Gale Wiggins was not the type to let strangers into her house, according to those who knew her best.
The 68-year-old woman rarely unlocked the door to her half of a white double shotgun house in Hollygrove. From time to time, even her son had to persuade her to let him in the house, he said.
So when a neighbor saw Wiggins’ screen door open Sunday, she knew something was wrong. In addition, Wiggins, a retired cook who doled out peppermints to her 17 great-grandchildren, had failed to answer relatives’ calls.
Robert Wiggins, her 52-year-old son, said that when a cousin entered Gale Wiggins’ home in the 8100 block of Forshey Street about 5 p.m. Sunday, he made a ghastly discovery. Wiggins was dead, from what the New Orleans coroner later called “sharp force injuries.”
The scant details known about the case have left relatives and neighbors to wonder in fear about who could have killed the aging woman, and why.
One thing several relatives said they are sure about was that it had to have been someone Wiggins knew.
“She’s not going to let nobody in unless she knows you,” Robert Wiggins said. “All we really want is the answer. Who would do this to my mom?”
Police have released no details about Wiggins’ death other than to say that they classified it as a homicide “based on findings at the scene.” Her son said he was told that she was discovered bound.
Robert Wiggins’ ex-wife Doniel Williams, 50, said she last saw her former mother-in-law Friday, when Williams drove her daughter there to help her grandmother complete some paperwork.
“She was in good spirits,” Williams said.
But about 10 p.m. Saturday, her next-door neighbor in the double house said, something seemed amiss.
“I heard somebody walking,” Shirley Brown said, and the steps seemed far too loud for Wiggins, who had hip surgery after an accident four years ago and moved with difficulty.
Brown’s curiosity was so heightened, she said, that she put her ear to the wall to try to hear what was happening next door. But aside from the footsteps, she said, she heard nothing.
The next morning, Brown noticed that Wiggins’ screen door was unlocked. About the same time, she failed to answer relatives’ telephone calls. That is when the family grew suspicious, Robert Wiggins said, and sent his cousin to the house to check.
Gale Wiggins had lived in the home since 1979. Her son said her face was a familiar one in the neighborhood.
As she sat on her porch, her son said, she always had a “How you doing, baby?” for passing neighbors. She rarely walked farther than the corner store and often relied on passing acquaintances to pick up something.
For decades she had worked as a cook at a series of New Orleans restaurants. During the Christmas season, Robert Wiggins said, she would cook hot sausage gumbo for her girlfriends.
After Hurricane Katrina, he said, his mother was “just insistent” about returning to the city. She reveled in her many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
“Oh they loved her,” Wiggins said. “All they do is go over there and say, ‘Grandma! Grandma!’ ”
His mother could be blunt, he said, but she did not have any enemies.
“Anybody that knew my mom loved her. They didn’t have reasons to hurt her,” Wiggins said.