Austin Yogurt Shop Murders
In 1991 firefighters responded to a fire at 'I Can't Believe It's Yogurt' and made a grisly discovery of four female bodies. Amy Ayers, Jennifer Harbison, Sarah Harbison, and Eliza Thomas had all been bound and shot but to this date this case is unsolved.
(Picture Sources: Google)
Today’s case was suggested to me on Instagram by @austinyogurtshopjustice, all lowercase, all one word. This is an account raising awareness for the Austin Yogurt Shop Murders and they would appreciate others sharing this case so that it can maintain media attention.
The Texas yogurt shop murders happened on Friday, December 6th, 1991 at the address 2949 W Anderson lane Austin, Tx. Four men were arrested for this in 1999 but only two were convicted and then these two were let go years later.
Eliza Thomas (far right), 17, had gotten the job at the yogurt shop first and then helped Jennifer Harbison (second from left), 17, get a job there also simply to both have extra money so they could go shop and go have fun.
Amy Ayers (far left), 13, was going to be staying the night with the Harbison sisters so she and Sarah Harbison (second from right), 15, went to meet Jennifer at the store a little while before closing.
Around 9:30p.m. Dearl Croft (former police officer) chatted with an individual wearing a green army jacket at the yogurt shop. He did so because this individual seemed to have been there for a long time and at one point, he went to the back room without asking the girls working. Croft asked what he was doing she replied that he was going to the bathroom showing that this man had gone to the back room before. When this individual came out of the bathroom he sat at a booth with another man who was wearing a black jacket, had lighter hair and was about 5’6”. Other witnesses described these two men and it seems they stayed in the yogurt shop until at least 10:47 p.m. when the last witness left.
Jennifer and Eliza closed the store at 11 p.m. and rang up a no sale at 11:03 p.m. which would've opened the register for them. Eventually, all four girls were forced to the backroom, forced to strip and then were tied up and gagged with their own clothing. Two of the girls were raped for certain but police have never stated than any of them were not raped. The girls were each shot once with a .22 caliber gun and Amy was shot a second time with another gun.
Amy was left by the entrance to the yogurt shop whereas the other three girls were piled in the back room.
Pouring accelerant all over the store and piling napkins and other flammable things near the three girls in the back the perpetrators set a fire and then left.
Fire trucks didn’t arrive until 11:53 p.m. even though the fire was called in at 11:47p.m. because there was confusion on the location of the fire. Upon arrival, there was no thought of foul play, therefore, it is possible that a lot of evidence was washed away during this time putting the fire out. When a firefighter found a burned but recognizable human foot police were called in.
The police showing up caused a lot of problems as well. To start off, not all investigators were wearing protective clothing. This could contaminate multiple pieces of evidence and could greatly jeopardize a case. Police also failed to save objects that were near the girls for evidence. They also did not look at the lock on the back door to see if it was tampered with.
When the medical examiners got the bodies they neglected to swab for an accelerant to see what may have started the fire.
The next day Police state that there were multiple people involved in the robbery-homicide
and There was no forces entry (even though they failed to check the back door lock at the scene).It was also released that The teens were dead before the fire started.
Over the next month, a few things happened. There was a group funeral for the four girls that over 1,500 people attended to pay their respects. Autopsy reports were sealed to preserve evidence in this case and it is reported people had problems with this but I will get into that later. There is also a false confession from a teenager and her boyfriend, but more promising is that…Maurice Pierce is arrested at Northcross Mall for having .22 gun and 16 bullets. From here he was then questioned about the murders and states that Forrest Welborn used the gun to kill the girls. However, this gun is not tested against crime scene evidence until early 1999 and when it is tested it does not match.
The case goes cold until 1999 when the case is seemingly solved. A man named Michael Scott is interrogated for 20 hours over several days. He then confesses to participating in the murders with three men that have the last names of Springsteen, Pierce, and Welborn. Springsteen is then interrogated for 5 hours and then confesses to only the murder and rape of Amy Ayers. These four men are arrested on capital murder changes and of course DNA is taken but the DNA found in the fire was too small or damaged for forensics to match at this time.
Eventually, both Pierce and Wellborn get out due to not being indicted by grand juries, but Scott and Springsteen are convicted. Springsteen is the only one to get the death penalty despite there being no evidence besides confessions to link him to the crime.
A photo of Scott’s confession was made public in 2000 and it shows Robert Merrill, a homicide detective holding a gun to Scott’s head thus threatening and coercing the confession. The detective stated the confession was not coerced, he was simply holding the gun around Scott, not threatening him. This was not the only intimidation tactic used in this case (listen to the episode to hear more.)
Then to make things even more confusing male profile DNA is found from one of the vaginal swabs and it does not match any of the four men. While they still have Springsteen and Scott in jail they test it against over 100 men and it matches none. At this time the DA states that the office is not ready to prosecute Scott, they cannot do so with confidence without finding the owner of the unknown male DNA. This then causes the Judge to release Scott and Springsteen from jail on personal bonds.
This is only an overview of the case go listen to the episode at the link below to hear more about the Austin Yogurt Shop Murders, the theories in this case, the suspects, and the victims. Eliza Thomas, Sarah Harbison, Jennifer Harbison, and Amy Ayers had their lives taken too soon in 1991 and for the Austin Yogurt Shop Murders to be solved!