Houston Chronicle

June 24, 2001

Mom depicted as private, caring, burdened

By ALAN BERNSTEIN
Houston Chronicle

Andrea Pia Yates' deeds, needs and inner thoughts are the subject of international curiosity.

She might consider that an incredible turnaround.

Yates has spent her adult life catering to the deepest needs and visions of others, strangers and loved ones alike.

There was little time for herself, it seems, and she is described as a private person, never prone to dwelling on matters of self anyway.

Yates was a registered nurse from 1986 to 1994 at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, according to hospital records. Of her parents' five children, she, the youngest, was the one who spent the most time with her dying father as he battled Alzheimer's disease, according to a Houston neighbor.

She was the stay-at-home mother and home-school teacher to another generation of five children, in line with her husband's vision of a thrifty family tribe that could jettison its belongings and travel around the country, according to acquaintances.

Her husband, NASA computer engineer Russell Yates, has explained that he was the one in the family with deep religious feelings, and friends said she deferred to him in public on a variety of subjects.

"He didn't want her working at all," former neighbor Sylvia Cole, a psychiatric nurse, said as she described the couple as loving and responsible. "He wanted her staying at home."

Now Houston native Andrea Yates sits alone for a change -- alone as one can be in a Harris County jail cell. She is a capital-murder defendant in the Wednesday drowning deaths of her five children, and a victim, according to her husband, of a postpartum depression spiral.

Yates, who turns 37 on July 2, is the daughter of a man who flew U.S. Air Force bombing missions over Germany in World War II and a woman who was born in Germany, according to relatives.

Yates
Special to the Chronicle
A November 2000 photo, provided by Russell Yates, shows him and Andrea with their four boys, from left, John, Luke, Paul and Noah. Andrea Yates was pregnant with daughter Mary.
Her father, retired Humble High School auto shop teacher Andrew E. Kennedy, died March 12 at age 83 -- an event that intensified Andrea Yates' depression, according to her husband. Her mother, the former Jutta Karin Koehler, 72, survives.

Yates' close ties to her father once showed themselves in dark ways.

When she tried to kill herself in June 1999, following the birth of her fourth child, the attempt took place in her parents' southeast Houston house -- and she tried to end her life with an overdose of her father's Alzheimer's medication, according to a neighbor who spoke on the condition of not being identified.

Yates' suicide attempt apparently came at a disruptive time for her family.

Yates and her husband had sold their Friendswood house eight months earlier, in late 1998, according to county records.

The couple explained that they needed to move to a bigger house, Cole said.

Another neighbor who asked to remain anonymous said the Yates couple sold most of the standard household possessions they would need to inhabit their next house, and that Russell Yates explained the family was planning to make an extended trip around the United States.

But such a trip may have never taken place. NASA officials confided that there was no evidence of Russell Yates' taking an extended leave from his $80,000-a-year job.

When Andrea Yates tried to kill herself, the couple and their children apparently were living with her parents, across the street from Glennbrook Park Golf Course.

During the time the couple owned no home of their own, Russell Yates took a five-day work trip to Florida in the family's recreational vehicle, passing up an expense-paid airplane trip and hotel stay, according to federal records. It could not be determined if he took his wife and children with him to fulfill part of their travel dreams.

The couple never reached their goal of moving into a larger home with their growing family, according to county records. A month after the suicide attempt, Russell and Andrea Yates bought a Clear Lake house in July 1999 that was smaller than the one they had vacated, property records show.

The children died inside this house, at 942 Beachcomber.

Yates and her children joined a home school support group that meets at nearby Sagemont Church, a friend said, but the couple and the children are not listed on the church's membership or Sunday school rolls. Relatives said last week that the Yateses were not affiliated with any church.

Andrea Yates' parents were members of St. Christopher's Catholic Church. There are conflicting reports about where Yates went to school as a youngster. A niece said she was a top-ranked student at Mount Carmel High School, a Catholic private school, but another relative indicated that she attended Milby High School in the Houston Independent School District. Mount Carmel said it had no record of Yates as a student, and HISD was searching its records to see if she had been a public school student.

It could not be determined last week where Yates got her training as a nurse.

A former neighbor said Yates lived near the Texas Medical Center while working at the nationally respected cancer hospital.

She married Russell Yates in April 1993, a month after he bought the four-bedroom Friendswood house, according to public records. Both were 28. They had known each other for four years, according to her husband.

They were married by the Rev. Ronald L. Collins. A nondenominational minister named Ron Collins has advertised himself in Houston as a wedding specialist -- and as a gun dealer and massage therapist. He could not be reached for comment.

Ten months after the wedding, the Yates' first child, Noah, was born. Yates left the nursing profession about the same time, and two years later her state nursing license became inactive.

Cole, trained to treat people with mental diseases, said Yates was a model of mental stability and patience as she reared her children.

"I never did detect any kind of depression," Cole said, supporting Russell Yates' statements that his wife became a different person following the birth of their fourth child two years ago.

Yates sometimes missed nursing, Cole said, but she accepted her role as a full-time mother, and her husband pitched in with child care after his work hours. Andrea Yates made a point of getting her children to appointments on time and making sure they avoided sugary foods, the former neighbor said.

"I don't think they ever left the kids with baby sitters," Cole said. "They were always with the kids."

Russell Yates said last week that the couple mutually set out to have several children and that her depression following the birth of their daughter six months ago led to their agreement that they would have no more.

Cole said Russell Yates had talked about having six children.

"He wanted that many kids," she said. "I don't remember that she wanted that many. I know my husband and I made a comment that after you have the first two, you are going to change your mind. I don't know if it was (their) joint decision or not."

Former neighbors said Andrea Yates, a gangly 5 feet 6 inches, was low-key, down to earth and never extravagant. Cole said Russell Yates, known as "Rusty" in the Heritage Park Estates subdivision of Friendswood, was conservative and athletic.

"They just looked like your all-American family," she said.


Chronicle reporter Miriam Garcia contributed to this article.

Copyright 2001 Houston Chronicle