As the judge read guilty verdict after guilty verdict, the 6-foot-4 detective sitting at the prosecutor’s table between two attorneys began to cry.
When Judge Richard Brosey finished reading the jury’s verdicts that found Rick Riffe guilty for the 1985 murders, robbery and kidnapping of Ed and Minnie Maurin, Detective Bruce Kimsey turned and hugged the family of the slain couple. He then shook hands with the other two men who were key in closing the case, Deputy Prosecutor Will Halstead and Lewis County Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer.
The 38-year-old detective described himself as a behind-the-scenes producer who reviewed thousands of pages of information and interviewed hundreds of people. After eight years, he brought the massive investigation to two ambitious lawyers willing to take on a case based almost entirely on memory with no physical evidence linking the suspects to the murders.
The tall, 285-pound Lewis County native inherited the Maurin homicides in 2005, two years after becoming a detective. Kimsey did not have a fresh crime scene, DNA evidence or even a clear suspect. It was a who-done-it murder that happened in 1985, when Kimsey was in fourth grade.
What Kimsey did have was the tenacity, attention to detail and the ability to convince anyone to talk to him, all qualities his coworkers and supervisors say make him an outstanding detective.
For the six-week trial leading up to the seven guilty verdicts, Kimsey sat beside the two prosecutors as they convinced the jury that Rick Riffe and his now-deceased brother John Riffe abducted the elderly couple from their Ethel home, forced them to withdraw money from a bank and shot them to death in their car. Riffe, who faces a maximum penalty of life in prison, will be sentenced on Tuesday.
Kimsey, who has worked as a full-time detective since age 28, already has a long list of impressive convictions, including that of triple-murderer John A. Booth in 2011.
Another major homicide Kimsey handled was in March 201, when he interviewed murder suspect Joshua Vance, who admitted to stabbing his sleeping father multiple times in their Onalaska home.
Police knew Vance’s attorney would likely argue that he was insane at the time of the murder, so during the interview that lasted hours, Kimsey spoke casually and joked with the 25-year-old. Throughout their conversation, Kimsey got Vance talk.
“(Kimsey’s) way of approaching and talking to Vance really helped us in that case,” said Detective Sgt. Dusty Breen, who is Kimsey’s immediate supervisor.
The confession ultimately torpedoed an insanity plea, and led to Vance later pleading guilty to the murder.
Often, Kimsey’s sense of humor catches criminal suspects off guard and makes them relax, Breen said.
“He kind of comes across as a big goofy guy, and the next thing you know, (the suspects) are saying something they don’t want to,” he said.
Between his sense of humor and his loud and contagious laugh, Kimsey has a gift of making people feel comfortable, which was key in pulling the Maurin homicide case together.
“In this case, there were a lot of people who had bits and pieces of information that perhaps they didn’t want to share,” Breen said.
Many people were terrified of the Riffe brothers and hesitant to get involved in the investigation. Kimsey was able to put many of the witnesses at ease, and coaxed them into cooperating and testifying in court.
“Everybody talks to Bruce,” Meyer, the Lewis County prosecutor, said. “Everybody wants to talk to Bruce. He just has that demeanor that makes you want to get to know him.”
Kimsey, who grew up and has lived most of his life in Lewis County, joined the military after graduating from Napavine High School. He worked as a military police officer. He later returned to Washington and began working at the sheriff’s office.
The young detective has won more than a dozen awards since the early 2000s, including employee of the year for the sheriff’s office and the American Legion Local Law Enforcement Officer of the Year. Despite the long list of law enforcement and military honors, he said he takes the most pride in the green thumb awards he received at the Southwest Washington Fair.
Kimsey, who also brags about his homemade salsa and canned green beans, says he has loved gardening since the age of 21.
In addition to gardening, he said he loves the Seahawks, as well as singing and dancing. He also has a great Elvis Presley impersonation, he said.
“I love making myself laugh,” he said. “I am probably the funniest person I know.”
Most of all, however, he loves his community and helping people without a voice find justice, he said.
“I really do care about others,” Kimsey said. “And if they are a victim of a crime, I care about it, and I want to do what I can to make it right.”
Chief Deputy Stacy Brown, who has worked with Kimsey for more than 10 years, said his ability to talk and relate with anyone — victims or suspects alike — makes him stand out.
“He has an uncanny knack for making people laugh,” Brown said. “He can make an intense situation into something humorous.”
His attitude and demeanor inspires fellow deputies to work harder, and everyone enjoys working with him because he lightens the mood, she said.
“He doesn’t take himself real serious, but he takes the job serious,” Brown said. “He is a very humble person and has a strong drive for justice but he has fun with his job.”
In late 2005, the same year Kimsey was assigned the Maurins’ homicides, he also investigated the horrific murders of Ricky and Conrad Morales. The boys’ aunt and uncle, Cathy and Raul Sarinana, both formerly of Lewis County and currently on death row in California, were convicted of the murder of 11-year-old Ricky in December 2005.
