Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Robert Lee Yates Jr.

Caught in a Lie

The day after Yates' interview with task force detectives, the same detectives contacted Jennifer Robinson.  She told the investigators that she remembered the incident involving Yates and the police, and stated that she and Yates had reached an agreement for her to perform oral sex on him for $20.  She said that when the police stopped them, she instructed Yates to tell the officer the story about her father, which, she said, was not true.  She said that her father did not live in Spokane, and that he had never worked with Yates.

Overhead shot of the Yates' home
Overhead shot of the Yates' home

Now that they had determined that Yates had indeed lied to them, the task force detectives considered him an even stronger suspect in the prostitute murders.  As such it was decided that they would contact the friend to whom Yates had sold the white Corvette.

The current Corvette owner told the investigators that she had purchased the car from Yates in May 1998.  A title records check showed that Yates had owned the Corvette from September 8, 1994 through May 7, 1998.   During questioning, the new owner said that she recalled that Yates had indicated to her that he had changed the car's carpeting a year earlier.  The owner consented to a search of the vehicle, during which several fiber samples were obtained from various locations throughout the car.  The samples were submitted to the Washington State Crime Laboratory for analysis.

In the meantime evidence was uncovered that indicated the Corvette's carpet had been changed twice over a two year period while owned by Yates.  The detectives considered this unusual unless the carpet was somehow damaged or stained.

On January 14, 2000, task force detectives interviewed Yates' former employer at Pantrol who told them that Yates had a number of vehicles while in Pantrol's employ, including a mid-80s model ford pickup, possibly a 4-wheel drive, and a van.  Although the employer could not recall the van well enough to describe it, he said that Yates got the van shortly before leaving Pantrol in June of 1998.  The date that Yates had obtained the van was two to three months before his encounter with Christine Smith, the one that got away, in August 1998.  They could only speculate whether the van was the same one that Christine had described her attacker as driving.

Why hadn't Yates mentioned either of these vehicles during his interview with the task force detectives?   They wondered.

On April 5, 2000, forensic scientist Kevin Jenkins told the task force detectives that the fibers recovered from the Corvette closely matched fibers recovered during the Jennifer Joseph murder investigation.  One group of fibers, nylon, Jenkins said, was identical both visually and microscopically with regard to color, texture and shape.  Another group of fibers, although lighter and of a slightly different color, were also similar to a fiber recovered during the Joseph investigation.

Believing that additional evidence related to the Joseph murder might be found inside the Corvette, the task force obtained a search warrant for the car and impounded it from its current owner for additional testing.  Among their findings was a white button in the area of the passenger side floorboard, and they noted that the passenger side seat belt buckle and attaching device were stained with what appeared to be blood.  Looking further, several areas of both the driver's seat and the passenger seat were swabbed and tested chemically for blood, the tests of which reacted positively.

The investigators also found several areas on the passenger side floorboard that appeared to be stained with blood, and they found what appeared to be dried bloodstains and flakes of dried blood on the bottom of the passenger seat.  The stains in question reacted positively to a chemical test for blood, and DNA was extracted from three of the stains.  The subsequent DNA profiles matched, indicating that the blood was from a common source, that is, the same person.

Blood samples had previously been obtained from Jennifer Joseph's parents, and DNA had been extracted from those samples.  Results of the DNA comparisons between the blood from Joseph's parents and the bloodstains found inside the Corvette closely matched, resulting in an extremely high likelihood that the bloodstains inside the Corvette were from a child of the Josephs'.  Also, the detectives determined that the white button found inside the Corvette, made of white mother-of-pearl, was indistinguishable from a button on the blouse recovered from Jennifer Joseph's body.

The detectives also learned that Yates has five children, just like what Christine Smith had told them.

Yates was their man.  There was no longer any doubt about that.


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