not as they seemed. Roger was having a torrid affair with Vanessa Ferguson, 28, a young woman not much older than his daughter. She worked at his data processing company. He later described the liaison as ‘animal lust’, saying Penny would not give in to his strong sexual drive.
On March 6, 1996, Penny was bludgeoned to death with a heavy pipe while sitting at her piano. The killer then slashed her with a knife taken from the kitchen. Hours later, Roger called the police. He’d returned home from work to discover his murdered wife, he said.
When asked what he thought had happened, he said that perhaps a vagrant had spotted his wife’s large diamond ring on her finger as she sat near the window, came in through the unlocked back door and attacked her. Detectives noted he spoke coolly and without emotion, apparently unaffected by his wife’s violent death.
Since spouses are always a prime suspect in such murders, it didn’t take investigators long to learn about Roger’s young girlfriend. The murder weapons and jewellery were found the morning after the killing, in a dumpster behind Scaggs’s office. Police also found five latex gloves stained with Penny’s blood. Inside three of them were near-perfect latent fingerprints. All belonged to Roger.
At Penny’s funeral, Roger shocked people by wearing a flamboyant red, white, and blue leather jacket with an eagle spread across the back. He also told friends he reckoned he would be remarried within a year.
It took two-and-a-half years for the case to come to trial, each side blaming the other for the delays. One of the biggest blows to the prosecution was the disappearance of Vanessa Ferguson. Both sides wanted to talk to her – the prosecution to confirm the existence of the affair, the defence because she’d said Roger was with her at the time of the murder. But all attempts to track her down failed. She had apparently vanished into thin air.
After eight hours of deliberations, the jury found Roger guilty of murder. He was sentenced to 32 years in prison. He first became eligible for parole in 2014, but his application was denied.
Those who still believe in his innocence point to the fact material found under Penny’s fingernails suggested she fought with her attacker. DNA testing did not match it to Roger Scaggs. (The prosecution insisted this material was due to contamination at the lab from an unrelated case, although this was vehemently denied by their own expert witness.)
Investigators also found a small hair on the knife which did not come from either the suspect or the victim, and unidentified fingerprints throughout the house. Moreover, a defence expert said it was unlikely for such clear prints to have been left on the inside of a rubber glove after such an attack. If the killer had worn the gloves, he said, prints would have been smudged.
Did Roger Scaggs brutally murder his wife – or was he the victim of shoddy police work? You decide…
By Walton Golightly