Raul allegedly killed Conrad a few months prior after he slammed the 13-year-old’s head into a bathroom wall inside their Randle home. His aunt and uncle then put his body in a trash can on their property and left it outside for about a month. The body began to smell, so they poured concrete into the trash can.
When the couple moved months later, they loaded the concrete-filled trash can into their moving truck with household belongings and brought it down to Riverside, Calif, where they later killed Ricky.
Kimsey investigated the death of Conrad, which came to light after Ricky’s murder, and worked alongside the California authorities during the Sarinanas’ trials.
When Kimsey takes on a major case, he absorbs it until it’s over. During the Ricky and Conrad Morales case, he carried a photo of the boys with him. Their photo now sits next to his desk.
“There are a lot of negative emotions and a lot of negative feelings that go into that work,” Kimsey said. “I am not superman. I don’t have a bulletproof heart.”
During the eight years he worked the 1985 cold case, he was involved in investigating 25 homicides, as well as other felony investigations including sex crimes, burglaries and arsons.
“At times I was thinking, ‘Thank God I’m a good swimmer because this is getting deep,’” Kimsey said.
As he worked other cases, he would return to the Maurin homicide and read the massive case file, oftentimes at home, off duty.
“In order to be a good detective, you have to love puzzles and you have to be willing to do the work to figure out the answer,” said Meyer.
When Kimsey inherited the Maurin homicide, it was one massive decades-old puzzle.
The case file was thousands of pages bound in about 20 different books, each four inches thick. None of it was in chronological order, and several of the police reports were missing information.
“I was like, ‘Oh my god, how I am going to get through all of this,’” Kimsey said. “There is so much going on here. It’s so huge.”
He started by having employees at the sheriff’s office scan every piece of paper in the file, one by one, until the whole thing was digitized. While necessary, it was a time-consuming and meticulous task. If someone missed one piece of paper, it could have left a hole in the investigation.
Kimsey also focused most of his attention on the physical evidence collected from the crime scene.
“In the beginning, I wanted nothing but DNA,” he said.
When the homicides occurred, forensic science involving DNA was in its infancy.
Kimsey, hoping that technologies developed since the ‘80s would help solve case, spoke to dozens of forensic scientists around the country about what items to test.
Murder investigations, however, are not like TV. DNA and trace evidence doesn’t always exist, and lab tests do not take 45 seconds — they take months to complete.
Furthermore, crime labs have a massive backlog, and cases with upcoming court dates take priority. For an old cold case, Kimsey said he had to constantly sweet talk scientists into testing evidence related to his case.
One of the pivotal points in the investigation did not turn out to be DNA, but rather eyewitness identifications from people who believed they saw the murder suspect.
The prosecutor’s theory of the case went like this: The Riffe brothers showed up at the couple’s Ethel home on U.S. Highway 12 early in the morning of Dec. 19, 1985. They forced their way into the house and made Ed call the bank to tell them he wanted to withdraw $8,500 in cash. The brothers then got into the Maurin’s 1969 Chrysler Newport and forced the couple to drive to the bank to collect the money.
After the trip to the bank, one of the Riffe brothers, armed with a sawed off shotgun, forced the couple to drive to a rural logging road in Adna.
The armed man then ordered the couple to get out of the car. When they refused, he hit Ed Maurin in the back of the head with a gun, then shot his 83-year-old wife in the back of her left shoulder, killing her instantly. He then reloaded the single-shot gun, put it to the back of the 81-year-old’s neck, and shot him.
The shooter dragged the bodies from the car and dumped them on the side of the road where they were discovered five days later on Christmas eve. The shooter then drove the Chrysler back to Chehalis and parked the bloody car in the Yard Birds Mall parking lot.
After the slayings, dozens of people who saw the vehicle that morning called the sheriff’s office. Several of them got a good look at the murder suspect.
A few years after taking over the investigation, Kimsey prepared photo montages again. The original montages shown to witnesses featured small, wallet-sized, black and white photos. Kimsey used the same individuals in the photo montage, but printed out large color photos instead.
He showed the new montage, which featured between six to 18 photos, to multiple people.
While he did not have high expectations for a positive identification, especially after so many years, witness after witness picked either Rick or John Riffe out as the man they saw on Dec. 19, 1985.
“I about fell out of my chair because it surprised me,” Kimsey said. “I’ve had goosebumps, it was just unbelievable.”
Every man featured in the montages had similar features as the Riffe brothers — dark, shaggy hair, facial hair and dark-colored eyes. Despite many of the men looking alike, several witnesses were adamant about who they saw that December day.
“For these people, it wasn’t, ‘I saw a guy walking down the street,’” Kimsey said. “It was ‘I saw the murderer walking down the street.’ It burned in their brain, and it bothered them.”
The theme with all the witnesses, Kimsey said, was the intensity of the brothers’ eyes. In more than a dozen eyewitness statements, each person described the man they saw as having piercing and intense eyes that looked right through them.
The momentum from the photo montages continued to pick up in 2012 in the months leading up to Riffe’s arrest.
“Once it started to come together, it was coming fast,” he said.
