Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Robert Lee Yates Jr.


On Tuesday, April 18, 2000, Robert L. Yates, Jr. was arrested for the murder of Jennifer Joseph.  A search warrant executed at the time of his arrest enabled authorities to obtain blood samples from Yates, and a subsequent DNA analysis was found to match the DNA profiles of sperm samples taken from victims Scott, Johnson, Wason, McClenahan, Mercer, Oster, Maybin, and Derning.

Officers inspecting Yates' backyard
Officers inspecting Yates' backyard

Detectives also went to Yates' home where they noted species of plants that were identical to the vegetation that had covered the bodies of victims Wason, McClenahan, and Maybin.  They also found in plain view at his home pieces of broken concrete, wood with white paint peeling from it, peanut shells and rocks, all of which were present in samples taken from the sites where the aforementioned victims were found and which was used to try and conceal their bodies.  They also found several "packing peanuts" strewn about the yard.

On April 25, 2000, a latent fingerprint that had been developed from a plastic bag found on Shawn McClenahan's head was matched to Robert L. Yates, Jr.

Following Yates' arrest and after seeing Yates' photo in the Spokesman-Review newspaper, task force detectives were contacted again by Christine Smith, who told them that Yates might be the man who attacked her.  During the May 12, 2000 interview, Smith told detectives Bentley and Hill that she had been recently treated at the University of Washington Medical Center for injuries sustained in an automobile accident.  It was while being treated for those injuries, she said, that x-rays of her head determined that she was carrying metal fragments within her head.  The doctors' reports concluded that she had probably sustained an old gunshot wound to the left mastoid area, the same area where she thought that her attacker had struck her with an undetermined object.  During the interview Smith told the detectives that she may have been shot instead of struck because she was always wondering about the suddenness and severity of the attack on her.  She said that it was possible, even likely, that she had been mistaken about being struck.  Although she was unable to positively identify Yates from a photo line up as the man who had attacked her, she said that he looked like the man who had assaulted her.

At another point following Yates' arrest, the detectives located and seized a number of vehicles that Yates had previously owned, including a 1979 Ford van.  The van in question was black in color with an orange/yellow stripe on the passenger side exterior, which had been painted over with black paint.  The van had bucket seats, and a raised, bed-like platform in the rear covered in carpet.  Numerous stains were found inside the van that reacted positively to chemicals used to identify blood.  Detectives also found a spent Magtech .25 bullet casing, the same brand and caliber of ammunition used in the murders of Johnson, Wason, McClenahan, Oster, Maybin, Ellis, and Mercer.  They also found a spent bullet in the roof track above the windshield.

Yates, now 48, was charged with 8 counts of first-degree murder in the shooting deaths of Spokane area prostitutes and was suspected in the deaths of as many as 18 women, possibly even more.   He was also charged with first-degree attempted murder and first-degree burglary in connection with the assault on Christine Smith.  He was held without bond, and initially pleaded not guilty to all of the charges.

Yates entering Pierce County Court
Yates entering Pierce County Court

Yates was subsequently charged with two counts of first-degree murder in Pierce County for the slayings of Connie LaFontaine Ellis and Melinda Mercer.  He pleaded not guilty in those murders as well.

Prosecutors in both jurisdictions indicated that they would seek the death penalty against Yates.


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