Perry, Not Yates?

Douglas/Donna Perry. From

On Tuesday the Seattle Times reported that Spokane County has identified a person of interest in the 1990 murders of three women, Douglas/Donna Perry, a man who had gender reassignment surgery a decade after the murders, has been tied to these homicides with DNA and fingerprints after a March arrest on a weapons charge.

I wanted to blog about this as soon as possible because it could clarify a murky chapter in the life of another serial killer, Robert Yates. In 2010 I profiled Yates in a term paper for my master’s degree and spoke to some of the key players in that case. While Yates’ first known victims were murdered in 1975 and one of his victims was found in Skagit County in 1988, his most obvious activity took place in the Spokane area in the 1990s.

There were three murders there in 1990 and one in 1992 that could never be conclusively tied to Yates, but the MO was similar enough that they have often been associated with him. They conveniently fill in a time span in which Yates seemed to be taking a break (although someone with his profile likely carried on this pattern of behavior wherever he was living– I’d love to talk to the authorities in Alabama, New York, and Germany).

The three 1990 murders really bothered me after I wrote this paper so I did some cursory investigating myself. As a civilian law enforcement employee who saw most of the officers’ reports and field interview cards, I realized that the police often already have the answers they’re looking for, but they’re not connecting the dots. Working in records gave me an aerial view of crime patterns, suspect activity, and so on as opposed to the ground level view that investigators often have. It was seeing things this way that led to my leaving law enforcement– I became a threat to the morally ambiguous within the profession.

That said, I had the unsettling feeling that not all the dots were connected in the three 1990 murders. There was someone else– something else? This was somewhat obvious because Yates had not been charged with them, but on the outside looking in, and having talked to people involved in the case, I kept having the creepy feeling that the police probably already had contact with this person (as they had with Yates). I also had questions about how the police had interacted with these women. Somebody… knew something.

I felt confident that this person was still running free in society and was masquerading as something they weren’t. This person had significant issues with women and blamed them for problems they were not responsible for. He would be a master of projecting blame onto people who weren’t to blame– many people are. But this guy took the blame to an extreme, killing women who, in his mind, represented something to be destroyed, whether he was destroying perceived flaws or destroying characteristics he saw as unattainable. While routine questions like, “is he confused about his sexual orientation?” and “is he impotent?” came to mind, there was a possible fetish involved and the murders coursed with hatred like Robert Yates’.

Here’s a summary of these murders from the paper I wrote:

In 1990, three women with ties to drugs and prostitution were found dead in the Spokane area. The first was African-American and the other two were white. All had been shot in the upper body with a small caliber gun, and one was beaten with a blunt object. Yolanda Sapp, 26, was found dumped on an embankment near the river February 22nd. She was naked and a blood-soaked army blanket lay nearby.

Nickie Lowe, 36, was discovered March 25th. She had been found hanging over a guardrail on a bridge 10 blocks from where Sapp’s body was found. She was clothed, but her clothing had been pushed around and her shoes were missing. A .22 caliber bullet was found in the left side of her chest. Nickie Lowe knew Yolanda Sapp. And Spokane area law enforcement knew they were dealing with a serial killer.

The nude body of Kathy Brisbois, 38, was located by the river on May 15th. Kathy had defended herself against her attacker, who shot her three times in the upper body and once in the head with a .22. Brisbois had talked to police just before she died and told them she feared for her life. She claimed, however, that she wouldn’t get in a car with someone she didn’t know.

In 1992, another body was found on May 12th, that of 19 year-old Sherry Palmer. She was last seen at Al’s Motel, a place that would only become relevant to the investigations years later. Her body was abandoned near Mount Spokane Drive just a few miles from where a 16 year-old’s body would be found in 1996. She suffered multiple gunshot wounds, and there was a plastic bag over her head.

None of these four murders, despite the striking similarities to the crimes that Robert Yates later committed, were linked to him. Yates was stationed in Germany from 1988 to 1991, but had returned to the U.S. in 1990 to take a survival course. In the first part of 1992 he was stationed in New York, where he was a platoon leader in the Assault Helicopter Battalion.

