The yogurt store murders: Are two never-identified prospects key to fixing Austin, Texas, murders?

[This story was originally posted on February 5, 2022. It was updated on August 27.]

It has been greater than 30 years since four teenage girls were murdered in an Austin, Texas, yogurt store and the case stays unsolved. At one level, there have been arrests after which convictions, however these convictions had been later overturned on attraction, and in the end, new DNA technology raised doubts in regards to the involvement of these preliminary arrestees. 

The case has left investigators at what seems to be a standstill, however as correspondent Erin Moriarty reported on this week’s “48 Hours,” there’s a idea that two never-identified males seen within the yogurt store on the night time of the murders could have been concerned within the unsolved killings which have haunted Austin for many years. 

Yogurt shop victims
 Contained in the yogurt store had been the charred our bodies of 4 teenage women starting from 13 to 17 years previous. The victims, clockwise from high left, had been Jennifer Harbison, high left, who together with Eliza Thomas, high proper, labored within the yogurt store, Jennifer Harbison’s youthful sister Sarah, backside proper, and Sarah’s pal Amy Ayers, backside proper. Sarah and Amy had been visiting the yogurt store shortly earlier than closing on the night time of the murders. All 4 women had been gagged, tied up and shot.

On December 6, 1991, 17-year-old Eliza Thomas, 13-year-old Amy Ayers, and two sisters, 17-year-old Jennifer Harbison and 15-year-old Sarah Harbison, had been tied up and shot within the head in an “I Cannot Consider It is Yogurt!” store in Austin. 

Town had by no means seen a criminal offense fairly prefer it. Eliza and Jennifer had been working within the yogurt store that night time. They had been on the brink of shut when Jennifer’s sister, Sarah, and their pal, Amy, met them there to move residence. Investigators consider a minimum of two males entered the store and dedicated the brutal crime earlier than setting the place on hearth, destroying a lot of the proof.

John Jones labored for the Austin Police Division on the time of the crime and was the lead investigator on the case. He has since retired. Jones advised Moriarty that as a part of the early investigation, he and his group tracked down prospects who had been within the yogurt store on the day of the crime to see in the event that they observed something suspicious. In line with Jones, a number of prospects described two males who “regarded misplaced” sitting within the store simply earlier than it was as a consequence of shut. Neither man was reported to have bought frozen yogurt — as a substitute, solely a drink.

“They by no means have been recognized. And we did every thing. … We even hypnotized some of us,” Jones advised Moriarty.

Regardless of investigators’ efforts, that lead went nowhere and finally the case went chilly. Then, in 1999, almost eight years after the murders, there was a break within the case when new investigators determined to re-examine a special previous lead.

Yogurt shop suspects
In October 1999, almost 8 years after the yogurt store murders, Austin police introduced the arrest of 4 suspects within the case. Pictured clockwise from high left are Maurice Pierce, Forrest Welborn, Robert Springsteen, and Michael Scott. All 4 males had been questioned inside days of the murders, however the lack of any laborious proof connecting them to the crime meant that none of them had been charged on the time. 

AP Pictures

Robert Springsteen, Michael Scott, Maurice Pierce and Forrest Welborn had been solely youngsters on the time of the crime. They, too, had landed on Jones’ radar early on after one among them, Maurice Pierce, was arrested with a gun at a mall close to the yogurt store within the days after the crime. Again then, the lads had been questioned by Jones and his group however had been subsequently launched for lack of proof. 

In 1999, the brand new investigators determined to re-question the lads. Two of them, Robert Springsteen and Michael Scott, confessed to the yogurt store murders and implicated Pierce and Welborn within the course of. All 4 males had been subsequently arrested.

However it wasn’t lengthy earlier than Springsteen and Scott recanted their confessions, saying they had been coerced. Fees had been in the end dropped towards Pierce and Welborn as a consequence of lack of proof. 

Springsteen and Scott had been the one two to go on trial. They had been each convicted, however years later, their convictions had been overturned on constitutional grounds. The Sixth Modification provides defendants the appropriate to confront accusers and in Scott and Springsteen’s trials, their confessions had been used towards each other, however they weren’t allowed to query one another in courtroom.

Prosecutors meant to retry Springsteen and Scott, however earlier than doing so, they ordered DNA exams on vaginal swabs taken from the victims on the time of the murders. By this level, investigators had come to consider a minimum of one of many victims had been sexually assaulted, and prosecutors wished to make the most of a reasonably new sort of DNA testing known as Y-STR testing. It searches for male DNA solely. 

Nobody anticipated what it might reveal. Because of the testing, a partial male DNA profile was obtained from one of many victims, however to the shock of the prosecutor’s workplace, the DNA pattern didn’t match any of the 4 males who had been arrested. Fees had been dropped towards Springsteen and Scott, and so they had been launched from jail after spending 10 years behind bars.

Legal professional Amber Farrelly labored on each Scott and Springsteen’s protection groups. She is adamant that police had all of it fallacious after they arrested Scott, Springsteen, Welborn and Pierce. She advised “48 Hours” she believes these two unidentified prospects from the yogurt store are who police ought to actually be fixated on.

Whereas engaged on Scott and Springsteen’s protection groups, Farrelly was tasked with sifting by means of previous police data, together with these interviews Jones and his colleagues had performed with prospects who visited the yogurt store on the day of the murders.

“They (police) have accounted for and interviewed 52 folks that had been within the yogurt store that day,” Farrelly advised “48 Hours'” Erin Moriarty.

Austin yogurt shop post fire
Amber Farrelly was a part of each Michael Scott and Robert Springsteen’s protection groups. She got here up with a idea that the thriller DNA may belong as a substitute to 2 never-identified males who witnesses reported seeing sitting within the yogurt store simply earlier than it closed.

Austin Police Division

Farrelly says a number of of these prospects talked about the 2 males who had been seen sitting within the yogurt store simply earlier than it was as a consequence of shut that night time.

“Now we have no names to them. And while you have a look at — while you step again and also you look and also you assume, ‘They’ve talked to 52 individuals and did not miss one individual from 4:30 till 11:00 at night time. And several other individuals discuss a man or two guys, and so they describe them in the identical method? And we do not know who these two guys are? And so they’ve by no means known as in? … That raises, for my part, the suspicion… that these are the gents who did it,” Farrelly mentioned.

“Have been these two males who’ve by no means been recognized the final individuals within the yogurt store, so far as ?” Moriarty requested Farrelly.

“Completely,” Farrelly responded.

Farrelly says the lads had been described as “form of leaned over the desk, speaking to one another and form of whispering, like they did not need anyone to listen to what they had been saying.”

She says that one of many males was described as having mild, quick hair, “like a grimy blonde,” and was mentioned to have been about 5’6″ tall and in his late 20s or early 30s. She says the opposite man was described as being “larger,” and each had been noticed carrying massive coats. One, she says, is believed to have had a inexperienced “Military fatigue form of wanting jacket” and the opposite is believed to have had a black jacket. In line with Farrelly, the lads are believed to have been driving a inexperienced automobile that night.

John Jones, the previous lead investigator on the case, continues to be haunted by the unsolved yogurt store murders although he has lengthy retired. He advised “48 Hours” he nonetheless wonders about these unidentified prospects.

“Yeah, it is form of a query to me that to today, they have not been recognized,” he mentioned. “Is that proof that they did it? No, however that is proof that we actually want to speak to them.”

When you’ve got details about the yogurt store murders, name 512-472-TIPS.

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