Remote View of a Serial Killer

A crime writer writes about a crime on which he’d performed psychic services.

Posted Jul 20, 2013

An enigmatic serial killer, Robert Lee Yates, was a decorated helicopter pilot and the father of five children. He killed prostitutes in three counties in Washington State between 1988 and 2000, when he was arrested. His public persona seemed so normal and respectable it was difficult to believe he was also a brutal killer. Pleading guilty to thirteen murders, the “Spokane Serial Killer” received 408 years in prison. It turned out that he’d also killed a young couple on a whim in 1975. Later, he received the death penalty for convictions in two other slayings.

True crime writer Burl Barer has recently updated his book on this killer, Body Count, but there’s an interesting back-story to his involvement. Before he ever received a contract to write about it, the family of one of the victims asked him to do a psychic reading. I asked Burl to tell me more about this, as well as to update us about this case.

You were a "character" in this story. Can you give us some background on your remote viewing talent and how it played into this tale in a way you hadn't anticipated?

BB: While I had always had PSI abilities, I purposefully avoided associating myself with what I term the “woo-woo school of psychic phenomenon.” In other words, I want nothing to do with superstition. I’m rather pragmatic in that sense, and see intuition as simply part of our natural senses, and just as prone to accuracy or error. 

In 1974 I did learn several proven techniques for focusing these “abilities” and putting them to good use. I had worked numerous criminal investigations as a “consultant” prior to being approached about the Spokane Serial Killer.

I knew absolutely nothing about the case or the investigation when I was approached in Walla Walla by the cousin of victim Sunny Oster. It was good that I knew nothing, so my knowledge wouldn’t taint any intuitive impressions. Well, I told her exactly what I saw and felt about this guy – I described what he looked like, his build, hair line, large hands and neck, good physical shape for his age, his sexual dysfunction issues, and that he worked in a shop with a lot of metal. I also said that there was a woman connected – not as a direct accomplice but a link between the killer and some of his victims. She was of darker complexion and rather goodhearted towards him, but it wasn’t his wife. I was pretty damn accurate, but despite my accuracy, it didn’t make much difference as far as identifying him. 

Years later I was contracted by Kensington to write Body Count. I included the story of Sunny’s cousin consulting the psychic in Walla Walla. I gave myself the name “Jeff Reynolds,” making him the same character as the psychic crime writer in my fiction novel, Headlock. I simply recounted that as I would report any other aspect of the investigation, and kept myself out of it. I was already connected to the story in other ways, as I talk about at the end of the book. His first victims were friends of my family in Walla Walla, and one of his final victims was someone whom I knew personally as well.

Are there other cases for which you've successfully remote-viewed, helping with a resolution?

I worked the Ted Bundy case as well, but I didn’t write about that most depressing experience. I was accurate but it didn't help catch him. I did find the body of kidnap victim Heidi Peterson -- told detectives exactly where to find her on February 6th. I was exactly one year early! I got a call on that date a year later from the detective telling me that I was right after all. I also found a crashed private plane in the Blue Mountains. I believe where it was, why it couldn’t be seen from the air, and how it would be found. I was correct, but people were already dead in the crash.

I found being a distance reader for these purposes very frustrating and depressing – plus having pumped up the volume on these “senses,” I was seeing things about people and their lives that really was none of my business – stuff that people suppress has the most energy behind it so it just leaps out at me. So, I spent several years turning these senses back down.

What do you make of Yates's military background as it affected his development into a serial killer? How do you think it affected his attitude and predatory style?

It is my opinion that it simply gave him more opportunity to practice his craft in other countries, specifically Germany. It is possible and very likely that Mr. Yates indulged in this same behavior while in Germany, with his victims coming from the same social group  -- women of high-risk life styles.

As you know, serial killers or lust murderers or homicidal psychopaths – whatever term of endearment you choose – are not known for taking extensive vacations from killing. Once they get rolling, they are not going to give it up for a few years the way some people give up smoking or drinking, and then return to the behavior.

The strength of their compulsion, coupled with their non-empathetic ability to self-justify (or deny) their behavior, makes cessation of homicidal behavior highly unlikely. As I am fond of saying “Were it not for having a double life, I would have no life at all.” The very “threat” of having a singular identity, being restricted to one definition of self and lifestyle, is enough to trigger amplified reinforcement of the other self/ the other behavior. Attempts to suppress will only reinforce. It is not easy being a psychopath or, for that matter, even a self-aware marginal sociopath. Blame is always directed outward and the inward view is one of being someone who is put upon and persecuted and pressured. As Norman Bates mother said, putting the blame on her son, “I wouldn’t hurt a fly“

As a serial killer, did Yates have a unique angle that would make us really take notice?

When I first   connected with the Homicide Task Force In Spokane, and they revealed that all these street sex workers had been shot directly behind the left ear at close range with a small caliber weapon, I immediately understood why they were shot that way – and was a bit surprised that the cops didn’t understand immediately. But I’m not trained to think like a cop. In fact, my brain is a bit damaged from a childhood injury, and I’m poor at deductive reasoning, which is “follow the clues to get the answer.”

I am strong in inductive reasoning – seeing the big picture but not the clues. Well, I immediately saw that he was shooting them while they were performing oral sex on him – he in the driver’s seat, they in the passenger seat. Makes sense – also makes sense using small caliber weapon.  This was, shall we say, his “signature” – bullet behind left ear, immediately covering the wound with a paper towel, then putting plastic bag over the victim’s head to further keep blood to a minimum.

He probably could have buried his victims, but he would dump them where they would be found. I never have understood that aspect of behavior. He did, however, take one victim home and bury her in his back yard under his bedroom window.

What new material did you put in your updated edition?

There is much new material in the updated edition of Body Count – everything about Yates since the end of the first edition, plus an entire section has been reinstated that was accidently edited out of the first edition. This section explains why the USA has a link between prostitution and drugs and why Spokane, Washington, has been important to that explanation since the 1920’s.  In the electronic edition there are several new bonus photographs as well.

Now, here is an updated update: It was understood that a few of what they thought were Yates’ victims were not his victims. They were killed by the Riverside Killer – never captured, simply vanished, different methods of killing and body dumping. Recently a DNA match was found identifying the alleged killer – a woman who was already in custody for firearms violations – a woman who, at the time of the killings, was a man.

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