A Murder in Texas

Today a customer wrote to us, perplexed at the results of his Premium Texas statewide criminal records search. This customer, whom we will call “Frank,” expected to find a number of criminal records for “BOBBIE RAY TATES,” including a notable conviction for the murder of wife CAROLYN TATES in August 2006. Instead, Frank’s search results came back saying “No Records Found.”

We double-checked our criminal record coverage for Texas and confirmed it is one of the best states in which to research criminal records. We have information from almost all of the county courts, and also statewide records from the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, which include court records and inmate records. So why didn’t anything for Bobbie Ray Tates turn up? Frank was certain about the murder conviction.

We wondered if Frank was as certain about Tates’ legal name and date of birth. Bobbie could be a nickname for Robert. Birth dates can be transposed by accident. We asked Frank if he knew the county in which this supposed conviction occurred. He believed it was Brazos County, TX.

Again we checked our coverage in Texas and determined that Brazos County contributes records to our Premium database on a monthly basis that include both felony and misdemeanor convictions since 1988.

Using our directory page for Texas Criminal Records, we clicked on a link to Brazos County Inmates. At that county site, we searched the name “Bobbie Tates.” Lo and behold, a list of 10 jail records appeared. Most were overnight jail stays courtesy of Tates’ frequent DWI arrests. The most recent record was a 2-year sentence for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Tates was convicted on August 26, 2006, and according to the jail record, was released on February 25, 2008. Could he be walking around free? Was he not convicted of murder?

Or were we looking at records for the wrong man? The name listed on the jail records was “Bobbie Ray Tates” with the date of birth July 9, 1953. We checked the search query done by Frank on our site. He searched for “Bobbie R. Tates” and used a year-of-birth search, plus or minus 3 years in either direction. The year Frank typed in was 1961, so his search covered 1958 through 1964, and missed 1953.

Or was it still possible that Texas had two convicts with the same name? An online people-search could have given Frank a free preview of all persons named Bobbie R. Tates with address histories in Brazos County, TX… and even given approximate ages for them. We tried the same and discovered – free of charge – that the family of Bobbie and Carolyn Tates in Bryan, Texas (Brazos County) included two persons with the name “Bobbie R. Tates” – one age 57 and another age 36. The younger could be a son, or even a typo. Age 57 sounded about right for a person born in 1953.

Using our Texas Criminal Records page, we clicked on the link for Brazos County Criminal Court Records. We searched “Bobbie Tates” there and got a few additional records that did not appear on the county’s inmate search. We found a November 2006 murder conviction for Bobbie Ray Tates, born July 9, 1953. Now we were certain that we had found the correct record and that the man Frank was searching for was actually born in 1953.

The lesson here: In a state like Texas, you can search the county court sites for free and find records using only a first and last name. On the other hand, if you want to do a single statewide search, you will need to know the correct birth date for the subject. Otherwise, you may be chasing records for the wrong person, or not finding them at all. The criminal records retrieval system presented by the counties and states is far from perfect. A savvy researcher needs to use more than one tool from the drawer.

But this puzzle was not yet complete. We were still curious as to the present whereabouts of Mr. Tates. Was he really released in February 2008 after completing his sentence for the assault conviction? Or was that a primary sentence that became a longer stay once the murder conviction was handed down in November 2006?

Frank used our Texas Criminal Records page to find the link to a database of Texas Death Row Inmates, but Bobbie Ray Tates was not listed among those unfortunate souls. We checked the VineLink website for Texas statewide inmates, but it brought back no results for “Bobbie Tates” or “Robert Tates.” Then we noticed that VineLink’s Texas page has a disclaimer that it does not include records from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ). That is a very large omission.

Using our Texas Criminal Records page, we used the link to the TDCJ website search page, where we searched the name “Bobbie Tates.” After a significant wait time from their server, we found the answer to the final question: Tates is presently incarcerated in the Stiles prison facility in Beaumont, TX, doing a 40 year stretch for murder.

If Frank had run his Bobbie Tates Premium search with a 7-year year of birth range that included 1953, he would have found not only the current TDCJ inmate record for Tates, but all of his state, county and local criminal records over the years, including the tragic 2006 murder of his wife.