Robert Lee Yates Jr.
Aviator, Husband, Father, Ordinary Guy
The father of four daughters and a son, Robert Yates Jr. led a relatively ordinary and unremarkable life that was characterized by exemplary military service. Yates grew up on Whidbey Island, Washington, where his mother died while he was still in high school. Records show that he was allegedly repeatedly sexually abused by an older neighbor boy when he was approximately six-years-old, and it isn't clear whether he received psychiatric help or counseling. Following graduation from high school, he enrolled at Walla Walla College but dropped out after only two years. In 1975 he obtained a job as a guard at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla, where he worked for only six months. The following year he married a young woman named Linda, and later enlisted in the Army where he served his country for 19 years as a helicopter pilot, opting to leave less than a year before becoming eligible for retirement benefits. He flew an OH-58D Kiowa, the type of helicopter that the Army uses for reconnaissance missions. Yates served in Germany, participated in Desert Storm, served in relief efforts after the devastation of Hurricane Andrew, and flew in a UN peacekeeping mission to Somalia. In addition to holding a military pilot's license, Yates was also rated commercially to fly transport planes and helicopters. During his military service, Yates received a number of distinguished awards and medals including three meritorious service medals, three Army commendation medals, three Army achievement medals, and two Armed Forces expeditionary medals. After receiving an honorable discharge, Yates went to work for an aluminum smelter. He also joined the Washington National Guard.
While serving in the National Guard, Yates attained the rank of Chief Warrant Officer 4 and was the only commander the Guard had east of the Cascade Mountains for the OH-58 Kiowa scout helicopter, making him a valuable commodity, so-to-speak. He was characterized by his fellow guardsmen and guardswomen as a true professional who was very proficient in his job. He was also characterized as brave, and it became well known that he scouted hostile territory, often drawing enemy fire, while serving in Somalia.
While investigating Yates' background, the task force detectives discovered that there was a period of one year, from the spring of 1997 to the spring of 1998, that Yates was grounded and not allowed to fly pending the processing of medical evaluations. The period in which he was grounded was when many of the prostitutes were murdered, prompting detectives to speculate on whether his being grounded might have served as a trigger to re-ignite his murderous impulses. Such a correlation, however, was never proven.
As the investigation unfolded Yates' wife, Linda, came forward with information that Yates came home after being out most of the night. There was considerable blood in the rear of the van, she said. According to what Linda told the detectives, Yates had taken his daughter to work around 11 p.m., but did not return home until 6:30 the next morning. When she opened the door of the house for him, he came inside and retrieved cleaning supplies to clean up the back of the vehicle. The rear of the van, she said, contained a fold down bed.
Linda told the detectives that Yates had told her that he had hit a dog that had jumped in front of him while driving toward home, and he had stopped and placed it in the back of the van and had taken it to a veterinarian. On the way, she said he had told her, the dog bled all over the cushion. He removed the cushion that morning when he got home, she said, destroyed it, and later replaced it with another one.