Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Robert Lee Yates Jr.

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On Tuesday, November 10, 1998, the Spokane serial killer task force operatives were out in numbers as they had been for some time now.  It had been less than a month since Connie Ellis had been killed on the other side of the state, and based on the killer's prior activities the cops knew that it would be only a matter of time before he struck again.  It was 1:25 a.m. when Spokane officers observed a man driving a silver 1985 Honda Civic, Washington license plate identification 918AJH, pull over and pick up known prostitute Jennifer Robinson on the corner of 1st and Crestline, another area of Spokane well known to be frequented by working prostitutes.  The officer identified the driver of the Honda Civic as Robert L. Yates, Jr., and his encounter that evening would be the second time his name came up during the task force investigation.

When Yates was confronted by the police officer, he told the officer that he had been instructed by Jennifer Robinson's father to drive to the area, find his daughter, and bring her home.  With Robinson acknowledging that she knew Yates, there was little that the officer could do.  Unable to hold either one of them, the officer took a field report of the incident, which made its way to the task force.  Robinson probably didn't realize it at the time, but she was one of the lucky ones.

As the investigation into the prostitute murders slid forward into 1999, task force detectives became aware of a report that had been filed on August 1, 1998.  According to the report, 30-year-old Christine L. Smith had been the victim of an assault and robbery while working as a prostitute on East Sprague.  According to what Smith told the police, she had been picked up by a "date" near East 124 Short Street driving a 70's model black van with orange coloring on the passenger side exterior.  She described the van as having dark brown vinyl seats, with a wood framed bed with a mattress in the back.  She described the driver as a white man, approximately 50-years-old, about 5'10" tall, 175 pounds, with a medium build.  She said that he had sandy blond hair, average length, with no facial hair and a somewhat pockmarked face.  She said that her "date" did not seem nervous, nor did he smell of alcohol or act drunk, things that she said she normally notices about her customers.

After negotiating a price for her services, she told her "date" to drive to a parking lot behind a clinic on East 400 Fifth Street.  While en route to the location, the "date" told her that he was a helicopter pilot with the National Guard.  Smith said that she asked the man if he was the "psycho killer," and he had responded that he was not.  He told her that he had five kids and would not do something like that.  After arriving in the parking lot, the man paid her $40 for oral sex.  They went to the rear of the van and got onto the raised mattress, where the man pulled down his pants and she performed oral sex on him for approximately 5 to 7 minutes.  During the entire time, she said, his penis did not become erect.  At one point after the 5 to 7 minute period, the man hit her over the head with something, but she wasn't sure what he hit her with.  The blow nearly caused her to lose consciousness.  She fell backward and struggled to keep her senses intact.  The man told her to return his money to him, and she struggled to find a door handle to the sliding side door.  To her horror she could not find one.  She made her way to the front of the van, all the while trying to retrieve the money the man had given her from her pants pockets.  With blood dripping from her head, she made it to the front seat area and out the passenger door.

Fleeing for her life, Smith made it to nearby St. Luke's Rehabilitation Center where she obtained assistance from a security guard.  The guard gave her a ride to Sacred Heart Hospital, where she received three stitches to close a ½" long wound above and behind her left ear.  After leaving the hospital, she contacted the police and provided the details of what had happened to her.

Upon follow-up, Smith was unable to provide task force detectives with an identification of the suspect that had attacked her.

As the investigation moved forward day-by-day and month-by-month, the task force detectives became more convinced that Yates was their man.  He fit the general identification of the suspect who had attacked Smith including age and appearance right down to the pockmarked face, he drove a white Corvette and a Honda Civic and, they learned, he was a member of the Washington National Guard and served in the capacity of a helicopter pilot!

 

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