Secrets in the basement: Father of 5 shot dead, young mistress stabbed to death in basement
09/29/2017 1:35 pm PDT
A father of five, a browbeaten wife and a pretty young girl in the basement, crowded together in a house stained with jealousy and blood.
It's a classic love triangle twisted into a mysterious whodunit. Careful, though, don't jump to conclusions. You won't believe the real reason for the slaughter and who wanted two people dead.
The rolling fields of Lothian, Maryland are sleepy, green and usually peaceful.
"It was just a very rural, quiet, very quiet neighborhood, not a whole lot of activity down there," said Anne Arundel County Police Sergeant John Poole.
But a house in this neighborhood would soon crumble under a bizarre drama of sex and murder.
"No one would expect something like this in that small little chunk of Anne Arundel County," said Maryland Assistant State's Attorney Jason Knight.
The mystery begins with a 911 call on Oct. 5, 2015. This 911 call is strange.
"I just spent the day taking kids to the dentist and then going grocery shopping and I'm supposed to be leaving to take my husband to a doctor's appointment right now."
The call is so matter-of-fact, so nonchalant, and buries the most important detail:
"But he's not responding at all and he's got his gun laying next to him in the bed."
"Do you think he shot himself?"
"I don't know. I didn't turn the lights on in the room."
"She was strangely calm on her 911 call, not frantic at all," said Sgt. John Poole.
Police arrive at a charming home on West Bay Front Road. It's packed to the rafters with clutter, and dark secrets.
"She's actually still on the phone with 911 when the officers respond," said Jason Knight.
The caller is 42-year-old housewife and mother of five Ann Anastasi, a composed, almost shy woman who seems indifferent to her husband's condition.
Ann leads officers through the crates of food and laundry to the upstairs bedroom.
"The bedroom was not clean or tidy, that was just how they lived," said Sgt. Poole. "There were paper, books, movies, clothes, both dirty and clean on the floor.
And on the bed officers find Ann's husband Anthony Anastasi, shot in the temple, a .45-caliber pistol just inches from his outstretched arm.
"He was lying face up in the bed," said Sgt. Poole. "There was a single gunshot wound we could tell that had been fired at close range based on stippling, which is burning to the skin that comes from a bullet coming out of a muzzle of a gun. But it definitely looked like a suicide by all accounts."
Ann Anastasi tells investigators she'd stumbled upon Anthony's body after dropping her older kids off at school, taking a younger one to the dentist and grocery shopping with her 13-year-old daughter, who was home sick from school that day. The humdrum routine of any large family.
"She gets back home and her husband is in bed, motionless, not responding," said Jason Knight.
Ann tells Police Anthony, 40, had been depressed.
"The evidence we got mostly through Ann was that he had numerous back surgeries and so he was unable to work at the time," said Knight.
The officers begin the grim task of documenting a suicide.
"They in fact asked if anyone else resided in the home. Ann named her children, many of whom were at school," said Sgt. Poole.
Oh, and there's someone else, Ann says: A 25-year-old house guest named Jacqueline Riggs, who lives in the basement apartment.
"Jacqueline Riggs was a young lady in her early 20s, seemed very kind of down on her luck," Sgt. Poole said. "It seemed like she latched on to Anthony Anastasi as an older male, maybe a fatherly-type figure to her that gave her a lot of attention. They asked if she was home, she said 'Well I don't know, I hadn't heard from her today.'"
The last thing Ann did hear was on the previous night. It was Anthony shouting and fighting with Jacqueline in the basement.
"When he returned to the master bedroom and encountered Ann, she said that he was very gruff with her, very short with her, told her to take the cats out of the room and go sleep with the children in an adjoining bedroom," said Sgt. Poole.
Police descend the darkened staircase to the basement room and stumble into a scene from hell.
"When we first entered the basement there was extremely loud heavy-metal music playing, which added for us an additional kind of eerie effect," said Sgt. Poole.
And in the center of the room, it's more than eerie -- it's an image of absolute horror. On a blood-soaked carpet lies the butchered body of Jacqueline Riggs.
