Real Name: George Edwin Conniff Sr.
Nicknames: No Known Nicknames
Location: Newport, Washington
Date: September 14, 1935
Details: During the Great Depression, dairy products such as milk and butter were extremely scarce. Creameries were often the targets of crime rings. As a result, police officers tried to patrol these creameries as often as possible. On the night of September 14, 1935, Newport Marshal George Conniff was checking out his regular beat, which included a local dairy. As he patrolled the yard of the dairy, he heard footsteps and a suspicious noise. He interrupted a milk robbery in progress and ordered the robbers not to move. One of the robbers fired on George, mortally wounding him.
He was rushed to the hospital and briefly regained consciousness but was unable to give any information on the people that shot him. Ten hours later, he died from his injuries. George's friend Sheriff Elmer Black began the investigation into the murder. He was determined to find the killer. However, despite Elmer's best efforts, the killer was never caught and the case remains unsolved.
In 1985, sheriff Tony Bamonte re-opened the investigation into George's murder. He learned about former Spokane detective Charles Sonnebend, who claimed to know the identity of George's killers. Sonnebend had given this information to the Seattle prosecutor in 1955. Sonnabend said that in 1935, he had arrested a suspect named Acie Logan for auto theft. At the time, he was driving a stolen car. Along with auto theft, Logan was also suspected of committing George's murder and several milk robberies. After an intense interrogation, Logan eventually named Clyde Ralstin, another detective, as being involved in the murder.
In 1955, Sheriff Black, after hearing this story, insisted that the case be re-opened. Although he was retired, he also said that he wanted to help with the investigation. Just three months later, in June of 1955, Black died suspiciously after "falling" from the interstate bridge on the outskirts of Pend Oreille County. The case once again became cold until 1985, when Bamonte began re-investigating the case.
Bamonte's research soon became public and several witnesses came forward. Pearl Keogh met with Bamonte and said that her friend Virgil Burch was involved in George's murder, along with Logan and Ralstin. Pearl said that in 1940, Burch had confessed to the murder to her husband and said that Ralstin had covered up their crime. He claimed that the three of them had gone to the dairy to rob it. He claimed that he was at the scene when Ralstin shot George. He also told her that Ralstin was able to get past a roadblock that had been set up by Spokane officers because he was a detective there.
In the summer of 1989, two more witnesses came forward: Daniel Mangan and Bill Parsons, who were both Spokane officers at the time of George's murder. On the night of September 14, 1935, they were told to dispose of a package by their superior. The superior told them to do so because "Ralstin was in trouble". They threw the package, which was in the shape of a gun, into a nearby river. Daniel showed Bamonte where he had been standing on the Post Street Bridge when he dropped the package.
Fortunately, the river had been dammed recently, so Bamonte and several others were able to search the dry river bed. They went downstream from where the package was dropped and searched with metal detectors. Within minutes, they were able to find a pistol that is presumed to be the one that Dan threw into the river. Bamonte is convinced that this was the gun used in George's murder. The crime laboratory confirmed that it was a .32 caliber revolver, which was the same type of gun used in the murder. Also, the deterioration of metal was consistent with having been in the water for fifty years.
Bamonte believes that Clyde Ralstin, Acie Logan, and Virgil Burch were the killers of George Conniff. At the time of the broadcast, Ralstin was the only suspect still alive. However, the murder remains officially unsolved because there is not enough evidence to make an arrest. Bamonte believes that he needs just one more witness to come forward to close the case.
Suspects: The police have identified a suspect, ninety-year-old Clyde Ralstin, in this case. He was police officer at the time of George's murder. He had connections with another suspect, Acie Logan, who admitted to being involved in a string of dairy robberies. After an interrogation, Logan identified Ralstin as being responsible for the murder. Another suspect, Virgil Burch, allegedly confessed to being involved in the murder. However, Logan and Burch had since passed away.
Shortly after the murder, two officers were given a package to dispose of. They believed it included a gun. The officers threw it over a bridge into a river. Over fifty years later, the gun was located on the dried river bed. The gun was a .32 caliber revolver, which was the type of gun used in the murder. This type of gun was issued to Spokane officers in the 1930s (like Ralstin). Interestingly, Ralstin had reported his gun stolen shortly after the murder.
Ralstin, however, has denied any involvement in the murder. His attorney pointed out that many of the key witnesses and other suspects were dead, making it unlikely for him to adequately defend himself. He also claimed that Ralstin never owned a .32 caliber weapon.
Extra Notes: This segment originally aired on the January 10, 1990 episode of Unsolved Mysteries.
The book Breaking Blue by Timothy Egan was written about the case.
Results: Solved. Clyde Ralstin continued to maintain his innocence until his death on January 23, 1990. Tony Bamonte, along with the other investigators and George's family, now believe that Ralstin, Acie Logan, and Virgil Burch were responsible for the murder. Although Ralstin was never charged, the case is now considered resolved.
George's children have since passed away.
- Marshal Shot By Prowler
- 89-year-old ex-lawman man denies 1935 killing
- After 54 Years, River's Quirk Gives Up a Clue in a Killing
- Clues May Solve The Mystery Of Who Shot The Sheriff In `35
- Sheriff Determined to Solve '35 Killing of Police Officer
- Half a century later, sheriff solves Depression-era murder
- Old Murders That Won't Die
- 'Breaking Blue' Cracks a Murder's Silence
- Dropping In On Spokane's Crime-Novel Hero, Tony Bamonte
- Lawman’s murder unsolved for 54 years
- Newport City Marshall George Conniff is shot while interrupting a creamery burglary
- Creamery robbery turned deadly
- George Conniff at Behind the Badge Foundation
- George Conniff at Find a Grave