At the time of the Maurin homicides, the sheriff’s office, which had only about four or five full-time detectives during the 1980s, already had three other open murder investigations, which decades later are still unsolved. A month after the Maurin murders, there were two more homicides.
“There were huge major crimes going on,” Kimsey said. “It was spreading them thin.”
In the first few years following the Maurins’ slayings, investigators ruled out suspect after suspect until the case went cold. In the early 1990s, a deputy stationed in Mossyrock heard rumors of the Riffe brothers’ involvement. The deputy told detectives working the case that if they were able to get Rick Riffe’s wife, Robin, alone, she might be able to provide more information about it.
It wasn’t the first time the Riffe brothers’ names were brought up in the investigation, nor was it the police’s first time speaking to Robin Riffe.
In the weeks following the slayings, deputies received thousands of tips. When a composite sketch of the suspect was released to the public, the number increased.
“This is the most horrific crime that occurred, and the tips came raining in,” Kimsey said.
Each one needed to be investigated, and deputies had no way of knowing which ones were substantial and which ones were not. One of the anonymous, vague tips said something to the effect that Rick Riffe did something that he should not have.
When a deputy contacted Rick Riffe’s then-wife, Robin Riffe, in regards to the tip, his wife said the tip was about how Rick Riffe wanted her to have sex with a dog. As a result, the tip was written off as irrelevant.
In 1991, after hearing the rumors of the Riffe brothers’ involvement, David Neiser, who was employed as a detective at the time, tracked down Robin Riffe. He learned she separated from Rick Riffe in the months followings the slayings, and was serving time in an Arizona prison.
The detective called Robin Riffe, introduced himself, and said he was investigating an old murder case in Lewis County.
“You mean the one where the two old people were killed?” Robin asked the detective.
Investigators later transferred her to Washington to spend her remaining prison sentence locally and she continued to cooperate with investigators to build the case against her ex-husband and the ex-brother-in-law, providing details of the crime only someone close to it could have known.
In the early ‘90s, Lewis County investigators traveled up to Alaska, where the brothers had moved after the murders, to interrogate the men separately. Neither brother confessed to the slayings, but both failed a polygraph test. While Rick Riffe gave short and tense answers to detectives, his brother John Riffe unraveled during his interview.
When one of the detectives asked John Riffe if he was involved in the 1985 murders, he responded with “no.” He then later said, “I don’t know. I don’t think so. I just need time to think.”
He started to cry, and ended the interview.
Despite their failed polygraph tests, Robin Riffe’s cooperation with authorities, as well as John’s near confession, the brothers weren’t arrested, as prosecutors at the time wanted additional evidence before they would be willing to charge the Riffes.
In the following months, Lewis County detectives continued to work the case. Specifically, they eliminated all other possible suspects. The case continued to strengthen until Robin Riffe, the state’s key witness, died. Her death made all of her statements to police that implicated the Riffe brothers as co-conspirators in the murders inadmissible in court.
After that, the case stalled for more than a decade.
Though Kimsey was aware previous detectives strongly suspected the Riffe brothers, when he took over the investigation, he started from the beginning.
The previous detectives who worked on the case had already done an excellent job of clearing suspects and investigating all possible names, Kimsey said. As he sorted through the case, the evidence continued to point in the direction of the Riffe brothers.
Both brothers were known in rural east Lewis County during the 1980s as dangerous, small-time drug dealers desperate for money. The Riffes did not know the Maurins, but apparently targeted them because of their wealthy family. Following the murders, the brothers used intimidation and fear to silence witnesses who knew about their involvement.
After tracking down several additional witnesses, and returning to old eyewitness who later picked the Riffe brothers out of a montage, a warrant was issued for Rick Riffe and he was arrested at his home in the rural fishing villages of King Salmon, Alaska, in July 2012. His brother had died a month prior of natural causes.
A little more than a year after his arrest, prosecutors went to trial and successfully convinced the jury that the overweight, emotionless man dressed in a sweater and khakis in the courtroom was the same dangerous and violent man who plotted the vicious murders of a defenseless elderly couple.
While the detective insists the successful conviction was an accumulation of years of work from hundreds of people, many of Kimsey’s coworkers acknowledge he did something many other investigators could not do.
One of the most amazing things about Kimsey’s handling of the case was his commitment and passion to resolve it, said Lewis County Sgt. Rob Snaza, who has known Kimsey most of his life.
“He took this case home with him every day,” Snaza said. “He took this case and dissected it from ground zero and worked it all the way up.”
“There is something about him that gives him resolve in knowing that he can solve the crime,” the sergeant said.
Now that the Maurin homicides have been solved, Kimsey said his next challenge is another cold-case homicide: In September 1985, a few months before the Maurins were murdered, 18-year-old Roberta Strasbaugh was abducted, raped and murdered after her car ran out of gas outside of Centralia. She was last seen walking with a gas can on Old Highway 99.
“I think that guy (who killed her) should be worried because sooner or later I am going to be knocking on his door,” he said.