|THE ROBERT LEE YATES |
SPOKANE SERIAL KILLER TIMELINE
October 4, 2002 - A Pierce County court sentenced Robert Lee Yates Jr. was sentenced to death for the murders of Melinda Mercer, 24, in 1997 and Connie LaFontaine Ellis, 35, in 1998. The two cases went to court after Pierce County prosecutors refused to sign off on the Spokane plea deal and charged Yates with aggravated first-degree murder, the state's only capital crime. "He richly deserved the death penalty," said Chief Criminal Deputy Prosecutor Jerry Costello.
Yates showed no emotion whens the verdict was read. "The world is a frightening place, and I've made it more so for many," Yates -- who has found Christ in prison -- told jurors in court during the penalty phase. "Hundreds of people are hurting and grieving because of my actions."
October 4, 2002 - William Warren Juror #7 wrote to the Archives:
I am sure you will be relieved to know that Robert Lee Yates, Jr. has been convicted on two counts of aggravated first-degree murder by a jury in Tacoma, Pierce County, Washington, and that the selfsame jury found insufficient cause to grant leniency for the murders of Connie LaFontaine Ellis and Melinda Mercer. Consequently, on Thursday, October 3, 2002, we twelve summarized more than eight weeks' testimony and witnessing into a singular sentence: death.
His attorneys have hinted at a number of options to delay his execution, including a plea that he be required to serve the 408 years he plea-bargained with the Spokane-area officials for (in exchange for admitting to the Spokane murders, the attempted murder of Christene Smith, PLUS killing a picnicking couple in 1975 and another woman in 1988, and providing a map detailing where one of the victims -- Melody Murfin -- could be found, buried under his bedroom window at his Spokane residence) BEFORE he can be executed. You read that correctly: they intend to argue that he must serve the 408 years without possibility of release or parole he was sentenced to in Spokane before he can be executed.
He will be officially sentenced on Wednesday, October 9, 2002 by Judge John McCarthy in Tacoma.
Please don't get me wrong on this: his attorneys, Roger Hunko and Mary Kay High, are consummate professionals and they did the very best they could to get him life in prison rather than the death penalty. I feel very sorry for them, they had a thoroughly rotten case to defend and I'm sure they would rather have been somewhere else, but the case the prosecution presented was thorough and incontrovertible. By strict definition of the laws of the State of Washington, considering all of the evidence presented in the trial, and the instructions we received from the court, the only choice we could make was to invoke the death penalty. The fact that we came to that unanimous decision within three hours' deliberation should not be viewed as a "rush to judgment"; we asked for and received the night off to search our souls and be certain we were crystal clear that this was the only choice, and still the answer came back unanimous. I cannot commend my fellow jurists highly enough: there was no infighting or bickering, no power plays or bullying, but a cohesive and intelligent and sensitive group of people doing a tough job and taking care of each other in the process. We became a family in our time together, a bond we hope to maintain now that our job is done.
In his allocution, Yates stated that "...every life has meaning," a theme echoed by Mr. Hunko in closing statements, as well as by one of the prosecuting attornies, Mr. Costello. We twelve agreed wholeheartedly, and it is our sincere hope that the families of his uncounted victims will find some solace and closure in the fact that Mr. Yates will atone, one way or another, for taking so many of them for his own perverted pleasure.
Sadly, in revelations beyond the scope of the trial we heard, it appears that there are several other murders which might be attributable to this man which may never see the light of a courtroom, including that of a 15-year-old girl. Regardless of that, and irrespective of the appeals processes which may result in commutation of his sentence to the aforementioned 408 years without the possibility of release or parole, I feel that Pierce County stepped up to the plate and fought the good fight. We made the right decision -- the only decision we could possibly make -- and if he actually has (as he claims) rediscovered God and his faith, I hope he finds some comfort with that in the time remaining to him.
May God have mercy on all of us. And preserve us from monsters.
William Warren Juror #7 Tacoma, WA
February 4, 2002 - IHATEFEDS wrote the following:
Was Robert Yates stationed in Bayreuth, Germany in 1985-1986? I believe I recall seeing him trying to pick up a 16 year old girl, he was also married and we had a run in because I was friends with the girl. This man was a sergeant and he was definitely seeking young girls. There was a string of rapes and murders of young women and girls during that time but I don't recall whether they had been stabbed or strangled but it was around twenty killed. Their posters were posted at the 1/2 ACR bus stop just outside of Bayreuth, I think Benlach.
I didn't know him at the time that I met him but I did know that he was married. He wanted to drive the girl home but me and my friend wouldn't let her go with him, I made the call. I didn't feel right about the situation, he seemed too eager & he got extremely irate when we refused to let her leave with him. We almost beat his ass over it & we had two MP's who were going to help. The girl was not happy because she had to take the bus home. But I'm glad now because at least she made it home. For 17 years it bothered me who in my unit was involved in those murders. My unit only had 2000 men in it and it was unsettling to know that one of them was a serial killer and not knowing who it was. The Army was no help either because they refused to let the German police question Americans.
May 23, 2001 - Former LAPD bad-boy Detective Mark Fuhrman released a new true-crime book, "Murder in Spokane," accusing Spokane police of bungling the investigation that led to the arrest of Spokane serial killer Robert Yates. In his book, "Murder in Spokane: Catching a Serial Killer," Fuhrman claims that Yates could have been caught two years earlier if police had relied less on technology and more on footwork and intuition. However, the secong-guessing Fuhrman should learn from detectives in Spokane who, unlike him, were able to convict their suspect.
