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Former County Commissioner Dennis Hadaller Dies at Age 94; East County Giant Helped Solve the Murders of Mother, Stepfather

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By Eric Rosane / [email protected]

John Dennis Hadaller — the clever and compassionate logger and businessman who eventually went on to serve eight years on the Lewis County Board of Commissioners — died Tuesday, Dec. 28, at Providence Centralia Hospital from health complications related to Alzheimer’s disease.

He was 94 years old at the time of his death, said his partner Sue Lemoi.

Family and community members remember the Onalaska graduate as a salt-of-the-earth Lewis County resident: an honest, smart, hard-working, blue-collar businessman who was persistent. It was that same persistence — 26 years of it, to be exact — that would lead him, a private investigator and the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office to the arrest of his mother’s and stepfather’s killer in 2012.

In addition to serving as a county commissioner, Hadaller also served as president of the Washington Contract Loggers Association and was a longtime member of the Catholic fraternal organization Knights of Columbus.

“He was very proud of being a leader in the community,” said daughter Jennifer Covello, 61, of Mahomet, Illinois.

A memorial service for Hadaller will be announced at a future date.

“He was just a kick in the pants. The guy was just so brilliant, in business and life, and I really learned a lot from him,” said Bruce Kimsey, 46, a former Lewis County Sheriff’s Office detective whose work intersected with Hadaller’s life and the murder of his mother and stepfather.

As a 22-year-old fresh out of the Army and recently hired by the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office, Kimsey befriended 72-year-old Hadaller in 1999 while a regular at Frosty’s Saloon in Napavine. At the saloon, talk of timber and business were abundant, Kimsey said, and he recalled seeing “several million-dollar deals go down” with a handshake.

“I would always beeline it up there because I always loved these conversations. They would talk about timber, and land and all these business deals. And one of them was Dennis Hadaller,” he said.

Kimsey said Hadaller was silver-tongued, approachable and held a wealth of knowledge about the area. He spoke at length about the timber industry.

“Timber is no different than you planting corn — but you get a crop back in corn in about eight months, but with timber it takes 40 years,” Hadaller said in a video interview recorded during the 2018 Hadaller family reunion, during which he detailed memories of the first logging trucks traveling U.S. Highway 12.

Back then, he said, the highway was just a “crooked” gravel road.

During his time on the board of county commissioners, Hadaller’s prior decades of timber expertise and business experience also came in handy with many of his contemporaries.

“He was such a resource for me on understanding timber issues, county roads and providing a historic perspective and background on so many things. He was always willing to listen to others’ viewpoints, but was very decisive when it was time to make decisions,” said Eric Johnson, executive director with the Washington State Association of Counties and a former Lewis County commissioner, in an emailed statement. “My prayers and thoughts to his family and friends.”

Hadaller struggled with fits of vertigo, so much so that compounding health problems led him to retire from the board of county commissioners at the end of 2006 after representing East Lewis County for two four-year terms.

Bob Guenther, 77, of Chehalis, said Hadaller was a “good friend and good county legislator.” He was always willing to lend an ear to his constituents.

Back in the early 2000s, Guenther took up action against a site close to his home where biosolids were being sprayed. Irrigation of the refined material produced a terrible smell — so much so that when Guenther brought Commissioner Hadaller out to his property, there was a visceral reaction.

“Dennis actually upchucked in the ditch and was very understanding about what our family was going through. The smell that was being radiated throughout the area,” Guenther said. “That’s the kind of guy he was. Dennis heard my plea for what I was complaining about and came out and did something. That’s commendable.”

Hadaller went on later to testify to the Southwest Washington Clean Air Agency authority board about the permitted site.

“My first impression of Dennis was ‘this guy is sharp,’’ Kimsey said.

Kimsey eventually went on to work his way up to detective at the sheriff’s office. While he was well aware of the 1985 cold case murder involving Hadaller’s mother and stepfather — Ethel residents Ed and Minnie Maurin — it wasn’t until 2004 that he got assigned the case.

In 2012, investigators from the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office arrested Rick Riffe, 53, of King Salmon, Alaska, for the murder of the elderly couple.  Rick Riffe’s brother, John, died before he could be tried in the case.

The bodies of Minnie, 83, and Ed, 81, were discovered Christmas Eve 1985 in a wooded area on Stearns Hill Road, west of Adna. The couple had been abducted from their home several days earlier.

Kimsey and Hadaller were already well acquainted by that point, and even their families would intermingle, Kimsey said. So when Kimsey received the cold case, it became personal unlike any other case he’d worked on.

A photo of Kimsey and Hadaller hugging following the 2013 jury conviction of Rick Riffe for first-degree murder reflects the tenor of their friendship well.

“It’s like Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito, but I’m a thinner Danny DeVito,” Kimsey said jestfully of the photograph. He worked nearly a decade on the case.

With his hand on his mother’s casket at the funeral, Hadaller promised Ed and Minnie Maurin he would find their killers. Decades later, in the leadup to the conviction, he stayed persistent and helped keep the course of the case.

Chris Pederson, a retired Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office detective, was retained as a private investigator by Hadaller to investigate his parents’ deaths starting in 2005.

Witnesses for nearly three decades remained silent, but media coverage of the case eventually led the sheriff’s office and Pederson to a witness who’d seen Hadaller’s parents with the Riffe brothers at a bank prior to their murder, Pederson said.

“When I got to know Dennis, I quickly got to know that he wasn’t going to take no for an answer when it came to bringing the killer of his mother and stepfather to justice,” Pederson said, adding later: “He was one of the most nicest, decent people I’ve ever gotten to know in my entire life. His desire to right a terrible wrong was admirable.”

Kimsey retired last April from his job with the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office and now works in real estate. He said he “was basically there for my entire career” and that “they broke the mold when they made Dennis Hadaller,” who enjoyed trips to Reno, gambling, drinking and flirting with women. He was even lucky and won two cars through gambling, Kimsey said.

“He was Mr. Reno. I would always joke around with him and say, ‘Dennis, when we solve this case, we’re going to Reno,’” Kimsey said.

 



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