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.
Like many other serial killers, Robert Lee Yates had a favorite type of victim: sex workers. At least one of his victims was underage, as well. Because he lived in Spokane, Washington, Yates sought out an area where prostitution was common and easily accessible. This area was called "Skid Row," and was located on East Sprague Avenue.
In the '90s, Yates would take his white Corvette (later a Ford van) and drive around the area, looking for a woman to have sex with him. They would do drugs and alcohol in his car as well, allegedly in order to make the girl more relaxed. Then, things would get horrifying in a hurry.
He would attack the woman, and eventually shoot her in the head. Even that wasn't the end of the victim's suffering, though, as he would have sex with the dead bodies. Eventually, he would dump the bodies with plastic bags over their heads, then go home as if nothing had ever happened.
Unlike the rest of his victims, Yates's first kills were done almost like a practice run, decades before he started methodically hunting down sex workers. He'd killed before in the military, in ways that his fellow soldiers referred to as methodical and patient. Given how his first two victims were killed, he likely murdered them with similar patience and methodical action.
Susan Savage and her boyfriend, Patrick Oliver, were in their early 20s in 1975 when they decided to go on a picnic at Mill Creek, near Walla Walla, Washington. They were relaxing and having fun when Robert Lee Yates spotted them from afar. He had been in the area, practicing target shooting. Yates shot Patrick three times in the head, killing him, then shot Susan twice.
When both were dead, he dragged the couples' bodies and put them under a pile of brush so they would not be found. They were located only a few days later, but Yates was not linked to the crime nor tried for it for another 25 years.
Given how prolific a killer Yates was, it's difficult to believe his family didn't sense anything was amiss. But that really did seem to be the case. Some of his children have claimed he was abusive on occasion, or that he would be frightening, but that they'd never thought he was capable of killing. His wife, Linda, also seemed to be in the dark, though she did once begin to suspect that something was wrong, even if she didn't suspect murder.
In 1999, Linda Yates noticed that her husband was burning credit card bills in the fireplace. This concerned her, and she soon found that there were charges on their account to hotels where you could pay by the hour. Instantly, Linda assumed he was having an affair.
He denied that he was having an affair, but he also began having trouble performing sexually with Linda. Their relationship was falling apart, but Linda was determined to stay with Robert in order to keep her family together. Never did she think, however, that her husband was killing sex workers.
One of the most startling things about this whole case is jut how normal Robert Lee Yates seemed. At the time of his capture, he was 19-year US Army veteran and helicopter pilot, he was nearly 50 years old, and had been married for almost 30 years. He had four daughters and one son, all of whom seemed fairly normal considering the horrible things he had done. He was described as a happy and kind family man, who cared a lot about his kids, and worked hard.
He was reported as having a slight temper when things didn't go his way, but other than that, the public didn't see any red flags coming from his direction. His neighbors said he was a good neighbor, and as a veteran he had earned numerous accolades. Really, this man seemed like the last person who would be a hardened serial killer.