Witness in 1985 Wash. murders said he feared suspects

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — One man told Washington state authorities he feared retaliation from two brothers he saw in a car with an elderly couple in 1985 before the couple was murdered. Another said he had a hard time getting one of the brothers to return his sawed-off shotgun until after the slayings. The same witness said the same brother was broke just before the deaths, but bought a boat soon after.

The witnesses are among the many who spoke to Lewis County investigators as they slowly built their case against Ricky and John Riffe in the deaths of 81-year-old Edward Maurin and 83-year-old Wilhelmina “Minnie” Maurin. Five days after their family reported them missing, the Maurins’ bodies were found at the end of a road in Chehalis, 13 miles northwest of their home in Ethel.

More than 26 years later, Ricky Riffe, 53, was arrested in King Salmon, Alaska, on July 8, less than a month after John Riffe, 50, died of natural causes on June 12, according to an Alaska state death certificate provided to authorities, said the Lewis County sheriff’s Chief Deputy Stacy Brown.

Investigators believe the Riffes left Washington soon after the murders. The brothers moved to Alaska in 1987.

Ricky Riffe, who declined to waive extradition proceedings last week, is charged in Washington state with first degree murder, kidnapping, robbery and burglary. He is being held in Alaska on $5 million bail. Washington state authorities want to bring him back to stand trial on the charges.

During the hearing Wednesday in Anchorage, he declined a public defender and said he was in the process of hiring his own attorney. Online court records did not list a lawyer for him Friday.

Authorities say that on Dec. 19, 1985, the Riffe brothers kidnapped the couple then went with them in their car to a bank and forced them to withdraw $8,500. Before arriving at the bank, Edward Maurin called and asked for the money in cash, saying the “kids are going to help us buy a new car,” something family members said was never planned, according to an affidavit on probable cause filed by the prosecuting attorney for Lewis County. The couple was then shot inside their vehicle and their bodies were dragged to a wooded area, authorities said.

That same day, Maurin relatives reported that the couple was not at their home as expected for a family Christmas party, Lewis County Sheriff Steve Mansfield said.

The couple’s car was found the next day in a distant part of a Chehalis shopping center’s parking lot. There were large blood stains inside the car and the keys were in the ignition.

Authorities have long focused on the Riffe brothers as primary suspects after men matching their descriptions were seen near the victims’ home, in their car, in Chehalis. But probable cause for their arrests was not developed until much later when additional witnesses and evidence emerged, Mansfield said last week.

One man said he had sold Ricky Riffe’s wife at the time, Robin Riff, two ounces of cocaine at $1,100 an ounce sometime in December 1985. A man with her was later identified by the witness as John Riffe, her brother-in-law.

Another man said he had given his shotgun to Ricky Riffe before the murders to “cut down” the weapon so he could carry it in his truck as a “cab gun,” but was having a hard time getting it back. On the same day the Maurins were reported missing, the witness reportedly got a call from Robin Riffe, who appeared upset and said,” You wouldn’t believe what Rick’s done,” according to the court document. The witness told authorities Riffe got on the phone, said nothing was wrong and hung up.

The shotgun owner told authorities he got the weapon back two or three months after the murders and left it at the home of a relative, who told investigators he didn’t want it in the house so he threw it into a lake. The weapon was never recovered.

In March 2004, the witness who said he feared retaliation was interviewed by investigators.

According to court documents, the man said he was driving with his mother in December 1985 when he saw John Riffe with the Maurins in their car. The witness said he was familiar with the brothers and waved. Soon after the slayings, the witness said, Riffe confronted him, threatening his life and his mother’s life if he spoke about what he saw. The witness said he got a good look at Riffe, who was in the back seat.

“He explained he withheld information all of these years for fear the RIFFE brothers would kill him or his family,” the affidavit states. “He came forward after the passing of his mother.”

In February of this year, investigators again interviewed the man, who told them he saw both brothers in the car with the Maurins — Ricky Riffe in the front passenger seat with Edward Maurin driving and John Riffe in the back with Minnie Maurin.

An arrest warrant was issued for Ricky Riffe on July 6.

In Alaska, Riffe is charged with being a fugitive from justice.

Records show John Riffe had a King Salmon address at the time of his death.

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