The fourth murder was most likely committed by Yates. But the other three now could be the work of Douglas/Donna Perry– and yes, I am going to refer to him that way because he was Douglas at the time these women died. Note some of the details of these murders– missing shoes, hanging over a bridge, a blanket nearby, one naked, another clothed (although the Times says all were naked), near the river– I’m sure investigators have mulled these details over many times. You can’t expect to catch a serial killer unless you’re studying the victimology, signature, MO, and other elements besides the inner workings of the killer themselves.

One word that sat solidly in my mind about Sapp, Lowe, and Brisbois’ murders was “bisexual.” Was their killer a frustrated bisexual? Having personally experienced the rage a man feels when he’s trying to appear as one thing but is another, I wondered if Sapp, Lowe, and Brisbois were being “punished” for their murderer’s inner conflict about his sexuality. I didn’t consider that he might have had gender reassignment surgery as Perry has, but these women were objects of some form of hatred and seen as expendable. These were someone’s daughters, and sisters, and maybe even mothers, but they were tossed out of their murderer’s vehicle like trash.

I’m surprised that I haven’t seen Robert Yates mentioned in the media along with the story about Perry. If anyone’s brought this up I haven’t seen it yet. While this might mean Yates isn’t responsible, clearing his connection to those murders up (unless– and this is far-fetched– he was an accomplice), it does lead me to wonder what Yates was doing in the early 1990s. It’s my understanding that he won’t talk. I’m sure that more victims’ families could get closure if he did; it’s important to remember that when a serial killer is put away for life we usually only know who some of their victims are.

It will be interesting to see if Perry is charged with these murders and to learn more details about them. It’s Perry’s DNA that was found under Brisbois’ fingernails, and the authorities have known for more than 22 years that Kathy Brisbois fought back when her killer attacked her. While it may sound stereotypical, as if straight out of Criminal Minds or SVU, sometimes a murderer really is caught by the victim getting their DNA under their fingernails. The fact that Kathy was a fighter might just bring a shred of justice to all three of these victims’ families.

Are there just three victims? Can more murders in the Spokane area be tied to Perry if these are? Where else has Perry been the last two or three decades and what similar crimes were committed there? Perry was about 38 in 1990; typical male serial killers start committing homicides about 10 years earlier. Was or is he married? What’s his relationship history? Did he keep trophies?

What brought him to Bangkok for his gender reassignment surgery? What was he doing back in Spokane (that really bothers me)? How did the authorities gather his DNA when arrested on a federal weapons charge earlier this year? While this definitely seems to be the type who would use weapons to kill women, did he use weapons other than firearms? This sounds like an unstable personality who might use one of several types of weapons except his bare hands.

A question that’s very important to me is– how are the victims’ friends and families doing? Perry hasn’t been charged yet; that can be a terrible time for victims as old feelings and memories are stirred up but they still don’t know if a perpetrator will be charged or convicted. This could also be a difficult time for the loved ones of Yates’ victims as the disturbing similarities pop up again– missing shoes, small caliber handguns, the same decade, and the same locale.

I want to thank the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office, the Spokane Police Department, and the Washington State Crime Lab for continuing to pursue leads in these cold cases. As technology progresses and a willingness to turn connect the dots-type people loose in these cases grows, we should see more resolution for victims’ friends and families. Hopefully the public’s gratitude for persistent, hard-driving bulldog personalities who sometimes see these cases through to completion will grow. Some law enforcement personnel sacrifice a lot to resolve these cases after so many years.

The possibility that Douglas/Donna Perry could be responsible for these murders confirms a gut feeling I had about these cases, but also took my mind to an unexpected level. It’s forced me to push my boundaries outward and consider that the solution is even more convoluted than I thought. I’m still letting a few ideas bounce around in my head that I won’t go into now, but I will be watching with great interest. May justice in these cowardly serial killings and others be swift and sure.


Update, 11/3/13: KHQ,, is reporting the following:

Spokane Police Department Press Release

Detectives from the Spokane Police Department (SPD) and the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office (SCSO) have forwarded charges to the Spokane County Prosecutor’s Office related to three unsolved homicides from 1990. Three counts of 1st Degree Murder were referred for 61-year-old Douglas (Donna) Perry (who is currently in prison on Federal Firearms charges) for the murders of Yolanda Sapp, Nikkie Lowe and Kathlene Brisbois.


©2012 H. Hiatt/ All articles/posts on this blog are copyrighted original material that may not be reproduced in part or whole in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from H. Hiatt/

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