Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Police link burglary suspect to gun used in slaying


A suspected serial burglar tracked by police using a GPS device is believed to have stolen the gun that was later used in a gang-related slaying.

Robert J. Frates’ arrest on Tuesday is his third since December, when police picked him up on suspicion of breaking into several sports card stores in Spokane Valley.

No charges have been filed in that case, but Frates, 27, has a trial scheduled in June for charges related to the sale of stolen property, including several firearms.

One of those firearms, a Ruger Mini rifle, was used in the shooting death of John S. Williams on Jan. 17, 2010, police said.

Frates’ lawyer, John Stine, said his client appeared for his arraignment in February after being issued a summons and was allowed to remain out of jail pending trial.

Spokane police believe he stayed busy while free: detectives say the aspiring tattoo artist was responsible for a rash of burglaries at beauty, nail and tanning salons as well as a tattoo parlor.

Witnesses to a burglary at Sunny Buns Tanning Salon, 2821 E. 27th Ave., saw a 1990s Ford Bronco with a loud exhaust leave the scene.

Police stopped Frates in a 1980 Ford Bronco matching that description a week later. Two days after that, on March 24, police placed a GPS tracker on Frates’ Bronco, according to an affidavit. He was arrested last weekend after a detective watched him burglarize a beauty salon on East Short Avenue, according to court documents. Frates had a small bag of methamphetamine with him; police believe he committed the burglaries to fund his drug addiction.

He remains in custody at Geiger Corrections Center on $55,000 bond. He has previous felony convictions for burglary and stolen property.

Police believe Frates began targeting tattoo shops in February, but court records show he was allegedly involved in a burglary in which a $1,000 tattoo gun was stolen in late 2009.

The victim homeowner made custom tattoo guns, said Spokane County sheriff’s Detective Dean Meyer.

Also stolen in the burglary were guns, tools, coin sets and stamps.

It took months for investigators to locate suspects and track the stolen property.

“We’re talking about $50,000 worth of property,” Meyer said. “I think I wrote five or six search warrants.”

Frates has pleaded not guilty to one count of first-degree possession of stolen property, second-degree unlawful possession of a firearm, possession of a stolen firearm and five counts of trafficking in stolen property.

Stine said he doesn’t expect the case to go to trial.

“Usually if somebody has this many charges, it gives you a lot of wiggle room to work something out,” Stine said.

Also charged in the case are Kevin M. McMaster, William Harold “Farmer Bill” Gearhart, Samantha L. Smith and Annetta E. “Dusty” Theademan.

Last June, Frates told Meyer that he’d lied to Spokane police and confessed to trading four stolen firearms to Justin Battle for $600. One of the guns was the Ruger Mini 30, which was seized after the shooting death of Williams.

Edward L. Thomas is scheduled to stand trial next month for Williams’ murder. Police believe he bought the firearm from a friend who had purchased it from Battle.

Battle pleaded guilty to a federal charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm last December. The charge carries up to 10 years in federal prison, but prosecutors have agreed to recommend a lower sentence when Battle is sentenced April 26.