Medical examiner: East Ridge man killed girlfriend, self in murder-suicide

A medical examiner ruled two deaths at this home on Shelby Circle were the result of a murder-suicide. A mail carrier discovered a note in the home's mailbox informing them to call the police.

Joseph "Charley" Yates shot his longtime girlfriend in the head, then put the shotgun barrel in his mouth and pulled the trigger on Jan. 31, according to a preliminary report from the Hamilton County Medical Examiner's Office.

The findings confirm what East Ridge police have suspected after a mail carrier found a note in the couple's mailbox warning of a murder-suicide inside the home on Shelby Circle.

Yates, 54, was found lying on a bed beside Ellen McKenzie, 48. Both were dead when police arrived. A shotgun rested atop Yates' body. In addition to the note in the mailbox, a second suicide letter was found in the home, signed only by Yates.

It's not clear whether McKenzie wanted to die or whether she was slain against her will. Friends have suggested that McKenzie, who was in poor health, may have been suicidal and that Yates would have done anything for her.

"If he did this, he did it out of a place of caring, oddly enough," said friend Shani Hedden Palmer. "I guarantee you there was no malice. It was just a horrific tragedy."

Police have not commented on Yates' motive, except to say the suicide letter did not spell out a "direct motive."

The couple had been together for years, friends said, and seemed happy. Yates worked as a local musician, and money was often tight. His aunt recently died, which hit him hard, while McKenzie had been in and out of the hospital for months.

Contact staff writer Shelly Bradbury at 423-757-6525 or with tips or story ideas. Follow @ShellyBradbury.