April 12, 2001 - Pierce County prosecutors say Robert L. Yates Jr.'s previous convictions in the Spokane serial killings will shed light for jurors on the two murders he's charged with in this county. Defense attorneys, though, have promised to try to keep details of Yates' 13 murder convictions secret in order not to prejudice the jury against him. Pierce County Superior Court Judge John McCarthy is expected to hear arguments on the issue later this month.
Yates is charged in Pierce County with two counts of aggravated first-degree murder for the killings of Melinda Mercer, 24, and Connie LaFontaine Ellis, 35. If convicted he could get the death penalty. Pierce County's chief criminal deputy prosecutor, Jerry Costello, said prosecutors have to prove that the Pierce County murders were part of a common scheme because that's one of the "aggravating factors" prosecutors allege. Prosecutors say that common scheme was a killing spree of drug-addicted prostitutes that included Ellis' and Mercer's deaths.
Mercer was last seen alive Dec. 6, 1997. Her body was found less than 24 hours later near Fort Lewis, where Yates served as a helicopter pilot for the Washington Army National Guard. She had been shot with a .25 caliber bullet and four grocery bags were wrapped around her head. Ellis was last seen alive Sept. 11, 1998. Her body was found a month later. Like Mercer, Ellis had been shot in the head with a .25 caliber bullet. Her head was wrapped in three grocery bags. Yates' DNA was found in semen samples retrieved from Mercer, while Ellis' blood was found inside a van owned by Yates. In both cases, forensic scientists were able to recover bullet fragments and match them to a .25 caliber Raven model semi-automatic pistol. Court documents showed Yates owned two pistols of that caliber and model.
January 25, 2001 - The life trail of confessed serial killer Robert Lee Yates Jr. is being re-assembled by a Spokane homicide task force to determine whether the willy killer is reponsible for the 15 murders he's been charged with. Once the time line is complete, the task force will host a national conference to share the information with other law enforcement agencies.
More than 50 police agencies -- from Vancouver, British Columbia, to Dothan, Alabama -- have expressed interest in Yates as a possible suspect in their unsolved homicides. Detective Sgt. Cal Walker, supervisor of the Spokane task force, said that the date and location of the national briefing haven't been chosen. A site in the central United States is being discussed, so it can be convinient for everyone. The single briefing and information exchange will save time and money for the Spokane task force, which would otherwise have to brief each individual agency separately.
The tedious task of tracing the killer's whereabouts for the past four decades is being done through receipts, employment and military records and family members. The job became more difficult when Spokane task force investigators lost their power to subpoena certain records. That power ended after Yates pleaded guilty in Spokane to 13 murders and an attempted murder. But authorities in Pierce County are actively investigating Yates and therefore still have subpoena power.
In related news, a Pierce County judge said he will decide next week whether the public will get to know the arguments attorneys for Robert L. Yates Jr. used to try to persuade prosecutors not to seek the death penalty against him. Cowles Publishing Co., which owns the Spokesman Review, is suing for access to records Yates' attorneys submitted to Pierce County Prosecutor Gerry Horne prior to his January 12 decision to seek the death penalty in the aggravated first-degree murder case.
Defense attorneys Mary Kay High said release of the documents would impair Yates' ability to get a fair trial and would violate his and his family's right to privacy. High added that she couldn't imagine what the value would be in publicizing the documents, "other than some sort of titillating way of selling newspapers."
January 11, 2001 - Pierce County hopes to begin case against Spokane serial killer Robert L. Yates Jr. in June of this year. Prosecutors said they will seek the death penalty against Yates for the two murder cases against him in Tacoma. "I'll be honest with you, we didn't agonize over it," said Pierce County Prosecutor Gerald Horne "This is a compelling case to ask for the death penalty."
Assistant Public Defender Richard Fasy who represented Yates in Spokane, said he was "deflated, disappointed and depressed by the decision." Fasy said it made no sense for the state to make a "spiteful and costly decision" to seek the death penalty against a man who's already condemned to die in prison. However, the victims' families applauded the decision. Fasy added he wasn't surprised that Yates calmly received the news. "He's got that military bearing. He's a model prisoner."
January 9, 2001 - The Spokane County Sheriff's Office, Spokane Police Department, Washington State Patrol and the Spokane County Prosecutor's Office, will share a $2 million federal grant over three years to help make up money spent on the investigation that led to the arrest and conviction of serial killer Robert Lee Yates Jr. The money, which comes from the Byrne Discretionary Grant Program, was attached to an appropriations bill by Republican U.S. Rep. George Nethercutt, said Tom McArthur, Nethercutt's spokesman. The bill was signed by President Clinton last month.
November 26, 2000 - The Spokane serial killer task force asked to use the Army Guard's helicopters to check out 70 sites recorded in a Global Positioning System device owned by confessed killer and former helicopter pilot Robert L. Yates Jr. The sites were logged on to a Magellan 2000 GPS computer device that was found by detectives during a search of Yates' South Hill home after his arrest. Sergeant Cal Walker, who commands the task force, hopes task force detectives can personally visit the sites "to see what Mr. Yates saw when he recorded these locations."
Detectives want to make sure the geographic coordinates Yates recorded are airstrips or airports and not hiding places that may have been used by the serial killer. When Walker initially asked the Army Guard for use of its helicopters, he was told there must be a "drug connection" for the military to become involved. However, a year before Yates' arrest, the Army Guard authorized use of its helicopters equipped with heat-detecting equipment to look for the bodies of missing women in the Spokane area. Curiously, now that they are investigating one of their own the Army Guard is not so willing to cooperate.
