Les George spent hours on the witness stand answering questions about his friend, Rick Riffe, right, who is on trial for kidnapping, robbery and murder.
By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter
CHEHALIS – Leslie George grew up in Mossyrock and graduated from high school in 1975.
That was about the time he came to know the three Riffe brothers, he said.
In the early 1980s, George was divorced and hung out with Rick and Greg Riffe.
The two brothers were very close, they did a lot of things together, he said.
Under questioning, he said Rick was kind of a leader, the younger brother more of a follower. Both had green Army jackets, Greg wore his a lot. Both wore dark stocking caps.
George spent hours on the witness stand on Friday in Lewis County Superior Court, answering questions about the two suspects in the December 1985 kidnapping, robbery and murder of Ethel residents, Ed and Minnie Maurin.
Lewis County Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer
Ricky Riffe, 55, is charged in the case. George called him Rick. John Gregory Riffe died last year before prosecutors could charge him. George called him Greg.
George, who went by the name Swabbie, didn’t recall that he attended the wedding of Rick and Robin Riffe, but thought she came into the picture about 1982.
In 1985, Rick lived with his wife and her three children in Silver Creek, he said. George lived in Salkum, but drove a truck, a job that would take him away for a month at a time. During the three or four days between trips when he was home, he stayed with his mother and step-father.
“Were you guys using drugs back then?” he was asked.
Yes, a lot of pot, some meth and Rick’s drug of choice was cocaine, George said.
Lewis County Senior Deputy Prosecutor Will Halstead went through a list of names asking who used and who sold drugs.
He didn’t know anything about Rick and Robin dealing drugs, he testified.
Robin was a waitress and tended bar. Rick had a logging job, but was injured a few months into it and had his back worked on, according to George.
On the witness stand, George recounted a handful of separate events, the first in the autumn of 1984 when he and Ricky Riffe went to Sunbirds to buy a shotgun and the last, when he got a message on his answering machine from Riffe in 1991 telling him to join him in Alaska where he had a job for him.
George testified he wanted a gun to keep in his truck for protection while he was on the road, so on Oct. 4, 1984, he and Riffe picked one out at at Sunbirds Shopping Center in Chehalis.
It was a 12-gauge single shot, single barrel gun, and Riffe offered to shorten it for him, according to George. A day or two later, the pair purchased some ammunition, double-aught buckshot, he testified. That was Riffe’s recommendation, he said.
George said Riffe later told him he tore a page out of the sales book that George has signed, so the firearm wouldn’t be traceable.
Senior Deputy Prosecutor Will Halstead
George testified he fired the gun only a couple of times before giving it his friend soon after.
Another event more than a year later was discussed in court on Friday.
He was asked to talk about a time he was traveling from Salkum westbound on U.S. Highway 12 with Greg and Rick as passengers.
They were in George’s Datsun pickup, heading to Chehalis to get the tires changed, he testified.
And what was the conversation? he was asked.
Greg Riffe was saying how broke they were, George testified.
“Greg said they was broke, they’d do just about anything for money,” he said.
About that time, they were in Ethel and George saw old family friends Ed and Minnie Maurin outside their house, he said.
“I said, you know, they’re probably worth a lot of money, they’re Denny Hadaller’s mom and dad,” George said.
Was there any response? he was asked.
The conversation took place maybe two weeks, or a week and a half, before the elderly couple went missing, according to George.
As has occurred several times during the trial, spectators in the courtroom heard more than the jurors did, while the attorneys and the judge argued outside jurors presence statements that may or may not be exempt from hearsay rules.
George spoke about being out of town and on the road on Dec. 19, 1985, when he got a emergency phone message telling him to call Robin Riffe.
When he called her, she said something to the effect, “You’re not going to believe what Rick has done; he’s gone crazy, nuts,” Halstead relayed to the judge.
George told jurors Robin Riffe was “kind of hysterical, I guess” but their conversation ended when Rick Riffe took the phone from her and asked why George was calling.
Defense attorney John Crowley
“I told him I called for no reason, then he hung up on me,” George said.
He then called his mother and learned the elderly couple was missing, he testified.
George was asked by prosecutors about another day at some point after he returned to town, when he and Greg were leaving in his pickup truck and Rick and Robin brought out a small paper bag from their home.
“He said they were old clothes they wanted to get rid of, they didn’t want ‘em stinking up the house,” George said.
George demonstrated with his hands a bag somewhat smaller than a basketball.
They drove down the old road, down by the bridge on the west end of Lake Mayfield, where Greg got out and tossed it into the woods about 10 feet from them, according to George.
It was early 1986 when George got his gun back from Rick, he testified.
It had been fired but not cleaned and was cut down shorter for him like he’d wanted, except it still need the finish applied, George testified.
“He made me put the Speedy finish on it before I took it home,” George said. “He didn’t want his finger prints on it.”
According to George, he put the shotgun in a closet at his parents house. He testified he realized it was too short to be legal and didn’t think it was worth the risk to carry.
He said he planned to get rid of it, and that he didn’t have it anymore. He said he was afraid.
At some point, law enforcement searched Lake Mayfield for the gun.
“I told them where I thought it might be, in the lake,” George testified. “My step-dad told me not to worry about it, it was gone; he put it there.”
In the late 1980s, the Riffe brothers had moved to White Salmon, Alaska. George said he didn’t keep in touch with either of them. They didn’t have any falling out, according to George.
Ricky Allen Riffe
It was 1991, when Rick Riffe called him to go up there for a job.
George testified he just left the message on his answering machine and didn’t return the call; that he was scared of what might happen if he moved to Alaska.
Why? he was asked.
“I thought I might be murdered up there,” he answered.
Under questioning from Halstead, George mentioned he was first in contact with police a long time ago, but not right away.
“Why didn’t you?” he was asked.
“I couldn’t believe he would have something to do with it, be involved in this,” George said. “I didn’t want to believe he would be involved in this.”
Halstead pressed the witness about his fears, his suspicions.
“Did you believe your shotgun had been involved in a crime?”
“Ed and Minnie Maurin. It was just a feeling I had.”
George appeared anguished at times on the witness stand, in particular when defense attorney John Crowley grilled him about why he would have commented when passing the Maurin’s house the elderly couple had plenty of money.
“It was you that said that about the Maurins,” Crowley said. “Why would you say such a terrible thing?”
“I didn’t mean anything by it,” George said.
Post script: George also testified he wasn’t aware Greg Riffe owned any guns, and that he drove a white El Camino.
He also said he’d never heard the last name Muzzleman, or heard the brothers referred to by that name.