Spokane man held in connection with killings
Spokane man held in connection with killings

Associated Press Man suspected of 18 homicides

SPOKANE, Wash. - Authorities say a National Guardsman charged with murder in the death of a 16-year-old prostitute is a suspect in as many as 17 other slayings in Washington state.

DNA testing was underway Wednesday comparing blood samples taken from Robert L. Yates Jr. of Spokane and evidence from the various crime scenes.

Detectives have linked the murders of at least 10 prostitutes in Spokane and Tacoma in 1997 and 1998 to a single killer and say eight other slain women are possible victims.

Spokane County Sheriff Mark Sterk said Wednesday that Yates - a father of five arrested early Tuesday as he drove to work - was a suspect in all of them, though he was only charged in one.

"We feel like we've arrested the person responsible for up to 18 homicides in our community," Sterk told reporters about an hour after Yates, 47, was charged with first-degree murder in the death of Jennifer Joseph.

Joseph's badly decomposed body was found Aug. 26, 1997, in a field northwest of Spokane. She was among the eight women considered possible victims of the same killer.

Yates was ordered held on $1.5 million cash bond during an appearance in a Spokane County Jail courtroom Wednesday. Yates said little during his court appearance, other than to request a public defender.

"No, I don't have anything to say at this time, thank you," Yates said.

Joseph, of Spanaway near Tacoma, was last seen getting into a white Corvette driven by a white male in his 30s or 40s, court documents indicate.

Preliminary results of a DNA analysis of blood smears found in a 1977 Corvette Yates formerly owned matched Joseph's blood, Sterk said. The affidavit of probable cause said blood, hair, items of clothing and other evidence that could have come from Joseph were found inside the Corvette.

Detectives spent Wednesday searching for clues behind a fence of blue tarpaulins surrounding Yates' two-story home in a comfortable middle-class neighorhood.

Yates, a National Guard helicopter pilot, works at a Kaiser Aluminum Corp. smelter and has lived in the house with his wife and five children since March 1997.

A sample of Yates' blood was obtained with a search warrant, Spokane County sheriff's Cpl. Dave Reagan said.

"We're focusing on the one homicide at this point because that's what the evidence suggests," Reagan said. "If we find evidence that supports his involvement in other cases, then that's a bonus."

More DNA test results were expected Thursday.

Police seized seven vehicles, including the Corvette and two vans formerly owned by Yates. Evidence found in the Corvette, which was seized last week, "heightened our interest" in Yates, Reagan said.

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