November 11, 2000 - The wife of serial killer Robert L. Yates Jr. said she asked her husband why he killed all those women. "I said, 'Do you know why you killed these women?'" Linda Yates recalled in an interview aired on NBC. "And how you could have done this, and still be married to me?" Yates did not answer. However, in court, his lawyer tried to blame his mania on a neighbor who sexually molested him as a young boy.
During her "Dateline" interview Linda also talked about what can now be seen as tell-tale signs of her husband's extracurricular activities. "Especially when he said he was going hunting, and he was dressed up nice, and had cologne on," she said." "You don't go out hunting with cologne on." She added that she confronted her husband about having extramarital affairs. "He always had answers to everything," she said. "Already prepared in his mind, I think."
November 1, 2000 - Though having admitted to 13 murders in Spokane, Walla Walla and Skagit counties, Robert Lee Yates pleaded innocent to two murder charges in Pierce County Superior Court in Tacoma. Explaining his innocent plea is the fact that Pierce County prosecutors rejected being part of Yates' plea bargain that spared him the death penalty for the 13 other killings. If found guilty of the murders Melinda Mercer and Connie Ellis the former helicopter army pilot could be sentenced to death. Pierce County Superior Court Judge John McCarthy, who will preside over Yates' Tacoma trial, ordered Yates held without bail in the Pierce County Jail pending a pretrial hearing Nov. 16.
October 26, 2000 - Spokane serial killer Robert L. Yates was sentenced to 408 years in prison after striking a plea bargain and cofessing to 13 killings. "I pray that God will right the wrongs that I have committed and that justice will bring closure," the repentant prostitute killer told a small courtroom packed with sobbing relatives of his victims. Spokane County Superior Judge Richard Schroeder also fined Yates $60,000, and signed him over to the custody of the Pierce County sheriff.
Family members of victims, during sentencing testimony, confronted Yates. "Do you have any idea what it's like to go to a cemetery for a family reunion for 25 years?" said Chris Oliver, brother of victim Patrick Oliver, who he killed in Walla Walla in 1975. "He has disgraced and dishonored every uniform he ever wore," said John Joseph, father of Jennifer Joseph, killed in 1997.
October 25, 2000 - Spokane County Prosecutor Steve Tucker said DNA testing has failed to match two blood stains found in his truck to any of the victims Robert Yates confessed to killing. Tucker added that Yates has taken a lie detector test, showed he was not lying when he said there were no more victims. But there are still unaccounted for blood stains in one of Yates vans.
Yates has also vaguely addressed the subject of the location of the .25 caliber gun used in eight of the killings. Connie LaFontaine Ellis was the last known victim killed with the weapon, leading police to believe the gun could be in Puget Sound. The gun could be used as a bargaining chip by Yates in his Pierce County murder charges.
October 23, 2000 - Police agencies around the state of Washington are trying to determine if confessed serial killer Robert L. Yates Jr. is responsible for more deaths than the 15 already attributed to him. "We're not convinced we have all the victims," state Atty. Gen. Christine Gregoire said. Investigators from Washington, Oregon and British Columbia met recently to discuss two large gaps -- from 1975-88 and from 1988-96 -- in Yates' the murderous timeline.
Yates has pleaded guilty to 10 murders in Spokane occurring between 1996 and 1998. He also faces charges for two Pierce County killings and an additional Spokane death during the same time period. He also pleaded guilty to the murders of a young man and woman in Walla Walla County in 1975, and a woman in Skagit County in 1988.
In Island County near where he grew up, Yates is a suspect in the 1977 slaying of 19-year-old Tracy Hesslegrave on Whidbey Island. "He grew up in this area, knew the area, and was seen frequenting the area during this time period, and has connections to the area," Island County Sheriff Mike Hawley said.
Snohomish County detectives suspect Yates could also be connected to the 1987 deaths of a British Columbia couple, Sheriff Rick Bart said. Tanya Van Cuylenborg, 18, was found November 24, 1987, shot to death and dumped in a wooded area near Burlington in Skagit County. The body of her boyfriend, Jay Roland Cook, 20, was discovered two days later by hunters about two miles south of Monroe. Yates has admitted dumping one of his victims' bodies in Skagit County, just months after the Cook-Van Cuylenborg murders. Yates is also being investigated in the death of Patricia Barnes, whose body was found in Kitsap County in 1995.
The special task force that caught Yates will continue to investigate the 1990 shooting deaths of Yolanda Sapp, Nickie Lowe and Kathy Brisbois and the shooting death of Sherry Palmer in 1992. Sapp, Lowe and Brisbois were all heroin-addicted prostitutes whose bodies were left along the Spokane River. They had been shot and dumped from a car. Yates, who at the time was stationed in Germany, is believed to have come to Spokane regularly. The bodies of Sapp, Lowe and Brisbois did not bear Yates' signature from the 1997-98 slayings: plastic bags pulled over their heads. But the bodies of Palmer and Barnes were found with plastic grocery bags.
October 18, 2000 - In a deal that would spare him the death penalty Spokane serial killer Robert L. Yates pleaded guilty to thirteen murders -- including three that were previously unrelated to him -- and directed investigators to a body buried in his own side yard, outside the bedroom window. According to the agreement, prosecutors would not consider the death penalty only if the body found in the yard was that of Melody Murfin, 43, a suspected victim missing for two years. However, even if the Spokane agreement is honored, Pierce County Prosecutor John Ladenburg said he intends to pursue aggravated first-degree murder charges in the two Tacoma killings which are not included in the Spokane charges.
