Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Robert Lee Yates Jr.

Two Years Later

Sherry Palmer, 1992
Sherry Palmer, 1992

Two days short of two years passed without any additional victims being found that could be attributed to the Spokane serial killer.  By the time the fourth victim came to the attention of the police, the investigators probing the original case didn't know if the killer had moved on to another locale to carry out his dark deeds or if he had merely been more careful in hiding his victims' bodies.  Investigators opted for the theory that the killer had been murdering women during the two-year interim in another locale.

The awareness that the killer had started up again in Spokane came about on Wednesday, May 13, 1992, when a nude female body was found on Bill Gulch Road, about a quarter mile east of Mt. Spokane Park Drive.  Articles of clothing were tangled in the area of the victim's arms and head, and a plastic bag covered her head.  As with the previous victims, shoes and other clothing articles were found near the body.  Criminalists found what they believed to be a bullet near the body, but no spent shell casings.  There was no sign of a struggle and no significant blood pooling in the area of the body, which indicated to the cops that the victim had been killed at a different location and brought to the site and dumped.

As with the others, the cause of death was determined to have been gunshot wounds.  Bullets were again obtained from the victim's body, along with hair, fiber, and orifice swabs.  The Caucasian victim was identified through fingerprint analysis as Sherry Anne Palmer, 19, the youngest victim to date.  Subsequent follow-up investigation determined that Palmer had last been seen leaving Al's Motel, known for its use by prostitutes and their johns, located at 1421 N. Division in Spokane, on Friday evening, May 1, 1992.  Detectives learned that she had left the motel in a taxicab at approximately 11 p.m. to meet her boyfriend.  However, she never arrived at the location where he was to meet her.  Although she had a history of involvement in prostitution, Palmer was not known to use illicit drugs.

More than three years passed before the next victim attributed to the Spokane serial killer was found.  By this time, Spokane investigators were communicating with their colleagues in other locales to try and come up with anything that would link the victims to a suspect.  Unfortunately, all they had were victims linked by histories of prostitution who had all been killed similarly by gunshot with a small caliber weapon and whose nude bodies had been dumped at various locations.  With the latest victim on the other side of the state, in Kitsap County northwest of Seattle, linked to the Spokane serial killer, the investigators now knew that he was working in different locales.  The fact that the latest victim was found in western Washington also renewed fears that the Green River killer might still be at work.

It was on Friday, August 25, 1995, that the nude body of 60-year-old Patricia L. Barnes, a white woman, was found in the vicinity of the 15900 block of Peacock Hill Road in Kitsap County.  Kitsap County Sheriff's Department Detective Ron Trogdon was called to the scene, where he observed that the body was partly covered with cut foliage brought there from a different area.  Trogdon located a number of hair curlers at the scene, but little else.  However, he found a second pile of foliage similar to that where Barnes' body was found about a mile from the body discovery site.  When the criminalists went through the second foliage pile they found two plastic bags that contained hair curlers like those found with the body.  Blood was also found at the second location that was later determined to be Barnes'.

Trogdon's follow-up investigation showed that Barnes, so far the oldest victim of the Spokane serial killer, was last seen alive in Seattle on or about August 22, 1995, and was seen wearing curlers in her hair at that time.  Barnes was characterized as a street person, but had no known links to prostitution or use of illicit drugs.  She was known to drink alcohol, which was found in her system during autopsy.  The autopsy also recovered two .22-caliber bullets from her body.  Based on the evidence that was recovered, the victim's lifestyle, ballistics, the manner in which her nude body was found and the fact that it appeared that Barnes had been killed at a different location and her body subsequently transported and dumped at the location where it was found, prompted Trogdon to contact Detective Marvin R. Hill, assigned to the Spokane Police Department's serial killer task force.  When the evidence and Barnes' background was compared to that of the Spokane victims, there was little room for doubt that both Trogdon and Hill were looking for the same killer.


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