"Stabbed multiple times all about her body, torso, head, neck, arms, hands, legs even," said Sgt. Poole.
Forty-two savage knife wounds: stabbed 20 times and slashed 22 more.
"There was blood on the walls, blood on the floor, blood on the bed, you know, it was clear that Jacqueline Riggs had fought her attacker based on defensive wounds to her hands and arms," said Sgt. Poole. "The crime scene down stairs was extremely brutal."
In the thick of the gruesome scene, Detective Poole notes additional evidence. The outside door, locked. The windows, screwed shut. The room was strewn with piles of overturned trash.
"It looked like perhaps he had stabbed her in the basement and then gone upstairs," said Sgt. Poole. "All indications were showing us a murder-suicide."
But those initial indications were deceiving. Over the next few days, baffling details emerge that turn the case on its head.
"We were notified by the office of the chief medical examiner that Mr. Anastasi still had a projectile in his head," said Sgt. Poole. "It was a game-changer. At this point we knew that we were not dealing with a murder-suicide."
"The home was not easily searched. It was not a tidy home," said Anne Arundel County Police Sgt. John Poole. "It was not an organized home."
And buried in the clutter, a clue. Upstairs in Anthony Anastasi's bedroom, hidden among the stacked VHS cases and only inches from his Holy Bible was a .45-caliber bombshell.
"We found a spent shell casing in the bedroom near Mr. Anastasi, and the handgun that was next to him," said Sgt. Poole.
Forensics labs compare that casing to the slug retrieved from Anthony's body.
"The projectile recovered from Mr. Anastasi was a .380 that matched the shell casing," said Sgt. Poole.
Investigators are shocked. The slug is not a match to the .45-caliber handgun found at Anthony's side.
"As soon as you see he has a .45-caliber gun in his hand, you know that something's off, because it's physically impossible for a .45-caliber to fire that .380," said prosecutor Jason Knight. "They actually tested that and found if you put a .380 round into that .45-caliber gun, it would just fall out the end. It just didn't work."
"So the gun next to him was not what was used to shoot him," said Sgt. Poole.
So what really happened in this house of death?
"It was in fact not a murder-suicide. It was a cold-blooded double murder," said Sgt. Poole.
Who did it?
Detectives bring Anthony Anastasi's wife Ann and their 13-year-old daughter to the police station to see what they may have seen or heard that horrible morning. In a recorded interrogation, Ann tells cops what was really going on at the house on West Bay Front Road. Starting, Ann says, with the abuse.
Detective: "What's the worst threat he ever made towards you?"
Anastasi: "Held his gun to my head and told me to get out of his house."
Detective: "And when was that?"
Anastasi: "That would have been a couple months ago."
Anastasi: "And I'm told if I ever tell the police about it, I ever tell anybody about it, he's going to kill me and whomever I tell."
"Very controlling relationship is what she described, but also by some accounts a caring, loving, nurturing father, it just depended on who you talked to, and the children respected and loved him," said Sgt. Poole.
And apparently the 25-year-old in the basement also loved Anthony Anistasi. Ann says Jacqueline Riggs wasn't just a house guest.
"The family lived in Michigan for a period of time and struck up a, if you will, like, a three-way romantic relationship when they were in Michigan," said Sgt. Poole.
That three-way: Anthony, Ann and Jacqueline Riggs.
"The report from Ann was some intimate contact, but that Ann was not a fan of that. And so after that one incident she refused to participate in that ever again," said prosecutor Jason Knight.
Ann refuses, but Anthony insists.
"Anthony tells Ann one day, 'I'm moving Jacqueline to Maryland and she's going to reside in the home with us,'" said Sgt. Poole.
By then, Ann says, it was a twosome, and Ann was the odd one out.
Detective: "I have to ask this question, Ann: Do you think that your husband and Jaqueline were messing around?"
Anastasi: "Oh, I know they were."
Detective: "They were. And how do you know they were?"
Anastasi: "Because he'd spend most -- well, not most -- he'd spend a lot of nights down there with the doors locked. Like, a lot of them."
Detective: "Did you ever confront him about it?"