Yates pleaded guilty to the seven Spokane slayings he was charged with; three Spokane slayings he was suspected of; the 1975 slaying of a young couple in Walla Walla County; the 1988 murder of a woman in Skagit County, and the attempted murder of Spokane resident Christine Smith, the only known woman to survive his serial mania. Next week the now remorseful serial killer is expected to be sentenced to 447 years for all the charges.
The young couple -- Patrick Oliver, 21, and Susan Savage, 22 -- crossed paths with the Yates, who was 23-years-old at the time, while they were picnicking on Mill Creek, just east of Walla Walla. Back then the soon-to-be serial killer worked as a guard at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla and is believed to have been hunting when he decided to kill the college graduates.
The 1988 murder he confessed to is believed to have been the first prostitute killing of his serial killing careeer. Yates told investigators he killed 23-year-old Stacy Elizabeth Hawn, who was last seen alive in Seattle on July 7, 1988. Her skeletal remains were found five months later in Skagit County. With these three new cases and the probable unearthing of Melody Murfin's body, Yates' known body count has reached 14 victims.
Spokane County prosecutor Steve Tucker said he agonized over the plea agreement, but felt he didn't have enough evidence to prove the aggravating circumstances he needed to convince a jury to impose the death penalty. Under state law, if the prosecution wanted to go for the death penalty they would have had to prove that the victims were killed to cover up a robbery, which was not the case in the Yates slayings. Strangely, Tucker said he agreed to the plea to give peace to the victims' families. However, all but one of the victims' families would have preferred to see Yates on death row. Perhaps the decision was grounded more on the fact that the victims were prostitutes and Yates is a white, middle-class family man.
July 21, 2000 - Spokane County prosecutor Steve Tucker, planning his case against alleged serial killer, Robert Lee Yates, asked the state prosecutors group to propose a change to the state legislature that would not force prosecutors to prove the murders were part of a common scheme or plan in order to ask for the death penalty. Tuckers proposed change in the law would eliminate that requirement and make multiple murders automatic death penalty cases.
July 20, 2000 - The Rotary Club 21 of Spokane donated $1,000 to the family of serial killings defendant Robert L. Yates. Donations totaling nearly $7,000 have trickled in since his April 18 arrest. The family, who was forced out of their home in an upper-middle class neighborhood on Spokane's South Hill, has had to deal with several unanticipated expenses while having no new income. One has to wonder where were these generous donators when Yates was hunting down street women with impunity and investigators were running out of money.
July 19, 2000 - Pierce County prosecutors charged Robert Lee Yates with two counts of aggravated first-degree murder in the December 1997 slaying of Melinda Mercer and the September 1998 killing of Connie LaFontaine Ellis bringing the total of murder counts against him up to ten. In charging papers filed in Pierce County, prosecutors said Mercer, 24, was shot in the head twice. Her nude body was found in Tacoma with four plastic grocery bags tied over her head - the serial killer's "signature." Furthermore DNA from semen found on Mercer's body matched DNA from a blood sample provided by Yates. Like Mercer, Ellis was shot in the head and had plastic grocery bags tied over her head. Because of the decomposition of the body, no DNA analysis could be performed.
Chief Criminal Deputy Prosecutor Gerry Horne said he did not expect to bring Yates to Tacoma to enter a plea on the charges soon, unless Yates' lawyer requests a quick arraignment. Yates might not come to Tacoma until the end of the Spokane trial, set for next May. Spokane County prosecutors said they have until July 31 to decide whether to seek the death penalty or life in prison without parole. Authorities are also investigating Yates for possible links to eight other slayings dating to 1990, most in the Spokane area.
July 12, 2000 - Spokane County sheriff's detectives searched two lockers used by serial killer suspect Robert Lee Yates Jr. when he performed helicopter flights at Fort Lewis near Tacoma. Investigators did not say what evidence, if any, was found. Richard Fasy, Yates' lawyer, said the search was expedited with Yates' consent. "It's my expectation that nothing of evidentiary value was found in the lockers," Fasy said.
June 17, 2000 - Following the arrest of serial killer suspect Robert Lee Yates, the Downtown Women's Shelter in Spokane has been forced to close its doors. The shelter opened a year ago when local prostitutes were being hunted by an unidentified predator. The 21-bed shelter accepted the women who fit the killer's victim profile : alcoholic and drug-addicted prostitutes. However, even now that killer has been arrested, these women still need a safe place to sleep. As investigators trying to solve the serial killer case haunting Spokane stated there are many "bad tricks" torturing and abusing the local street women.
As far as we are concerned the shelter was closed by landlord greed and community apathy. The landlord, for reasons unknown, doubled the rent of the center to $10,000 per month. Hopefuly, Lynn Everson, president of the Coalition for Women on the Street, will obtain funds to reopen the shelter.
June 7, 2000 - Investigators are still waiting to search Robert Yates' locker at Ft. Lewis. The Pentagon apparently did not accept the search warrant presented by detectives and ordered the locker to be shut with a safety wire until they recieved a federal warrant. Not wanting to risk having any of their evidence thrown out of court, detectives have decided to wait until a federal search warrant allows them to open the locker. "It's secure. It's locked up. But it's safe and it's documented that no one can get in there for now," said Sheriff Mar Sterk. "Hopefully we'll get inside very soon."
Sterk also said detectives have not yet removed bullet fragments from Christine Smith's head. Smith alleges that Robert Yates shot her while trying to rob and kill her.
