When George Riffle walked out onto the driveway of his modest home in suburban Chicago the morning of March 9, he got a rude surprise: U.S. Marshals and local police were waiting for him. They said they knew his name wasn't really George Riffle, and that he was under arrest for the rape of a 12-year-old girl and the stabbing of an 80-year-old man in Orange County, Texas, in 1988.
Riffle, 44, has been extradited to Texas and charged with aggravated sexual assault of a child (in Bridge City) and aggravated robbery (in Vidor) under the name "David Withrow." That's the name officials say he gave Orange County police when he was arrested on drug-related charges in June 1988, two months before warrants were issued for the rape and robbery. Withrow apparently fled Texas after the warrants were issued, and, according to Texas and Illinois authorities, for 23 years, Withrow lived quietly under the name George Riffle.
After two decades of dead leads, Orange County investigators submitted fingerprints from the rape and robbery cases to the Texas Rangers last February. The Rangers ran the prints through a national database and got a hit: The prints matched those of a Hometown, Illinois, man named George Riffle, who was arrested for drunk driving in 1999 and 2000. (We're still trying to figure out why investigators waited so long to give the prints to the Rangers.)
Orange County prosecutor Cory Kneeland tells Hair Balls the victim of the 1988 rape, now 35, still lives in Orange County and is ready to testify, should there be a trial. (The victim of the stabbing has since died of causes unrelated to that incident.)
"She remembers every bit of it," Kneeland said.
But here's the thing: Kneeland said it's just as likely that "George Riffle" is the suspect's real name, and "David Withrow" was an alias he used in Texas. In the two arrests before the 1988 rape, "Withrow" had no picture I.D. and gave no address. He gave different dates of birth in each of the arrests.
Riffle's attorney was not available for comment, but according to the Chicago Sun-Times article linked above, Riffle told the arresting officers he didn't know the name "David Withrow."
Which is weird, because Riffle is Facebook friends with a David and Carrie Withrow, both of West Virginia. The former wasn't immediately available for comment; the latter said she had never heard of a David Withrow or George Riffle. Another sister, reached in South Carolina, also said she never heard of a David Withrow.
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But we were able to reach Riffle's aunt, who lives in Houston, and has never heard of Withrow. Rose Goebel told us that Riffle moved to Hometown, Illinois, to be near his sister. (The sister declined to comment.) According to Goebel, who said she's only recently reconnected with her nephew, Riffle worked odd jobs around the country for years. She had no specific knowledge of him ever living in Texas. (While the Sun-Times story described Riffle as a widower with three kids, Goebel said neither Riffle nor his sister ever mentioned him having a family.)
According to his Facebook page, Riffle worked as a technician for a company that sells liquid level gauging equipment, studied at DeVry University and went to high school in New Mexico.
Kneeland told us, "The goal of this is for me to let everybody realize, I hope, that: You mess with a kid, I don't care if it takes 25 years, we'll find you."
We're going to watch this one closely, because, frankly, we're still confused.