Anastasi: "I was told that basically to mind my own business, and he's going to do what he wants to do, and if I didn't like it I can get the f--- out of the house. And I'm not going to abandon my kids and leave them in that kind of situation."
Asked if there was any jealousy in the new arrangement, Ann tells cops no way.
Anastasi: "So I would regularly tell him, 'She needs to get out. If you're going to stay with her, then you can both get out. Why are you here in the house if you don't want to be with me? You two can just pack up and go.'"
To prove it, Ann readily submits to a gunpowder test, gets her cheeks swabbed for DNA and hands over her cellphone, and has no problem getting strapped in for a polygraph exam. If Ann is nervous, she doesn't show it.
Anastasi: "Does it matter if I'm yawning during this?"
Her answers are simple and direct.
"Ann was extremely cooperative during the initial interview," said Sgt. Poole. "Every question we had, she did not hesitate to answer."
But things aren't as calm in another interrogation room down the hall, where police question Ann's 13-year-old daughter.
"The 13-year-old was extremely distraught by the death of her father, very erratic, at one point tried to run out of our building," said Sgt. Poole. "It was a lot of trauma for her."
And the traumatized girl is talking -- a lot -- including the story of a blink-and-you'd-miss-it clue collected from the basement crime scene: a used pregnancy test.
"The 13-year-old and her father had a very close father-daughter relationship and we think when she overheard her father and Jacqueline talking about possibly having another baby, it definitely fueled some jealous rage," said Sgt. Poole.
Then cops take a look at the girl's cellphone and compare it to Ann's.
"We were actually getting back a lot of detailed text messages between Ann, her 13-year-old daughter, and another person of interest who developed from a phone number," said Sgt. Poole.
Now detectives bring Ann Anastasi back to the police station to share her lab and polygraph results. And things aren't looking good for Mrs. Anastasi.
Detective: "There's a couple things I need to clear up real quick. The test that they took from your clothes and your hands? Well, they were all sent off."
Anastasi: "Probably found lots of cat milk on there."
Detective: "Well, we found a lot of gunshot residue on you and on the clothes."
Anastasi: "Really? Well that's weird."
Cops tell Ann there's something else that's weird: the results of her polygraph test.
Detective: "You have a failed polygraph. You did not just fail it, you flunked the hell out of it."
They inform her of the inconsistent ballistics.
Detective: "The gun that was found next to your husband was tested, OK? And compared to the bullet that was found in his skull, OK? There is no possible way that that weapon fired that bullet found in your husband's head."
And most damning of all: What cops found in Ann's cellphone, a long call with her 13-year-old daughter at 3 a.m., shortly after the murders.
Detective: "We got some phone records, and that night you and [minor's name redacted] talked for 582 seconds at 3 in the morning. That's about 10 minutes."
Anastasi: "That might have been a butt-dial."
Detective: "That's not a butt-dial. That's a long conversation."
Cops know that call was not an accident.
Detective: "This is bad for you. This is real bad for you. Do you understand that?"
In fact, they've also got Ann's 13-year-old daughter's cellphone records. Cops say text messages show Ann and her daughter were actually planning the murders, getting rid of an abusive husband and the young woman they thought was tearing the family apart.
And who they'd get to do their dirty work is a shocker: The daughter's 18-year-old boyfriend, Gabriel Struss.
"Gabriel didn't have the best upbringing," said Anne Arundel Police Spokeswoman Jacklyn Davis. "Kind of raised himself. He needed that emotional comfort that he got from this family."
They convince the boyfriend that Anthony and his much younger lover Jacqueline are evil abusers, and mom and daughter entice Struss to kill with an offer he can't refuse.
"Ann actually said that he could come and live at their home once the two people were killed," said Maryland Assistant State's Attorney Amanda Matey.
They even planned out the murder plot.
"There was a text message that was sent from Mr. Struss that said 'I'm gonna slit the girl and bust the dad,'" said Maryland Assistant State's Attorney Jason Knight. "So they clearly already worked out the manner in which each was going to be killed."
When cops confront Gabriel Struss, they aren't greeted by a crazed killer. Instead, they find a guilt-stricken teen who instantly confesses, and reveals Ann Anistasi is the mastermind of the whole brutal plan.