May 28, 2000 - Pointing at a new trend of profitting from high-visibility murder cases, Spokane's Superior Court announced that they will sell copies of Robert Lee Yates' 462-page indictment at $1 per page. According to Gary Berg, chief deputy court clerk, four news outlets have already bought the whole stack of court documents. With $1,848 in their coffers, perhaps the county will now auction off pieces of evidence in EBay to the highest bidder.
May 26, 2000 - Richard Fasy, the public defender representing Robert Lee Yates, filed a motion to have the case reassigned from Judge Kathleen O'Connor to another Spokane County Superior Court judge. Fasy declined to elaborate on the request. "It involves too many conversations that are confidential for me to appropriately make any kind of comment." Superior Court Judge Tari Eitzen is expected to appoint a new judge to the case sometime next week.
May 24, 2000 - Investigators from Vancouver have contacted Spokane authorities to determine if suspected serial killer Robert Lee Yates could be involved in the disappearance of 29 local sex-trade workers. In fact more than 30 juristictions have contacted the Spokane Sheriff's Department for information on Yates and his whereabouts as a military careerist before settling in Spokane for a life of rape and murder.
May 23, 2000 - Detectives in Spokane wrapped up their investigation into the home of alleged Spokane serial killer Robert Lee Yates Jr. and returned family possessions that were taken from the house. Since his arrest more than a month ago the house has been surrounded by a blue tarp while investigators searched every inch of the property. The search yielded evidence in the yard matching clippings and detritus found near the dump sites of three of his alleged victims. Having already been charged with eight murders, Spokane authorities are preparing two more case against the father of five -- the deaths of Heather Hernandez and Shannon Zelinski.
The lockers Yates used when he was flying helicopters for the Army National Guard at Camp Murray and Fort Lewis in the Tacoma area have not been searched. Because military bases are composed of a patchwork of jurisdictions, Sheriff's Sgt. Cal Walker said he wants to make sure a search is performed legally. "Should we find something there we would not want to lose it," Walker said. "We're going to cover our bases for every square inch."
May 18, 2000 - On the day of his 48th birthday, suspected Spokane serial killer Robert L. Yates Jr., who just turned 48, was charged with eight counts of aggravated first-degree murder charges, one count of attempted murder and one count of robbery. The indictment upgraded the previous first degree murder charge in the case of 16-year-old Jennifer Joseph to aggravated murder. The other aggravated murder charges are for the deaths of Darla Sue Scott, Shawn L. Johnson, Laurel A. Wason, Shawn A. McClenahan, Sunny G. Oster, Linda Maybin and Michelyn Derning. The attempted murder and ribbery charges are for the August 1998 attack on Christine L. Smith
Prosecutor Steve Tucker and Sheriff Mark Sterk revealed that Yates left plastic bags over most of the victims' heads. The bags became the "signature" which identified for investigators that the rash of prostitute murders in Spokane and Tacoma were the work of one individual. Tucker and Sterk added that since his arrest DNA and other physical evidence has linked Yates to the crimes. "The only motive that's apparent from it is robbery," Tucker said, because no money or valuables were found on the bodies.
May 18, 2000 - The surviving serial killer victim was identified as 32-year-old Christine L. Smith. She is believed to have survided an August 1998 attack by Yates. Smith said Yates allegedly picked her up in a black van near East Sprague and drove her behind a clinic where she agreed to perform oral sex on him on a mattress on the back of the van. On the way there she asked him if he was the "psycho killer" who was killing prostitutes to which he answered no, adding that he had five kids and wasn't into that type of thing. Then he allegedly shot her in the head when he was unable to become aroused and asked for his $40 back. When she saw that she was bleeding she climbed out of the van, ran to a rehabilitation center and was taken to a hospital where doctors closed the wound with three stitches. Shortly after she reported the incident to police, even though she was unaware at the time that she had been shot.
A year later, after Smith was in an automobile accident, an X-ray revealed bullet fragments in her head. On May 18 Smith contacted authorites again after she recognized Yates as her attacker from a mugshot published in the Spokesman-Review. Since the emergence of Smith as a potential witness, detectives have searched a van formerly owned by Yates that matches the one described by Smith. Numerous stains of human blood were found inside. A .25-caliber casing was found on the floor and a spent bullet was discovered in the roof track above the windshield. Tests on the casing and bullet are pending. Smith has agreed to removethe bullet fragments form her head to seeif they match the other bullets recovered from the other victims.
May 17, 2000 - Investigators revealed they have found a woman who survived an attack by Robert Lee Yates. "That was a surprise and it was a stroke of good luck," Spokane County Sheriff's Office spokesman Dave Reagan said. "This has been a case of miracles." Spokane County Prosecutor Steve Tucker said he intends to charge Yates with nine more counts in the next couple of days. In addition, he will charge Yates with one count of attempted first-degree murder and first-degree robbery.Reagan said those charges are in connection with the attack on the woman who survived. "We have a victim who survived an attack by Robert Yates," Reagan said. "We are not going to reveal any victims' names until charges are filed in court."
May 12, 2000 - The FBI sent a genetic profile and other identifying material of Robert Lee Yates to Germany where authorities are investigating the deaths of nearly two dozen women. Yates, the suspected Spokane Serial Killer, served two tours of duty in Germany while on active duty as a helicopter pilot in the U.S. Army in the 1980s and 1990s. He was at a base in Hanau from August 1980 to February 1984, the Pentagon said. He returned to Germany in May 1988 and was stationed at a base near Goeppingen until 1991. German authorities are especially interested in any evidence found in a 1988 Chevrolet van that Yates had shipped to Germany.
