Island man assists in Riffe investigation
Law enforcement officers from Lewis County flew to King Salmon, Alaska, in early July to charge a man with two 1985 murders.
Chris Peterson, a part-time Puget Island resident and retired Multnomah County Sheriff's Office Detective, accompanied the officers and participated in the arrest.
Officers charged Rick Riffe, 53, of King Salmon with first degree murder, kidnapping, burglary and robbery in connection with the deaths of Edward Maurin, 81, and Wilhelmina (Minnie) Maurin, 83, of Ethel in eastern Lewis County.
Riffe has been extradited to Lewis County and was scheduled to appear in Lewis County Superior Court. He is being held on $5 million bail.
The arrest brought a sense of relief to Peterson and others involved in the investigation.
Peterson is a private investigator. When he retired from Multnomah County in 1997, he and his detective partner opened Peterson Investigations.
"We've investigated homicides, and we do a lot of insurance work," Peterson said in an interview last Friday.
The partner has retired, but Peterson continues to run the firm, using a half dozen investigators on a variety of cases.
Because of his career with Multnomah County, Peterson doesn't do criminal defense work. He often assists law enforcement officers in investigations.
He also provides training for law enforcement officers and is a member of a regional law enforcement officer organization. This role provided the connection for his involvement in the Riffe investigation.
Dennis Hadaller, then a Lewis County commissioner in the 1980's, was the son of victim Minnie Hadaller. The initial investigation bogged down because of uncooperative witnesses. In 2004, with the sheriff's office not actively investigating the case, he discussed the situation with the Lewis County undersheriff, who had met Peterson through the law enforcement officers' group. He recommended that Hadaller contact Peterson. They connected, and Hadaller became Peterson's client.
Peterson became acquainted with Lewis County Sheriff's Detective Bruce Kimsey, who had a long interest in the case, and they began working actively on the case.
"Bruce Kimsey and I worked on it together for several years," Peterson said. "Bruce is the reason this case came together. He focused on leads that proved to be very significant."
They got a break when the Chehalis Chronicle ran a story about the renewed investigation.
A witness who had been reluctant to speak in 1986 came forward and provided information that put the case on solid footing. They contacted other witnesses who had become less fearful and were able to develop the case. For the four months leading up to Riffe's arrest July 8, Kimsey worked on it full time.
Riffe and his brother, John Riffe, had been suspects from the beginning, but their involvement in illegal drug activity in Lewis County intimidated witnesses, Peterson said.
"They were involved in meth and marijuana and a little cocaine," Peterson said. "The group was a definite subculture, and it still exists."
Peterson had much experience in his career investigating drug crimes. He understands the rules of that culture and put that understanding to use in his interviews.
"You don't put them in compromising situations," he said. "You don't jeopardize their health and welfare."
The investigators and prosecuting attorney's office put their case together. In the meantime, John Riffe became ill and died June 12.
The Riffe brothers had moved in 1987 to King Salmon, a village in the Bristol Bay area. "It's about as far from anywhere as you can get," Peterson said.
Rick Riffe had worked as a truck driver and crane operator, among other jobs. He had a wife who allegedly committed suicide after telling people that she thought Riffe had committed a murder, Peterson said. Alaskan officers investigated the death and concluded it was a suicide. The evidence was subsequently discarded.
Peterson, Kimsey, and others arrested Riffe on July 8. The two detectives, who had interviewed the witnesses in the case, interviewed Riffe for two hours before heading home.
"He was an unemotional guy," Peterson said. "People there said he had been that way for a long time."
Lewis County Sheriff Steve Mansfield announced the arrest early July 9.
"It is through the tenacious, patient and diligent work of Detective Bruce Kimsey, private investigator Chris Peterson, the prosecuting attorney's office, and Ed and Minnie's son, Dennis Hadaller, that this day has finally come," he said in a statement. "The Maurin/Hadaller families suffered a horrific and tragic loss of their family members and now will be able to see justice served."
Peterson is pleased with the outcome of the investigation. He added that he learned how deeply his client, Hadaller, cared about the case when he saw the front page of The Chronicle after the arrest.
"Dennis was quoted as saying he had laid his hand on his mother's coffin at her funeral and vowed he wouldn't allow the case to be unsolved," Peterson said. "I hadn't known that. That meant a lot."
Editor's note: See related Associated Press article for more background.