Yates’ Island Co. link probed

Killer’s confession prompts review of unsolved murders

By CATHY LOGG

Herald Writer

WHIDBEY ISLAND — Island County sheriff’s investigators are reviewing three unsolved cases to determine whether confessed serial killer Robert Lee Yates Jr. may have been involved.

Yates, who pleaded guilty Thursday in Spokane County to 13 murders and one attempted murder of females ranging from 16 to 47 years old in 1975, 1988, and 1997-98, has piqued the interest of police agencies in other unsolved killings, including slayings in Snohomish County.

Yates, 48, grew up in Oak Harbor, attended Whidbey Island schools and may have maintained ties to the area, Island County Sheriff Mike Hawley said Friday. His staff has talked to investigators on Spokane’s homicide task force who brought Yates to justice.

"Right now there’s a gap of almost 10 years" between some of Yates’ killings, Hawley said. "That just doesn’t fit with the actions of a serial killer. He knew the area, he grew up in the area."

More importantly, Yates and one of Island County’s victims had mutual friends.

"There’s a potential that he actually knew her," Hawley said.

Linda Fisler Moran, 27, vanished Dec. 22, 1996, from a gas station at a Bayview business area in south Whidbey, Hawley said.

"We have no evidence to point to him, but we know he had friends in the area that he visited, and he would have passed right by that gas station," the sheriff said.

The county’s other unsolved cases under review are:

  • Darrin Wade Gehrke, 23, who was shot to death. His body was found on the outskirts of Oak Harbor in a slightly wooded area off a main road on June 20, 1995, Hawley said.

    "We’d like to be able to eliminate (Yates) as a suspect," Hawley said.

  • Teresa Hesselgrave, 19, whose body was discovered April 15, 1977, in a wooded area near Coupeville. She died of asphyxiation.

    "You just don’t know," Hawley said.

    If Yates is connected to Hesselgrave’s death, Hawley would be willing to work out a deal so her family could have some closure, he said. Her relatives still live on Whidbey.

    He’s also skeptical of information from Yates’ lie-detector test regarding his killings.

    "I’ll be honest with you. They said they gave him a polygraph," Hawley said. "Serial killers are good liars. Any good serial killer could beat a polygraph."

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