May 1, 2000 - Racist ex-LAPD cop and bestselling author Mark Fuhrman announced he will be publishing a book on the investigation leading to the arrest of suspected serial killer Ronbert Yates. According to the publisher of "Murder in Spokane" released by Cliff Street Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, Fuhrman's book will be the first to print on the Spokane cases. Here at the archives we beg to differ, having already penned a book on unsolved serial killer cases that will include a chapter on Spokane. My book, "Killers on the Loose" will be coming out July 6. Beat that, Mr. Fuhrman!
April 30, 2000 - The Spokane task force investigating serial killer suspect Robert lee Yates have uprooted a 12-foot blue spruce tree next to his home. Spokane County sheriff's Cpl. David Reagan said they also sifted soil from another site where neighbors said Yates removed a hedgerow and filled in the area with new soil. Yates said he replanted the tree after it was knocked over by a drunken driver. In related news, authorities in Alabama, California, New York and other parts of Washington state said they would meet with Spokane sheriff's deputies to see whether they can tie Yates to any of their unsolved homicides.
April 26, 2000 - Spokane County Sheriff Mark Sterk asked county commissioners for more money to continue the investigation into suspected serial killer Robert Lee Yates. Sterk requested additional storage space for nine vehicles Yates owned or previously owned and funds to pay for the vehicles confiscated from new owners. He also asked the commissioners to add a specialized prosecutor to the case who would work exclusively with the task force.
April 25, 2000 - German police said they were investigating whether Yates was involved in any crimes while he was stationed in Germany. "It is possible the former U.S. soldier could be linked to unsolved murders in Germany, although we have nothing concrete as yet," a police spokesman said. Police in Watertown, New York, where Yates was stationed after returning from Germany, are looking for links between and unsolved prostitute murder there and the suspect.
April 21, 2000 - Authorities announced the identities of nine women believed to have been shot to death by Robert L. Yates Jr. between 1997 to 1998. The victims are Darla Scott, Melinda Mercer, Shawn Johnson, Laurie Wason, Shawn McClenahan, Sunny Oster, Linda Mayrin, Michelyn Derning and the previously identified Jennifer Joseph. The suspect is linked to six of the cases by DNA evidence and to three others by physical evidence that has yet been disclosed.
Investigators sealed off eight square blocks near Yates' home and took over everything inside the house. Authorities combed through every inch of his property using a "total station mapping" that utilizes lasers and the Global Positioning System (GPS) to create an accurate 3-D map of the crime scene that can later be shown to the jury. His family, for obvious reasons, was moved to an undisclosed location were police bought them new clothes. They have also impounded and searched seven of his vehicles -- three Hondas, a Ford pickup truck, two vans and the white 'Vette -- two of which he had already sold. Five of his alleged victims were dumped within mile and a half radius of the house. The task force set up two hot lines to obtain information on which hardware and grocery stores Yates patronized as well as clues about his lifestyle, hobbies and activities, and whether he had a storage locker or rented garage.
Sheriff Mark Sterk, who inherited the $2.2-million probe when he took office in 1999, said the task force's major complaint was the lack of resources. In January 2000 the task force was close to being disbanded because of severe departamental budget cuts. Sterk even asked Bill Gates to donate software to help analyze 10 years of homicide files but the billionare Microserf refused to give them anything.
April 20, 2000 - The three-year investigation into the serial murders of up to 18 Spokane, Tacoma and Kinsap County area prostitutes seems to have come to an end with the arrest of Robert Lee Yates. A balding 47-year-old husband of 24 years, father of five, aluminum worker and Desert Storm veteran, Yates was charged with the 1997 murder of Jennifer Joseph, a 16-year-old Spokane prostitute and is suspected of being responsible for up to 17 more deaths. Yates was a near-20-year veteran of the armed forces who was stationed in New York, Massachusetts and Alabama, as well as Germany and Somalia. In 1997, after retiring from the service and moving to Spokane, he joined the National Guard. As a guardsman he spent one weekend a month trained at Fort Lewis south of Tacoma. "He came to us very, very qualified. In the three years he was assigned to us, he was a good performer. He did an excellent job," said Lt. Col. Rick Patterson, a National Guard spokesman.
Like in many serial killer cases friends and neighbors were in shock with the suspect's newfound infamy. "Bob Yates, he was a great guy. He really was," said Gary Berner, an Oak Harbor dentist who's been his friend since high school. Neigbors said he frequently played catch on his front lawn with his 11-year-old son. He also enjoyed washing and tinkering with his cherished white 1977 Corvette, which ultimately led to his arrest.
The affadavit of Joseph's murder states that the youngster was last seen in Spokane's East Sprague neighborhood getting into a white Corvette driven by a white man between 30 and 40 years-old. Five weeks after her dissapearence Yates was stopped in his Corvette near East Sprague. A year later, after he had sold the Corvette, Yates was stopped in another car after picking up a prostitute. At the time he said he was just giving the woman a ride. In September 1999 that same woman told detectives Yates had agreed to pay her $20 for a sex act the night they were stopped. Acting on the evidence they had collected two task force officers interviewed him. At the time, according to sheriff's Captain John Simmons, "He was just one of many, many names that had apparent potential." After the interview both detectives remarked they thought he sweated a little too much.
In January 2000 police tracked down the new owners of the Corvette and obtained permission to search the car. In it they found a mother-of-pearl cuff button missing from Joseph's jacket as well as carpet fibers matching those found on her shoes and blood stain on the seat-belt buckle matching her parent's DNA. "The white 'Vette was really the link to Mr. Yates," sheriff Sterk said.
