Spokane cops seek Army records of suspect
By HIL ANDERSON © 2000 4/21/00

  LOS ANGELES, April 21 (UPI) - The FBI is now assisting Spokane
investigators in tracking down the military records of a former Army
helicopter pilot charged in connection with a string of murders of
prostitutes in eastern Washington state during the 1990s.

 Robert Lee Yates remains in jail on $1.5 million cash bond facing charges
he shot a teenage prostitute to death in 1997, but officials said Friday
that investigators had "definitive evidence" linking him to nine other
deaths that occurred during the 1990s. All together, they are looking at him
for up to 18 murders, most of them, women living on the edge of society.

 "Investigators are awaiting laboratory results in three more cases which
they believe will tie Yates to those homicides," the Spokane County
Sheriff's Department said Friday.

 Yates, 47, moved to Spokane in 1996 after 18 peripatetic years in the
Army, and the task force investigating the killings is now working with the
FBI to get their hands on his military records to help track his movements.
Yates, a Washington state native, served with the 10th Mountain Division
based at Fort Drum, N.Y. and was also stationed in Massachusetts, Alabama
and Germany; he took part in the U.S. operations in Somalia and during
Operation Desert Storm.

 While it has not been revealed where Yates might have been when the
murders occurred, investigators have indicated they feel confident they have
finally caught their suspect.

 "We are not prepared to say he was out of town at those times," Sheriff's
Cpl. Dave Reagan told United Press International.

 Yates had been contacted by investigators previously after he was seen by
police in Spokane's red light district, and was arrested Wednesday after
being linked to a white Corvette that 16-year-old Jennifer Joseph was seen
getting into shortly before she disappeared.

 The car, which had been sold by Yates, was searched and yielded
bloodstains on a seatbelt buckle, and a mother-of-pearl button that matched
a jacket belonging to Joseph. A DNA test linked the bloodstains in the car
to Joseph.

 The task force is now looking for other vehicles that Yates has owned
through the years, particularly an orange Mustang that Yates reportedly
never registered in his own name, and which he sold for $800 - after putting
it up for sale in his front yard.

 "We are pretty much still at the point where we are finding and
identifying evidence," Reagan said.

 Investigators sealed off the Yates family home after hustling his wife and
four children - the couple has a fifth child who does not live at home - out
of the house with virtually nothing but the clothes on their backs. They are
being kept at an undisclosed hotel with a detective assigned to stand watch
over them; the sheriff's chaplain is collecting the kids' homework
assignments.

 "The family is dependent on us for their needs," Reagan said.

 Reagan said it was not known if Yates had contacted his family from jail
since "he may not know where they are," but investigators wanted the family
out of the residence while they search it in order to prevent them from
possibly removing, contaminating or destroying any potential evidence.

 The search of the house is expected to take about two months, Reagan said,
and will probably involve the removal of floorboards and cutting holes in
the walls.

 "We may have to bring in a contractor (to fix the damage) after we're
finished," Reagan said, adding that the Corvette is likely to be stripped to
the frame in a thorough search for any existing forensic evidence.

 The homicides have some similarities to the unsolved Green River Killer
murders that claimed some 50 victims, many of them prostitutes, in the
Seattle area during the 1980s. There has been no evidence linking Yates or
any of the Spokane deaths to the Green River series.
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Copyright 2000 by United Press International.
All rights reserved.