By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter
CHEHALIS – Jurors for the Maurin murder trial heard witnesses over the final two days of testimony last week who passed by the elderly couple’s Ethel home, who saw what may have been the Maurin’s 1969 Chrysler traveling in several places such as Jackson Highway, Avery Road at North Military Road, and Bunker Creek Road as well a woman who gave a description of a man heading away from the Yard Birds Shopping Center where the abandoned vehicle with a blood-stained front seat was discovered on Dec. 20, 1985.
Ed Maurin, 81, and Minnie, 83, Maurin were reported missing the day before; their bodies were located the following Dec. 24.
Lindsay Senter, of Mossyrock, was one of three truck drivers who drove U.S. Highway 12 regularly nearly 28 years ago that testified. Senter was delivering a load of logs to from East Lewis County to Longview and recalled seeing two males walking west on the highway around 8 o’clock that morning.
After hearing the news of the slayings, he contacted the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office to share what he observed.
It was past Harms Road and before the house where the Maurin’s lived, according to Senter. One of them was carrying something that could have been a gun, covered by a cloth, according to Senter. He didn’t actually see a weapon, he said.
“It just seemed like it was, it looked like that,” he told Lewis County Senior Deputy Prosecutor Will Halstead.
Robert Lyons passed the house three times each day in his log truck, and knew the couple most of his life, as he’d gone to school with Minnie’s children, Dale, Delbert, Denny and Hazel, he said.
“I seen they had company that morning,” Lyons said when he took the witness stand in Lewis County Superior Court. “I thought, that’s awfully early to have company.”
Lyons said he saw the Maurin’s car parked at the house, as well as a white car which could have been a 1970s model.
It had to have been shortly after 8 a.m. to 8:15 a.m., he said.
Morton resident Norman Layman told the court the Maurin’s two-toned green car passed him on Ethel Hill, west of their house during his second trip of the day.
He knew of the couple because he knew Minnie’s son Denny Hadaller, he testified.
It was foggy, he was westbound moving probably less than 20 mph, he said, and it would have been between 10:30 and 11 a.m.
“As I looked down, I thought it was Marion, the lady, in the front seat, I thought,” Layman said. “I couldn’t tell what was in the backseat.”
He could see the driver’s legs, he said.
Under questioning from Halstead about what he told police decades ago, Layman agreed he’d said he thought there were two people in the front and maybe one person in the back.
Kathryn Gunderson was then in her early 30s and living just south of Chehalis. Gunderson testified that a day or two after reading about the homicides in the news, she called law enforcement to tell them what happened that day as she headed into town up Jackson Highway.
Gunderson testified she got behind a dark green, good-sized car somewhere south of Ribelin Road. She couldn’t see inside it, she said, but it may have turned off at Main Street.
Under questioning, she said she previously told police there were three people in the car, but said she had been making a guess.
Steve Amoroso lived in Winlock and worked a swing shift at Green Hill School in Chehalis, arriving at 2:15 p.m. that day, jurors heard.
He came across the car at a four-way stop, he said.
What caught his attention, he testified, was the young male sitting directly behind the driver, with his arm on back of the front seat. Amoroso noted being in law enforcement he noticed the passenger obviously wasn’t wearing his seatbelt, and was “actively” looking the other direction.
Amoroso was northbound on North Military Road, just west of Interstate 5, and preparing to make a right turn onto Avery Road, he said. The car was pointed west on Avery and it moved into the intersection very slow, he said.
The two elderly people in the front seat were staring straight ahead, and the car’s brake lights came on twice as it moved through the intersection, he said. He described the third occupant as probably 18 to 20 years old, with a partial beard and wearing a dark blue watchman’s hat.
The witness with the most detailed description of a car and its occupants was a retired truck stop manager who contacted the prosecutor after seeing television coverage when trial began to say he recognized a photo shown of the now-deceased John Gregory Riffe.
Frank Perkins told jurors of the Chrysler pulling up to a gas pump off Interstate 5 exit 72, next to the Rib Eye restaurant around 8:30 a.m. that day, stopping briefly and then driving away.
Ricky A. Riffe, 55, is charged with burglary, robbery and murder in the case. His younger brother was about to be charged as well when he died last year.
Prosecutors have contended the Riffe brothers are responsible for abducting the Maurins from their home, forcing them to drive to Sterling Savings Bank in downtown Chehalis to withdraw money and then shooting them in their backs with a sawed off shotgun, leaving their bodies along Stearns Hill Road outside Adna.
Another witness before last week ended took jurors out to Adna in his recollections of Dec. 19, 1985.
Ken Paul, from Woodland, sells real estate today but back then he worked in the timber industry, he said.
Paul said he was driving a large piece of logging equipment from state Route 6 where it had been worked on, up Bunker Creek Road to a job site. It was an an International skidder and he was moving at only about 10 mph, he testified.
All the vehicles passed him, but a full-sized older car followed him for quite awhile and then passed him quite slow as he headed up, and he could see in its rear window, he said.
“What I noticed was an individual in the back seat, a silhouette,” he said.
He assumed it was a man, he said, he thought it was in the center of the seat.
Five to ten minutes later, the same car was coming back towards him, and he saw an elderly couple in the front seat. The driver appeared in a trance, distraught, according to Paul.
“He was looking straight ahead,” he said. “He never looked at me, he had a faraway look in his face.”
Two more witnesses testified a car they saw on Bunker Creek Road looked like the 1969 Chrysler belonging to the Maurins they were shown on the overhead screen in the courtroom.