April 18, 2000 - At 6:23 a.m. Spokane County sheriff's deputies arrested a man on his way to work in connection with the 1997 murder of a local woman. Detectives would not release the identity of the victim but said they will try to get a search warrant to draw blood from the suspect and compare it to DNA samples of the Spokane serial killer. Spokane Sheriff's spokesman Reagan said: "We are very optimistic. This is really our first big break in our investigation."
April 14, 2000 - A Detroit radio station said Armstrong confessed to killing a woman in Spokane, which might be the clue Spokane police have been looking for in the search for their own serial killer. Though the Detroit killings bare more than a passing resemblance to the Spokane murders (similar victim profiles and dump sites), they differ drastically in the way the victims were killed: Armstrong allegedly strangled his victims while the Spokane killer shoots them in the head. Spokane's investigators said they have not yet contacted Detroit Police. They say, every time a serial killer or multiple murderer is arrested, the arresting agency is flooded with calls from every agency with outstanding murder cases. To avoid the rush Spokane investigators plan to wait a couple of days to make the call to find out if their two cases could be connected.
March 17, 2000 - More reward money is being offered in the search for the Spokane serial killer. The FBI is contributing up to $10,000 for information leading to the arrest of a suspect. That's in addition to the $10,000 already being offered by the Secret Witness program. Federal agents say the FBI is also stepping up its involvement in the case. "We've followed up investigations in Tennessee, Indiana, Montana, South Dakota and a couple of other states at their request," says FBI Special Agent Norm Brown.
March 2, 2000 - Investigators tracking the Spokane serial killer said they had a genetic identifier of the killer found at crime scenes. The revelation came at an unprecedented public meeting in which task force members, trying to generate new tips, asked for the public's help.
October 13, 1999 - A year after the killer's last known victim was discovered, the Spokane serial killer task force investigating renewed its call for tips from the public. Nearly 5,000 tips about the killer have flowed in to the task force in the past two years. Thirty percent of the leads have been followed up by more than a dozen city, county and state detectives.
October 13, 1999 - A year after the killer's last known victim was discovered, the Spokane serial killer task force investigating renewed its call for tips from the public. Nearly 5,000 tips about the killer have flowed in to the task force in the past two years. Thirty percent of the leads have been followed up by more than a dozen city, county and state detectives.
July 21, 1999 - Former Spokane Police Chief Alan Chertok, who resigned under pressure for suggesting his predecessor was a suspect in their serial killer investigation, has taken a job as interim chief of police at a community college in Southern California.
June 7, 1999 - A new Women's Shelter in downtown Spokane has opened its doors to the city's wayward women in an attempt to quell the fear incited by a local serial killer. The shelter will house single women without children regardless of whether they are sober. All other women's shelters in the city tend to close their doors to those with chemical dependencies.
May 27, 1999 - Spokane's Police Chief Alan Chertok resigned following the furor resulting from an off-the-cuff remark to a high scchool class in which he said his predecessor, former chief Terry Mangan, had been identified as the suspected serial killer. Mangan, who now works for the FBI and was never seriously considered a suspect, was not amused by the comment.
May 6, 1999 - One day after being criticized by police union leaders, Chief Alan Chertok came under fire for tying his predecessor to Spokane's serial killer investigation. Sheriff Mark Sterk said that his office has investigated comments Chertok made last month to a high school class about former Chief Terry Mangan's possible involvement in the serial killer case.
Detectives were trying to determine whether Chertok had jeopardized the serial killer case when he mentioned that at least one tipster had told investigators they should consider Mangan a suspect in the case, Sterk said. The sheriff said tips about Mangan did come in, along with hundreds of others, but quickly were dismissed. Mangan is not a suspect in the serial killings and "never will be," said the sheriff. Chertok said his off-hand comment about Mangan wasn't meant to be taken seriously.
April 18, 1999 - The former manager of a Spokane apartment building where human bones were found was questioned by detectives in the disappearance of a woman in 1993. Stanley Pietrzak was one of the last people seen with Michelle Wright before she disappeared in October 1993, the woman's mother said. Wright lived with Pietrzak in Spokane during the week before her disappearance. A police source confirmed Saturday that Pietrzak was investigated in the case. He was never charged, the officer said.
Pietrzak served as manager of the Helen Apartments, where the incinerated bones were found, from about November 1997 to October 1998. Tenants have linked Pietrzak to another woman who disappeared several months ago after visiting him frequently at the Helen. Police could not immediately confirm those reports. According to residents, Pietrzak also talked of converting a walk-in freezer in the basement into a "torture room."
Pietrzak, 44, was sentenced to a year in jail after pleading guilty to one count of communication with a minor for immoral purposes. He admitted having sex with a 16-year-old girl and taking pictures of her while she was naked.He also has a conviction for first-degree child rape in 1990 and is labeled by state officials as a Level III sex offender, considered the most likely to commit more sex crimes.
April 17, 1999 - Officers in Spokane investigating a woman's disappearance found partially burned human bones in the furnace of a downtown apartment building. Police haven't determined if the bones are those of the missing woman, who lived what police call a "high-risk lifestyle" and fits the profile of 10 victims of a presumed serial killer. Despite the similarities, investigators don't believe the bones are those of a serial killer victim.
In related news, police said they consider a Spokane doctor a "person of interest" in relation to the their serial killer investigation. Detectives, who suspect Dr. Joseph S. Taylor of having kidnapped and raped a downtown prostitute, searched the doctor's house and his sport-utility vehicle. They seized bed sheets, pillows and a 9mm pistol in their raid on the house at 3711 E. 49th Avenue, according to an affidavit of probable cause filed in District Court. Investigators also searched for fingerprints and looked for hair samples in Taylor's red 1990 Toyota 4Runner. Taylor, 35, hasn't been arrested in the reported rape and has been ruled out as a suspect in the serial killings.
