There have been many prolific serial killers in United States history, but few as distressing as Robert Lee Yates, AKA "The Spokane Serial Killer." Unlike many other murderers, who showed tons of warning signs about how messed up and evil they were, Yates flew under the radar, because he seemed mundane. Yet during his spree throughout the 1990s until 2000, he killed more than a dozen women by luring them into his car. Even before he started serially killing them he had committed blatant acts of murder in 1975 as mere target practice. Rest assured, these crimes committed by Robert Lee Yates are hardly easy to stomach. His story is one steeped in decades of death, callousness, and even necrophilia.
Before you read, be aware that some of the details of these murders are rather graphic and disturbing. Yates killed numerous women, mostly sex workers, and used their bodies for despicable acts. What may be even more distressing is the way he lived his life between killings; he lived as if nothing was wrong. With this in mind, read at your own risk.
During his first trial in 2000, Yates took a plea bargain in which he pleaded guilty to 13 counts of first-degree murder in exchange for 408 years in prison, effectively avoiding the death penalty. In a separate trial in 2002, Yates was convicted of two more murders. That time, he didn't strike a deal with the prosecution—and he was sentenced to death.
He attempted to appeal the death sentence several times, but his most outrageous excuse came in 2013. Yates tried to claim he was not at fault for the crimes by reason of insanity. His defense? He claimed he was a necrophiliac.
Yates's lawyer filed a motion stating that Yates is mentally ill. The motion said he suffers from severe paraphilic and necrophilic disorders (he feels compelled to have sex with dead bodies) which caused him to kill against his will. It claimed that his normal-seeming lifestyle, his kind acts, and his family-man persona show that he acted outside of his right mind.
As Yates killed female sex workers throughout the 1990s, he began to get more creative with his murders and what was done with the bodies. In 1999, Melody Murfin was a 43-year-old sex worker and a known drug addict when Yates came across her on Skid Row. He killed her, as he had the others, and perhaps even had sex with the body—but he decided he wasn't done. He thought this victim deserved a "special" burial.
With the dead body in his car, Yates drove to his home, where he lived with his wife and children. He then took the body to the backyard and buried it right under his bedroom window, so he would always be able to look at it. He even planted flowers over the corpse.
One year later, Yates later told police where she was buried in an attempt to avoid the death penalty.
Yates might have gone on killing without much suspicion thrown his way if he hadn't made one grave mistake: he let one of his victims live. Christine Smith was 32 when she got into Yates's car, but soon sensed things were going wrong. When Yates couldn't perform sexually, he took back his money and drew a gun on her. He shot at her head, but in the struggle, the bullet only grazed her and she was able to escape. In the hospital, she was treated for the wound, and she soon informed the police of the attack and gave them a description of the culprit.
Later, after she was in a car accident, x-rays revealed that she still had fragments of the bullet in her skull. These were extracted in order to see if they could be matched to bullets in other victims. With this help, as well as a bullet extracted from the roof of a car, police were able to link the shooting to a .25-caliber gun once owned by Yates.
Although Yates had a type, he killed a wide range of people. His oldest victim was 47 years old, and the youngest was merely 16. All of these women were killed by gunshot wounds, with Yates either aiming for the head or directly for the heart. His first two victims were a young man on a picnic and the young man's girlfriend. Yates picked the pair off with gunshots.
In all, he killed at least 16 people, with some people estimating that he may have murdered 18 or more. Race and age didn't seem to matter, as long as he could get them into the car.