Janice Duncan lived about two miles up from state Route 6 and after getting her children off the school, walked up the road to see how a neighbor was doing, she said.
“It was a green car, very similar to one that goes by a lot,” Duncan said.
She estimated it could have been 10 to 10:30 a.m., but she didn’t see who was inside it, she said.
Dennis Dahlstrom of Chehalis has lived in Lewis County all his life.
He was working in the area, and it was either late morning or early afternoon when he observed the car, he testified.
“Cars (there) usually are going 60 mph,” Dahlstrom said. “This one was traveling fairly slow.”
William Reisinger testified he was on Bunker Creek Road when he saw a 1969 Chrysler headed up it with three occupants and then racing back down it in the 11 o’clock hour that day.
Reisinger who said he was born and raised on a farm on the 400 block was expecting his mother and her boyfriend who drove a green car just like the one on the big screen, he said.
He was in his truck heading into Chehalis to pick up some bolts for a trailer when he saw the car approaching, he said. He slowed to almost a stop, rolled down his window and put his hand out. But it wasn’t who he thought, he said.
Reisinger said instead, there was a woman with a man driving and a person with dark hair leaning up on the seat. The driver was solemn-faced, but didn’t appear distressed, he testified.
“I’d say in his 70s, he just kinda looked at me,” he said.
On his return trip, as he got close to the farm, Reisinger saw what he thought was the same car coming around the corner, somewhat over the center line, causing him to move toward the edge of the road, he said.
“He was probably going 70, it was a pretty good clip,” he said.
Reisinger said it was his impression it was the grandson taking grandparents car for a joyride. He didn’t see the gender of the driver, he said, but thought the green of the jacket or the dark hair made him think it was the person previously in the backseat.
In hindsight, it was like a getaway, he said.
Former Lewis County Deputy William Forth was on routine patrol that morning; the elderly couple wouldn’t be reported missing for several hours.
Forth recounted how he was leaving the Adna store at the intersection of Bunker Creek road near state Route 6, when a green full-sized car coming inbound, 20 to 30 feet away caught his attention.
Its driver looked at him so directly, in a way that made him think he ought to pull him over and at least learn his name, because he looked like he may have just committed a crime, Forth testified.
Forth described the driver as a caucasian he estimated in his mid to late 20s, wearing a stocking cap with dark hair showing from under it, and a beard that was heavy but not full grown. He told the court he was wearing a winter coat that was dark, he believed was multi-colored and it seemed like had some green in it.
Forth pulled his patrol car behind the sedan and both sat at the stop sign to the highway for 30 to 40 seconds, although it seemed like forever, he said. There was no oncoming traffic, and the driver continued looking at him through the rear view mirror, he said.
Then the car pulled out and headed east, he said.
Forth was due at an office Christmas party and said he had his finger on the switch to flip on his lights, but for reasons he still wonders about to this day, he didn’t do it, he said.
As he passed the car at the freeway, and it got onto the turn lane to head north on Interstate 5, he looked at the driver again, and said he recalls seeing a red blanket over the seat. Forth estimated it all occurred between 10:40 a.m. and 11 a.m.
Forth continued to talk about the days that followed and what began to go through his mind.
He heard of the Maurin’s disappearance the next morning, he said, and left for vacation that afternoon.
Over the weekend, he stopped into the garage where detectives were processing the elderly couple’s found car. Forth said he was focused on his conversation with detective Herrington, but something began turning in his head about the vehicle, like a name on the tip of your tongue, he said.
During his week-long vacation, Forth testified, he awoke at 3 o’clock one morning and it hit him where he’d seen the same car. Forth testified he has never had a doubt in his mind it was the same one.
In 1991, after he’d left the sheriff’s office and worked as roads superintendent for the county, detectives showed up at his office one day, he said, and showed him some photos. He picked one out who was the individual he believed he saw near the Adna store.
Under questioning in court, Forth told of working with now-detective Bruce Kimsey last year and selecting a person from a group of photos as the driver. He said he was positive of who it was because he recognized the eyes.
Forth said he had only learned the day before he testified that he’d selected two different individuals.
Jurors also heard from a woman who gave a description of a man walking away from the Yard Birds Shopping Center where the abandoned vehicle with a blood-stained front seat was subsequently discovered.
Virginia Cummings said she had returned something she’d bought and was heading home to Salzer Valley in Centralia.
Cummings testified she exited the east side of the store’s lot to head north on Kresky and ahead of her walking the same direction on the left shoulder was a young man she was so certain was her neighbor, so she was going to give him him a lift.
“I don’t recall if I stopped or I just slowed,” she said.
The young man was dressed and built just like her neighbor, she recalled but as she was right beside him, she saw his face wasn’t the neighbors, she said.
He would not look at her, she said.
Cummings testified she didn’t recall that he was carrying anything or had a beard, but described him as wearing a navy blue skull cap, with dark hair that curled up around it, and his attire was an Army fatigue jacket, levi blue jeans and a black style boot, she said.
The trial began with opening statements on Oct. 8. It’s third week begins today. Jurors have been told they could be in court as long as six weeks.
As in the case of nearly all court proceedings, the courtroom is open to the public. Proceedings are scheduled from 9:30 a.m. until noon and 1:30 p.m. until 5 p.m. The courtroom is on the fourth floor of the Lewis County Law and Justice Center at Main Street and Chehalis Avenue in Chehalis.