Unsolved Murder #1: The Yogurt Shop Murders
So this one is pretty interesting to me at least, it happened all the way back in 1991 so before I was even born so ... let’s get started on the Yogurt Shop Murders.
This case began on the evening of December 6th, 1991 in Austin, Texas. On that night, Austin Police Officer Troy Gay was on patrol when he spotted Thick, Black Smoke rising from the nearby Strip Mall.
He immediately went to investigate, where he discovered that the Frozen Yogurt shop, I Can’t Believe it’s not Yogurt, was engulfed in flames.
Immediately, Officer Gay called in reinforcements from the APD as well as the Austin Fire Department. They rushed to the scene immediately after receiving the call and began putting out the fire. Police at first assumed that there had been an accidental kitchen fire after closing and they didn’t expect to find anybody inside.
After the fire was extinguished, Lieutenant René Hector Garza as well as Firefighter David DeVeau, went inside with flashlights to investigate as well as see if anybody had been trapped inside the burning building.
Soon after entering the store, Lieutenant Garza and DeVeau found a severed foot, arm, and eventually, four mutilated bodies burned beyond recognition. The bodies were those of the teenage victims.
Eliza Thomas (17 years old)
Jennifer Harbison (17 years old)
Sarah Harbison (15 years old) and sister of Jennifer Harbison
Amy Ayers (13 years old)
They were found bound with their own clothing, naked with their legs spread open and all four had a single gunshot wound to the head. Except Amy Ayers, who was shot twice in the head and lying in a pool of her own blood.
The bodies of Eliza, Jennifer and Sarah were found in a pile towards the back of the restaurant and Amy was found closer to the doorway leading to the back room. It was found later during the autopsies that youngest victim, Amy Ayers was raped as well as sexually assaulted with an Ice Cream Scooper found between her legs.
The crime scene was so brutal that its reported the first thing said by Sergeant John Jones was
" Holy Shit! ” as he saw the bodies.
One of the investigating officers, Mike Huckabay, later compared what he saw inside the Yogurt Shop to his time serving in Vietnam saying;
" I saw things in Vietnam that ... I thought nothin’ will ever match that. Well, this matches that, you know. (...) ” - Officer Michael Huckabay.
Not too long after the bodies were discovered, police began piecing together the last hours of the four girls before their brutal murders. And hopefully, the people who took their lives...
Before the girls were known as the victims of the Yogurt Shop murders, they were known for being very nice young women. All four were members of the Future Farmers of America and Avid animal lovers who all loved Country Music.
It was 10 o’clock on the night of December 6th, 1991 in the Suburb of Travis County in Austin, Texas. when the youngest girls, Sarah Harbison and Amy Ayers were either driven or had walked a few blocks down the road to I Can’t Believe it’s Yogurt. Older girls, Jennifer Harbison and Eliza Thomas were scheduled to do the night shift at the yogurt shop. The girls walked there with the intention to hang out, as well as helping close and lock up the store for the night before going to one of the girls houses for a group sleepover.
Witnesses later said that they saw two men hanging out at the shop not long before closing time and police believe these were the murderers staking out the place.
The yogurt shop closed on schedule at 11 o’clock that evening. At 11:03, just three minutes after the shop closed for the night, that is when police believe the intruder(s) broke into the small store and committed the brutal crime.
Police believe that after the intruder(s) broke into the shop, they held the girls at gunpoint. Ordering the girls to strip before tying them with their own clothes. One source I found said that Amy was sexually assaulted and raped while the other girls watched, but I’m not positive if the other girls were killed before or after Amy was assaulted as I could only find one source that mentioned it. But we’re just going to assume the girls were alive when it happened. They then believe Amy was strangled before all four girls were lined up and shot execution style in the back of the head before the assailants began robbing the store. Reports say they stole somewhere around $540.00 in total.
While they were ransacking the place, Amy was still alive by some miracle. She attempted to drag herself out of the store and escape but was pistol whipped and shot again in the head before she could get help. They then set the shop on fire, leaving the dead bodies to burn in the flames.
From the very beginning of this investigation, they were pretty much fucked. They had no clue where to start in terms of finding credible and usable evidence as most, if not all the evidence was either burned in the fire, or washed away with the water hoses used to put out the fire. Also, considering this was in 1991 when DNA testing was literally in it’s infancy, they didn’t really have much going for them in terms of finding the killers. But this didn’t stop the police from trying their hardest to get a conviction.
8 days after the murders, Police arrested 16 year old Maurice Pierce after he was found driving a stolen vehicle carrying a .22 Caliber pistol the same night as the fire. The same caliber pistol used to murder the four girls. Maurice during the interrogation claimed that his friend, Forrest Welborn, had borrowed his gun before using it to commit the murders. Later forensic testing could not conclusively say however if the bullets used to kill the girls were the same as the ones in Pierce’s gun.
When police interrogated Welborn later on, he claimed he had no idea what Pierce was talking about. Claiming that Pierce and Welborn along with two other friends, Michael Scott (No, I’m not talking about the Michael Scott from the office) and Robert Springsteen had all driven the stolen car to San Antonio. Which is an hour and a half away from Austin TX.
After the interrogation, the head detective believed they hadn’t committed the crime. In an attempt to gain more information, police put a giant billboard on I-35 with pictures of the girls, offering $25,000 for any information that could lead to a conviction. Eventually, Jones was taken off the case and it soon went cold.
