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Author Topic: 20 years Later, Austin Yogurt Shop Murders of 4 Teens Still Unsolved  (Read 14909 times)
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...and Injustice for most

« Reply #20 on: May 29, 2016, 03:20:32 PM »

May 16, 2016 by Leigh Egan

On December 6, 1991, four teenage girls were scrubbing down counters and sweeping the floors at a yogurt shop in Austin, Texas, when they were brutally attacked and shot to death. The incident would ultimately lead to court decisions that shocked the community, leaving questions unanswered and a murder mystery that still lingers more than 20 years later.

Jennifer Harbison and Eliza Thomas, both 17, were working part-time at “I Can’t Believe It’s Yogurt!” a small shop situated snugly in a strip mall off of W. Anderson Lane. On the night of the murders, they were busy cleaning up the store after hours, anticipating a sleepover after their shifts ended. Jennifer’s 15-year-old sister, Sarah Harbison, was sitting at one of the tables in the shop, waiting for the girls to finish work. Sarah’s friend, 13-year-old Amy Ayers, sat beside her.

At around midnight, firefighters responded to a fire at the yogurt shop. As they worked to distinguish the flames, one of the firefighters spotted what looked like a human foot. He rushed through the smoke and rubble to take a better look.

As he drew closer, he discovered three girls near the back door, naked and stacked on top of each other, covered with Styrofoam cups that were drenched in lighter fluid and set afire. As the firefighter looked closer, he realized the young girls were dead, lying in a mixture of blood, smoke, debris, and chocolate syrup. All three had been shot in the head, execution-style.

The youngest teen, Amy, was found a few minutes later, lying alone, barely alive, near the yogurt shop bathrooms. She died shortly after, having sustained two gunshot wounds to the head. Some of the girls had been raped, but it would be years before DNA testing would become available.

Shanon Quaranta, a former student at Austin’s Crockett High School, was a teen when the killings happened. She remembered how it shattered the illusion in the community that teens were safe while working after-school jobs.

“When I found out I was shocked!” she explained. “Here are teens that were out working instead of being at the mall hanging out, partying or sitting around home watching TV.  They were working, they were being responsible and such a horrible tragedy took place…. I think the biggest impact was that could have been me. That could have been my friends.”

Since the firefighters arrived first, the crime scene was contaminated. While they worked to put out the flames, a lot of the evidence was obliterated and washed away. This innocent mistake would prove to be costly in the years to come. 

Austin investigators worked with what they had, trying to piece together exactly what happened that night, but for over a week, they had no leads. Their first break came when a local teen, Maurice Pierce, 16 at the time, was caught at nearby Northcross Mall, carrying a .22 caliber gun.

When questioned, Pierce bragged that the gun was used to kill the “yogurt shop girls.” He said a friend, Forrest Welborn, 15, gave him the pistol, but after police wired Pierce and listened in on a conversation between him and Welborn, it was obvious Wellborn had no idea what Pierce was getting at.

“It was obvious to everyone that Pierce was trying to force the issue on Welborn, who had no idea what Pierce was talking about,” said one of the homicide detectives on the case,

Welborn was brought in for questioning afterwards, and although he passed a polygraph test, he mentioned two other teens, Michael Scott and Rob Springsteen, both 17 at the time. Wellborn said he traveled with the teens in a stolen Nissan Pathfinder just days after the murder, but with no evidence to link any them to the crime, the case stalled. Authorities let Pierce off the hook after the ballistics with the gun he had didn’t match up. Detectives noted that Pierce seemed to have a mental illness.

Five years later, despite thousands of tips pouring in, the case remained unsolved. In 1996, a new detective, Paul Johnson, took over, and while searching through numerous tips, Pierce’s name stood out to him. Working off of an FBI profile for the murders, he brought in Pierce, Scott, Springsteen, and Welborn for questioning. All of them denied any involvement in the murders at first, but after a series of intense interrogations, Scott was the first to break, and admitted that he helped carry out the murders.

According to Scott, both Pierce and Springsteen brought a gun into the yogurt shop, planning to rob it, while Welborn acted as a lookout and stayed in the car. Scott said he took a gun from Pierce at some point after Pierce began yelling at the girls for money. Scott also indicated that Springsteen hit one of the girls and sexually assaulted her. As another girl began screaming for her life, Scott said he shot her in the head at Pierce’s insistence. He then remembered running out the door to the getaway car, while the yogurt shop began to catch on fire. He stated Wellborn had apparently fled the scene while they were inside.
Detectives are still working on finding more evidence in the murders, but for now, it remains an unsolved mystery. In the meantime, the senseless killings of four girls persistently hangs in the air in Austin, while many locals await a conclusion that may never come.

Brothers and Sisters, I bid you beware/Of giving your heart to a dog to tear  -- Rudyard Kipling

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« Reply #21 on: December 06, 2016, 08:06:29 AM »
25 years later: Murder of 4 Austin teens still unsolved
Published Dec. 5, 2016, Updated Dec. 6, 2016

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Tuesday marks 25 years since four teenage girls were murdered in a North Austin yogurt shop.

The “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Yogurt” Shop on Anderson Lane went up in flames on Dec. 6, 1991. When the fire was put out, the bodies of 13-year-old Amy Ayers, 17-year-old Jennifer Harbison, her 15-year-old sister Sarah, and 17-year-old Eliza Thomas were found in the torched building — tied up, stacked on top of each other and all shot in the head. There was also evidence they had been sexually assaulted.

“You can’t help but relive those images and I still see the images,” said former Austin firefighter Rene Garza.

After a quarter of a century, he recalls the exact moment the scene went from a fire investigation to a quadruple homicide.

“The firefighter with me tapped me on the shoulder and pointed down and he asked me, ‘Is that a body?’ And I had to step back,”‘ said Garza. “It was and I saw another body. I knew that it wasn’t right. Something was not right,”

Eight years later, four men were arrested, but only two — Robert Springsteen and Michael Scott — went to trial. Both men confessed and were convicted, but were both set free when new testing revealed DNA from a mystery suspect was found on the youngest victim, Amy.

“We have some unanswered DNA questions that we are continuing to address,” said Detective Jay Swann with the Austin Police Cold Case Unit.

Det. Swann said the DNA is a very specific type, and finding a match is extremely labor intensive.

“We have to just take a DNA sample from the next person that we think it could be,” said Det. Swann. “And so if we ever get to the point where we have a national database for some of the different sub-types of DNA that we have, that could be one of the keys to bringing this investigation back into the courtroom.”

KXAN asked if any yogurt shop evidence was impacted with the recent problems and closure of the Austin Police crime lab.

The detective said “no,” it’s all been tested by other labs, including the Department of Public Safety.

  " Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts."  - Daniel Moynihan
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