Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Robert Lee Yates Jr.

The First Body

The stark realization that the deaths of seven women since late summer 1997, four of whom were killed during the year's final weeks, were the work of a serial killer, renewed fears among the public and law enforcement officials alike that the infamous and elusive Green River Killer had found a new killing ground in and around Spokane, Washington.  It was only talk and speculation, fueled in large part by the numbers of bodies being found and the fact that many of the victims were prostitutes.  The talk and speculation was only quelled by the fact that the killer's method of operation was markedly different from that of the Green River Killer.  Nonetheless, it was a possibility that had to be considered, at least initially, given the fact that serial killers have on occasion changed their M.O.s.  Disturbingly, the number of bodies would more than double before they stopped, and many others would be attributed to the same killer.

The first indication that a serial killer was at work in and around this eastern Washington city began on February 22, 1990, a Thursday, at approximately 8:30 a.m. when the homicide division of the Spokane Police Department was called to the 4100 block of East Upriver Drive on a report of a young black female whose nude body was lying over the embankment near the Spokane River.  The responding officers and later the detectives observed that the young woman had been shot a number of times, and the size of the entrance wounds suggested a small caliber gun had been used.  An extensive search of the area failed to turn up any of the victim's clothing or personal effects.  The search also failed to turn up any bullets or spent shell casings, an indication that either the killer took care in cleaning up after himself, used a gun that did not eject shell casings, or killed the victim at a different location and then transported the body after death.  All that was found with the body was the victim's black wig, a green blanket like those used in the military, a multi-colored blanket, and a white towel.

Yolanda Sapp
Yolanda Sapp

After some of the details of the discovery of the victim's body were made public, the victim was identified as 26-year-old Yolanda Sapp.  The investigators soon learned that Sapp had a history of prostitution arrests and was known to use drugs.  She was last seen two days before her body was found in the 3200 block of East Sprague, an area frequented by prostitutes and pimps.  At that time she had been wearing black jeans, black slip-on flat-soled shoes, black panties, a black t-shirt, and a beige rabbit fur coat, none of which was found with her body.  After interviewing those who were close to her, police determined that nine bracelets were missing from her wrists, as was a silver chain necklace, two rings (one of which was a wedding ring), and a jean or denim purse.  As would be done with all of the victims, hair and fiber samples were taken during autopsy, as were oral, anal, and vaginal swabs.


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