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Crime News Cold Cases

Renewed Interest In 1991 ‘Yogurt Shop Murders’ Of Four Teenage Girls Who Were Found Bound, Shot In Burning Store

More than 30 years after Eliza Thomas, Amy Ayers, and sisters Jennifer and Sarah Harbison were found executed in an Austin yogurt shop, authorities are still trying to solve the case.

By Jax Miller
Renewed Interest In 1991 ‘Yogurt Shop Murders’ In Texas

Investigators in Texas are ramping up their investigation into the brutal killing of four teenage girls more than three decades ago dubbed “The Yogurt Shop Murders.”

On Dec. 6, 1991, authorities responded to a fire at the "I Can’t Believe It’s Yogurt!" shop in Austin, according to CBS News. Inside were the bodies of four local girls who’d been gagged and bound with their own clothing before each one was shot in the head.

The fire had destroyed much of the evidence, but authorities determined two types of guns were used in the murders, suggesting the possibility of two or more killers.

Last December marked the 30th anniversary, but today, no one is behind bars for the murders of Eliza Thomas, 17, Amy Ayers, 13, and sisters Jennifer Harbison, 17, and Sarah Harbison, 15, according to CBS News. Austin Police Detective John Jones told “48 Hours,” that DNA may be what brings the long-awaited answers.

“There is new information that really hasn’t gotten a lot of attention,” said Jones.

Despite efforts to solve the case, including the creation of a task force that included the FBI, the case grew cold until the 1999 arrests of four men, according to CBS News. Robert Springsteen, Michael Scott, Maurice Pierce, and Forrest Wellborn were adolescents when the murders occurred. The four had been on authorities’ radar when, just days after the murders, Pierce was arrested at a local mall with a firearm in his possession. The gun was the same model as one used in the murders. Lacking any physical evidence tying the teenagers to the case, they were eventually released.

But a fresh look into the case in 1999 resulted in two alleged confessions from Springsteen and Scott. Charges against Pierce and Wellborn were dismissed due to lack of evidence, but Springsteen and Scott proceeded to trial, based on their own confessions, according to the Austin American-Statesmen. Despite lawyers challenging the confession statements, claiming they were coerced, both were convicted of capital murder. Springsteen was sentenced to death, and Scott was sentenced to life in prison

Their convictions were overturned in 2009. According to the Travis County District Attorney’s office, attorneys found DNA from the crime scene that didn’t match the defendants. They claimed the testing was “a relatively new method that looks for male DNA only.”

“That testing revealed the full YSTR profile of one male whose identity and involvement in this case was unknown to us,” according to the District Attorney’s office, who hoped to retry the men. “Since this discovery, we have tested samples from many individuals, but the identity of this man still remains unknown to us.”

The ultimate factor in overturning the convictions against Springsteen and Scott came when the courts found their 6th amendment rights had been violated, according to the District Attorney’s office. The pair were tried separately, and neither one faced the other in court, as is their constitutional right. Because their confessions were used against each other, they had the right to face their accuser.

Hope sprung when in 2017, investigators with the Austin Police Department submitted the DNA sample into a database and matched it to a person, according to CBS News. However, the FBI had submitted the matcher’s sample, and the person’s identity wasn’t attached to the specimen. Citing confidentiality, the FBI could not give the person’s identity to the police.

The FBI changed its mind in 2020, upon the insistence of U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul.

Retired Detective Jones said several witnesses noted a couple of men who “looked out of place” preceding the murders, according to CBS News.

“They never have been identified,” said Jones. “And we did everything. We even hypnotized some folks.”

Anyone with information about the murders is asked to contact Austin Crime Stoppers at 1-512-472-TIPS.

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