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Robert Lee Yates

Mugshot of Robert Lee Yates
Background information
Birth name: Robert Lee Yates, Jr.
Also known as: Spokane Serial Killer
Born: May 27, 1952 (1952-05-27) (age 57)
Spokane, Washington, U.S.
Number of victims: 16
Span of killings: 1975 – 1998
Country: United States
State(s): Washington
Date apprehended: April 18, 1999

Robert Lee Yates, Jr. (born May 27, 1952) is an American serial killer from Spokane, Washington. From 1996 to 1998, Yates is known to have murdered at least 13 women, all of whom were prostitutes working on Spokane's "Skid Row" on E. Sprague Avenue. Yates also confessed to two murders committed in Walla Walla in 1975 and a 1988 murder committed in Skagit County. In 2002, Yates was convicted of killing two women in Pierce County. He currently is on death row at the Washington State Penitentiary.



Yates grew up in Oak Harbor, Washington[1] in a middle-class family that attended a local Seventh-day Adventist church. He graduated from Oak Harbor High School in 1970, and in 1975, he was hired by the Washington State Department of Corrections to work as a prison guard at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla. After working there for six months, Yates enlisted in the United States Army, in which he became certified to fly civilian transport airplanes and helicopters. Yates was stationed in various countries outside the continental United States, including Germany and later Somalia during the United Nations peacekeeping mission of the early 1990s. He earned several military awards and medals during his 19-year military career, including three Army achievement medals, three Army commendation medals, two Armed Forces expeditionary medals, and three meritorious service medals.[2]


The murders Yates committed between 1996 and 1998 in Spokane all involved prostitutes in Spokane's "Skid Row" area on E. Sprague Avenue. The victims were initially solicited for prostitution by Yates, who would have sex with them (often in his 1979 Ford van), sometimes do drugs with them, then kill them and dump their bodies in rural locations. All of his victims died of gunshot wounds to the head; eight of the murders were committed with a Raven .25-caliber handgun, and one attempted murder was linked to the same model of handgun.[3] One particularly bizarre detail of Yates' murders involved the case of Melody Murfin, whose body was buried just outside of the bedroom window of Yates' family home.[4]

On August 1, 1998, Yates picked up prostitute Christine Smith, who managed to escape after being shot, assaulted and robbed.[5] On September 19, 1998, Yates was asked to give a DNA sample to Spokane police after being stopped; he refused, stating that it was too extreme of a request for a "family man".[5]


Yates was arrested on April 18, 1999, for the murder of Jennifer Joseph.[5] After Yates' arrest a search warrant was served on a 1977 white Corvette that he had previously owned. A white Corvette had been identified as the vehicle that one of the victims had last been seen in. Ironically, Yates had been pulled over in this vehicle while the Task Force was searching for it, but the field interview report was misread as saying "Camaro" not "Corvette", thus the incident was not realized until after Yates had been arrested. After searching the Corvette police discovered blood that they linked to Jennifer Joseph and DNA from Yates that they then tied to 12 other victims.[6] In 2000, he was convicted of 13 counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted first-degree murder in Spokane County Superior Court. The judge sentenced Yates to 408 years in prison, essentially a life sentence.[1] Yates avoided the death penalty by confessing to the Spokane County murders in exchange for the life sentence.[7]

In 2001, Yates was charged in Pierce County with the murders of two additional women. The prosecution sought the death penalty for the deaths of Melinda L. Mercer in 1997 and Connie Ellis in 1998, which were thought to be linked to the killings in Spokane County.[7] In October 2002, Yates was convicted of those murders and sentenced to death by lethal injection.[8]

On September 5, 2008, a judge signed Yates' death warrant, with September 19, 2008 given as the execution date. On September 11, 2008, Washington Supreme Court Chief Justice Gerry L. Alexander issued a stay of execution to allow the defense time to file additional appeals.[9]

Yates currently is on death row at the Washington State Penitentiary.[1]


Name Date of discovery
Patrick Oliver July 13, 1975
Susan Savage July 13, 1975
Stacy E. Hawn December 28, 1988
Patricia Barnes August 25, 1996
Shannon Zielinski June 14, 1996
Heather Hernandez August 26, 1997
Jennifer Joseph August 26, 1997
Darla Scott November 5, 1997
Melinda Mercer December 7, 1997
Shawn Johnson December 18, 1997
Laurie Wason December 26, 1997
Sunny Oster February 8, 1998
Linda Maybin April 1, 1998
Melody Murfin May 12, 1998
Michelyn Derning July 7, 1998
Connie LaFontaine Ellis October 13, 1998


  1. ^ a b c Sable Burns, Kari. "Serial Killer Robert Yates". Retrieved May 14, 2009. 
  2. ^ "Robert Lee Yates was the Spokane serial killer". Crime Library. p. 8. Retrieved May 15, 2009. 
  3. ^ "Serial Killer Robert Lee Yates Jr". Retrieved May 15, 2009. 
  4. ^ "Robert Lee Yates was the Spokane serial killer". Crime Library. p. 11. Retrieved May 15, 2009. 
  5. ^ a b c Aamodt, Dr. Mike. "Robert Lee Yates". Radford University Department of Psychology.,%20Robert%20Lee.htm. Retrieved May 15, 2009. 
  6. ^ Fuhrman, Mark (2001). Murder in Spokane New York: Harper Collins.
  7. ^ a b "Wash. Prosecutors Seek Death Penalty for Serial Killer". ABC News. Retrieved May 15, 2009. 
  8. ^ "Search Results". Seattle Times. 
  9. ^ "Court stays execution for serial killer Yates". KING-TV. September 11, 2008. Retrieved September 18, 2008. 

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