The night of the murders, Ann and her daughter pick up Gabriel Struss. He lays in wait in their back yard for hours until everyone else is asleep.
"Ms. Anastasi is there in the kitchen, where she meets him," said Maryland Assistant State's Attorney Jason Knight. "She hands him the .380-caliber handgun that he would use later on in the evening against Mr. Anastasi. He had the gun in his hoodie pocket and had the knife in his hand and he went downstairs to where Ms. Riggs was sleeping."
Jacqueline Riggs was asleep in her bed when she was viciously attacked and woke up to being stabbed.
"A grand total of 42 injuries," said Knight. "And Mr. Struss made it clear that he didn't leave the basement until he was certain that she had passed away. He comes back upstairs. Mr. Struss then takes the handgun and fires a single round into Mr. Anastasi's temple."
Cops say Anastasi's 13-year-old daughter then takes Gabriel home. While they're away Ann races in and plants a gun -- as it turns out, the wrong gun -- in Anthony's hand.
The next morning Ann and her daughter wake up:
"Got up, ate breakfast, got dressed, took a shower with dad dead in the bedroom, and Jacqueline murdered in the basement. That's pretty disturbing," said Jacklyn Davis.
Gabriel's confession brings the whole house of cards crashing down on Ann Anastasi and her daughter. The three are arrested for the killings, including two counts each of first-degree murder.
Who do authorities believe was the mastermind?
"Absolutely Ann Anastasi," said prosecutor Amanda Matey.
Ann maintains her innocence, insisting on taking her case to court. But then in jail and awaiting trial, the sinister black widow is caught up in her own web of lies.
"A fairly incriminating phone call was made between her and someone on the outside that we happened to get our hands on," said Amanda Matey.
"And there she was letting her true feelings show," said Jason Knight.
"Even though we all think that the world is a better place for him being gone, and that her stupid f----- twit ass should've known something was gonna happen, getting 12 jurors to see the same thing is a problem," Ann said in a recorded call.
Ann thinks she's off the record, so the claws -- and the motive for murder -- come out.
"Problem is, it's not only him. There's also a 24-year-old girl who's dead in my basement," Ann says in the recorded call. "She was a whore who moved into my house with me and my five kids. Her whore ass should have stayed up in f------ Michigan. She shouldn't have moved down here, she shouldn't have moved into my house. How could she possibly have thought that was going to go well?"
"It was certainly something that once we heard that, made our case significantly stronger," said Amanda Matey.
When Ann's defense team is confronted with the calls, they beg her to take a plea deal to avoid what could be a devastating trial. Ann takes it and is sentenced to two life terms in prison. The 44-year-old is expected to spend at least the next 60 years behind bars.
"I do not expect that she'll ever step foot out of a prison," said Maryland State's Attorney Wes Adams. "She represents a different type of evil, because while Gabriel Struss wielded the weapon, he was very much a puppet of Mrs. Anastasi, and to me that is more sinister than just literally pulling the trigger."
As for the two teens who fell under her spell?
"Her 13-year-old daughter is in a juvenile facility," said Sgt. John Poole. "She will be eligible for release at 21."
Gabriel Struss, 18, gets the same deal as Ann: two life sentences with all but 60 years suspended.
But unlike the den mother in this diabolical scheme, he tells Crime Watch Daily he'll always regret what he did, and he sent a note to Crime Watch Daily from prison, writing: "I thought what I was doing would make me a hero, when in reality it only made me a monster. So many people were hurt because of my actions. I hope the victims' family can one day forgive me and understand how sorry I am."
Forgiveness may be a long time coming. The magnitude of the tragedy extends beyond the two who lost their lives that horrible night.
"We have two people dead, we have three in jail, we have four children who lost both parents and a sibling, all because of lust and sex and love and hatred," said Anne Arundel County Police Spokeswoman Jacklyn Davis. "That's what fueled this whole fire."
Anastasi's other children are now reportedly living with Anthony's family and doing as well as can be expected. They declined our request for an interview, hoping to put this ugly past behind them.