8 years later, on October 6, 1999, Pierce, Scott, Springsteen and Welborn were all arrested and charged with the murders of Eliza, Amy, Sarah and Jennifer as well as the Sexual Assault and Rape of Amy.
Scott and Springsteen had confessed to the murders after 20 hours of interrogation from Detective Hector Polanco.
In June of 2000, two grand juries refused to indict Welborn and eventually, all charges were dropped against him.
In 2001, Springsteen, who confessed to be the one who confessed to raping Amy as well as committing the murders was sentenced to Death for Capital Murder.
Scott was convicted of Capital Murder and sentenced to Life Imprisonment without the chance of parole in 2002
During their trials, Pierce was in prison waiting for his June, 2003 trial to begin when all charges against him were dropped due to lack of evidence.
About a decade after the convictions of the 3 men, Springsteens conviction was overturned after it came out his confession was coerced. It also came out that the investigator who interrogated him, Hector Polanco, was well known for making people confess to crimes they didn’t commit. Video tapes of the interrogation showed Polanco sticking a gun to Springsteen’s head as well as other methods in order to make Springsteen confess to the murders.
A year after Springsteen’s release, Scott’s sentence was overturned for the same reason. It came out that Polanco used Springsteen’s coerced confession in order to pull a confession from Scott without the presence of a lawyer.
During this time, DNA found on Amy was tested and it was discovered the DNA didn’t match any of the men. It also didn’t match anybody in the national criminal database. This for very obvious reasons brought the whole investigation to a grinding halt and as of now, there are no new leads but police are still trying to find the people who murdered the 4 innocent girls.
There was only one theory I could find on this case and it’s from author Beverly Lowry called ‘The Mystery Men’ . It’s not a very big or well known one and I couldn’t really find much information on it. But what I’ve gathered is that she theorizes that a few minutes after the store had closed, two mystery men walked in and ordered a can of coke. While one of the older girls bent down under the counter to grab the coke, the men pulled out guns before committing the crime.
The reason she believes this is because when police entered the building, there was a single unopened can of coke sitting on the counter. And evidence from the register shows that at 11:03pm, the cash register was opened.
I personally don’t believe this theory and I’ll tell you guys why. There could’ve been so many reasons there was a coke on the counter. One of the girls could’ve gotten it out and before they could open it, the men broke in. Also, the coke cans were all stored under the counter according to Lowry. Now, I don’t think that if she had bent down to grab the coke, she would just set it on the counter. I feel like she would’ve left it in the cooler when she realized she had a gun to her face.
Personally, I feel like the two men who were in the store could be a good pair of suspects. But still today, nobody knows who the men were. But I also have a theory that the person who killed them must’ve known one of the girls. And I’m more inclined to believe they may have known Amy the most. Maybe an older ex or someone who just hated her. For all we know, she probably didn’t know who her killer was but they could’ve still hated her enough to put the most of the torture on her. The whole crime to me seems very much a spur of the moment thing. Anybody who was planning a crime would at the very least bring something to bind their victims. This criminal didn’t bring anything, instead he made them strip and tied them with their own shirts/clothes.
Now, before Amy was shot, she was strangled. Strangling is a very personal way to try and kill somebody. You typically see strangulation killings when a murderer truly hates the person they’re killing. For example, the case of Chris Watts. He strangled his wife, Shannan and smothered his two daughters, Cece and Bella. He chose to strangle her because he truly hated her. He saw her as the reason he couldn’t be happy with his mistress. He also chose to smother his daughters. This tells me he hated them but not as much as he hated Shannan. She did nothing to him, she was innocent of course but he hated her because she wanted to leave him and take the children and her being pregnant with Nico was another thing holding him back from being with his mistress.
And the people who killed the girls had guns. So, why would they choose to strangle Amy when that can take up to 5 minutes of continuous pressure when you can just shoot them?
Now, my theory goes that an older friend or ex or something of Amy’s wanted revenge against Amy or something. They manage to get a gun and bring in another friend to help and go in under the guise they want to hang out or something. During the prank, something goes haywire and they tie up the girls and in a rage, the person rapes/assaults Amy and strangles her before shooting her and the other girls to get rid of any witnesses. They then take the cash from the register to make it seem like a robbery gone wrong and find something to burn down the shop and when they realize Amy is still alive, shoots her again because she knew who he was and if she survived the fire, strangulation AND the bullet to the head, she could still identify him.
( I’m very sorry if this theory is all over the place and confusing, this was the best way I could find to explain it. Also, I just want to say too, that I mean absolutely no disrespect or anything against the victims or the families of the victims. This theory just came to mind and I thought I would share it with all of you. And if any of you have any theories on who you may think have killed them, please share below. All I ask is that you be respectful about peoples opinions/theories. )
Alright, well ... I guess thats it for this case. So far, as far as I have seen, there has been no updates on the DNA found on Amy. I feel like with how technology has advanced over the years, we will find who killed these girls. I mean, considering we were recently able to use DNA to catch the golden state killer 40 years after his crimes and bring justice to his victims, I have a lot of hope for cases like this one. If you guys want to suggest any cases or anything for me to cover, please comment below and ill be sure to cover it. Anyways, thank you for your time and I hope you guys have a good rest of your day. Bye!