April 15, 1999 - Law officers seeking a serial killer searched a home in an affluent area of Spokane's South Hill, but declined to link the search to the slayings. The search was related to the kidnap and rape of a woman in downtown Spokane in February, Spokane County sheriff's spokesman Dave Reagan said. "There is nothing at this time that links it to the serial killings," Reagan said. "But rather than hand off to another detective and spoil rapport with the source, they thought it appropriate to follow it up."
March 4, 1999 - A human hand found by a dog in the woods south of Snolqualmie, Washington, led authorities to the discovery of the skeletal remains of Jennifer Diane Justus. Though her profile is similar to the victim profile of the Spokane Killer, authorities believe she is not the killer's 11th victim. The dog's owner, Joe Rohrbach, found the mostly decomposed hand in his dog's food dish. The dish had been set in an outside carport at Rohrbach's home.
November 17, 1998 - Mark Sterk, Spokane's sheriff-elect, says the search for a serial killer is the community's top public safety priority. Sterk said he wants to add four detectives to a task force pursuing the murderer. Two of the new investigators would come from the Spokane County Sheriff's Department, which already has four detectives working full- time on the case. Sterk also hopes to convince the Washington State Patrol to assign two of its major crimes detectives to the task force, which is currently comprised of Spokane city and county investigators.
October 21, 1998 - Authorities in Pierce County believe the Spokane serial killer may have struck again in Pierce County. It appears that a body found at Parkland could have been dumped there by the Spokane killer.
October 10, 1998 - Authorities investigating the Spokane serial killings have visited a man in North Dakota suspected in three local deaths and two disappearances in the 1970s and 1980s. The man was ruled out as a suspect in the Spokane case following his interview with detectives.
Lewiston Police Lt. Alan Johnson would not comment on what transpired during the meeting. Task force investigators interviewed the man after receiving a tip that he might somehow be involved in the serial killings, said Capt. Doug Silver of the Spokane County Sheriff's Department. "We do those kinds of interviews almost every day," Silver said. "This isn't unusual." However, the unidentified man remains the prime suspect in the Lewiston killings.
September 3, 1998 - A missing woman from Spokane, Washington has been added to the list of eight other women presumed to be the victims of a serial killer. Investigators put Melody Ann Murfin on the list after spending more than three months trying to locate her. Although she has not been confirmed dead, investigators do not believe the 43-year-old drug addict and part-time prostitute is still alive. Murfin disappeared May 13.
July 9, 1998 - Michelyn Derning, 47, whose nude body was found in a vacant lot, is believed to be the eighth victim of the suspected Spokane serial killer. Seven women in Spokane and one in Tacoma killed since last fall are believed to have been victims of a serial killer. All the victims had been involved in drugs or prostitution. They were shot and their bodies dumped in out-of-the-way areas.
Another 43-year-old woman has not been seen since mid-May and could be another victim, police said. The Spokane woman was known to associate with some of the past victims. Investigators also are looking into any links the presumed serial slayings may have with as many as a dozen other unsolved slayings of women in the Spokane area since 1984.
Derning was seen alive in downtown Spokane on July 3, which may be a break for the city-county task force investigating the serial killings. The bodies of the other victims were found weeks or months after the women had been reported missing by friends or relatives. The last victim, Linda Maybin, was missing for nearly four months before her body was found April first.
A serial killer who stalks crime-ridden sections of town may have resurfaced after three months to murder his eighth victim, police said.
Task force members investigating the deaths of seven women in Spokane and one in Tacoma say there are various similarities in the murder of Michelyn Derning and the other victims.
Her body was found by a transient in a grassy lot near an area frequented by prostitutes. Police say the body was covered with branches and a hot tub cover. Bragdon says evidence at the scene was similar to evidence found at the scenes of the other murders, but he would not reveal details.
June 12, 1998 - A badly decomposed body discovered in a wooded area near Spokane has authorities thinking that a suspected serial killer may have struck again. Spokane police say the remains were so badly decomposed that they were not even able to tell the gender of the victim.
April 4, 1998 - Police believe a woman whose body was found on the same hillside outside Spokane where two previous victims were discovered in December is possibly the seventh victim of the local serial killer. Like the six other victims, Linda Marie Maybin, 34, died of a gunshot wound. Linda had been missing since November 22. Investigators would not say how many other similarities the latest case shared with the other deaths, other than to note the common dumping site. Maybin may have been involved in prostitution and drugs, as the six others were, police said.
February 12, 1998 - An hour after the end of a candlelight vigil held for the victims of an apparent serial killer in Spokane, Washington, police announced that they had found a new body. Police suspect a serial killer to be responsible for the deaths of six dead drug-addicts and/or prostitutes since November. The women all died of gunshot wounds and their bodies were found in rural areas. Police are also looking into possible links with 11 other unsolved killings of area women since 1984 -- the year the Green River killings in the Seattle-Tacoma came to an end.
January 31, 1998 - The killings of seven women since late summer -- four of them in the last weeks of '97 -- have resurrected the specter of Seattle's Green River killer. A task force investigating the suspected serial killings is also looking into possible links with 11 other unsolved killings of area women since 1984 -- the year the Green River killings halted at a three-year toll of 49 women. Based on FBI analysis of the crimes authorities announced: "At this time, we're very confident in saying that our individual, or individuals, is in no way connected to the Green River killer."