Tracks of His Tears

His wife murdered their five children, but Rusty Yates was the one labeled a villain. He says don't believe everything you read.

Yates acknowledges only that he desired the once-traditional domestic arrangement. By his own admission, he and his wife had always embraced the notion that "the man is the breadwinner, the woman the caretaker of the home."

This attitude did not set well with commentators. "[Yates'] bizarre, dominating actions played a role in the children's death," wrote Las Vegas Review-Journal lawyer-turned-columnist Barbara Robinson. "...The demeanor of Russell (Rusty) Yates--all-American, Eagle Scout--didn't persuade me. I couldn't understand how a man could repeatedly impregnate a mentally ill wife and force or allow her to home-school their children." She went on to lash out at his "sense of arrogance."

On a Web site he constructed in memory of his children (www.yateskids.org), electronic visitors often e-mail similar accusations and questions: Why had he left her alone with the children that day? How could he continue to support a woman who had committed such an evil deed? What was he thinking, having such a large family when his wife was so obviously ill?

Rusty Yates still often visits the graves of his children near his Houston-area home. He also travels to Dallas every month to meet with the locally based Families of Murder Victims support group. "I was a really good father to my kids. Anyone who says otherwise is wrong."
Mark Graham
Rusty Yates still often visits the graves of his children near his Houston-area home. He also travels to Dallas every month to meet with the locally based Families of Murder Victims support group. "I was a really good father to my kids. Anyone who says otherwise is wrong."

Now, almost a year after a Harris County jury found his wife guilty of capital murder and she was sentenced to life in prison, after the cover stories in Time and Newsweek, the segments on 60 Minutes, the harsh criticism of women's rights advocates, Rusty Yates carries on. He reports to work daily, jogs three times a week, tinkers with a new Web site he's planning, visits his wife at the Skyview Psychiatric Unit in Rusk on alternate Saturdays, travels to participate in a Dallas support group once a month and continues to ponder a question of his own: "I keep looking around," he says, "and asking myself: Where do I go now?"


"He's still struggling," says Debbie Wayne, a member of the Dallas-Fort Worth-based Families of Murder Victims. Wayne--one of several in the support group best known for its Garden of Angels on the southern edge of Fort Worth, where crosses are erected in memory of young homicide victims--talks with Yates regularly. "Quite honestly," she says, "there were those in our group who had reservations at first about contacting him. But what we've learned is that he's not at all like he's been portrayed by the media.

"Frankly, there are a lot of people who could benefit from knowing him."

That, she adds, isn't likely to occur soon. "Since what happened to his family," Wayne says, "he is automatically defensive when he meets someone." During the past year, Rusty Yates admits, he has adopted a low profile, wary of the media and prying questions of strangers. Still, little he does goes unreported--in many instances erroneously, he says. "I've read that I'm planning to divorce Andrea. That's not something I've thought through," he says. When members of a singles group at the Clear Lake Church of Christ, which he now attends, invited him along for a night of bowling several months ago, a news report that he'd "joined a singles group" quickly appeared. "Our people know how lonely he is," says minister Byron Fike, "and did what any caring people would--they invited him to go with them. Nothing more, nothing less."

When, after living in the house where his children died for a year, he finally moved into a nearby apartment last August, reporters were quick to describe his new residence as "luxurious." Seated on a couch in his living room, unpacked boxes still stacked in the hallway and few photos or personal mementos adorning the walls or shelves, he briefly smiles and waves an arm at his surroundings. "Does this look like luxury to you?"

Nice and comfortable, yes. But, no, MTV's Cribs isn't likely to visit.

On this dreary, rainy day, the enigmatic Yates is, in a sense, striking back, not in an angry tone but in the measured, analytical way he's viewed life since his days as an honored science student at Auburn University. "The comments don't hurt as much anymore," he says, "because I think I've come to better understand what motivates them. People look at what happened to my family and it frightens them to think such a tragedy could occur. They look for simple answers, something they can deal with. He must not have been a caring father or a loving husband.

"Behind all anger," he suggests, "there is fear."

And with that he retreats to a time before the world knew his name, when he and the woman he's been married to for nine years were happy to watch their family grow; before the wife with "a good heart" fell victim to a "sick mind." He remembers those days when he coached his older sons' T-ball teams and Andrea read to their children, of family trips to museums and the park; of the normal parental concerns over things like Paul not beginning to talk as quickly as his older brothers had. "She was a great mother," he says, "and the children were healthy and happy."

There was never any form of abuse in their home, no money problems, no infidelity. "On the whole," he says, "we had an outstanding relationship. Some day, when Andrea is able to speak for herself, I'm sure she'll say the same thing.

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