Outside the profile
SPOKANE - Could a generous, loving father be the cold-blooded killer of a dozen or more women?
It's a question giving pause to homicide experts looking at the case of Robert L. Yates, a seemingly solid family man and good neighbor who is suspected of shooting to death prostitutes and drug addicts. He was arrested last week.
"This man doesn't appear to be the typical case, but then, every one has their own individual characteristics that make them stand out," said Eric Hickey, a California State University-Fresno criminology professor who interviewed more than 300 killers for his book "Serial Murderers and Their Victims."
Yates, a 47-year-old married Army veteran and factory worker with five children, appears too old and too stable to fit the police profiles of serial killers - typically 25- to 35-year-old loners unable to maintain personal relationships.
Then again, it is their ability to blend in with society and hide their deadly addiction that makes serial killers successful, say those who study their habits.
"We all think we know what the bogeyman looks like, but we don't," said Tomas Guillen, a Seattle University professor and former reporter who wrote a book on Seattle's Green River killer. "There are a lot of them out there we don't know about."
Yates is being held on $1.5 million bail on charges of murdering prostitute Jennifer Joseph in 1997. More charges are expected. Authorities say they have DNA and other physical evidence that tie Yates to as many as 11 other killings since 1996. A task force is looking into six more deaths dating to the early 1990s.
Yates' lawyer, Richard Fasy, declined to comment. But relatives, in a statement, characterized him as "a loving, caring and sensitive son; a fun-loving and giving brother; and an understanding, generous and dedicated father who enjoys playing ball, fishing and camping with his kids."
Tim Buchanan, who worked with Yates at Kaiser Aluminum Co., called him "a very family guy" who frequently talked about his daughters.
Neighbors in Yates' tree-lined, upper-middle-class neighborhood described him as a pleasant man who liked to tinker with cars. Days before his April 18 arrest, he was seen playing catch with his 11-year-old son.
"He showed a different side to us, I guess," neighbor Vina Musgrove said.
Yates' stable family life would be "very, very unusual" for a serial killer, said Robert Ressler, a criminologist, former FBI profiling expert and author of five books on homicide and serial killers.
"On occasion you'll find a married killer, but usually from highly dysfunctional families," he said.
The only public sign of trouble in Yates' family appeared in late 1998, when one of his daughters told police he had physically abused her. Yates said he slapped the girl because she had been disrespectful. An assault charge was ultimately dismissed.
Spokane Homicide Task Force detectives have refused to comment on the investigation. But sheriff's spokesman Cpl. Dave Reagan said Thursday that investigators "never really put much stock in the profiling."
"It seems to me that without knowing when this behavior started, it would be premature to say whether or not he fits a profile. Without knowing that, I don't know how you can characterize him," Reagan said.