Monday, December 12, 2016

Mystery Monday: The Yogurt Shop Murders

It's Monday, which means it's time for another...

Every Monday, I'm presenting a new mystery. Some have been solved...some remain unsolved to this day. 

In the 80s and 90s, our country managed to convince itself that "fat" made us fat. So businesses came out with fat-free and low-fat products that were loaded with sugar and calories. One product of the fat-free craze was frozen yogurt. Yummy yogurt was everywhere:

In Austin, Texas, yogurt was served in franchise stores known as I Can't Believe It's Yogurt (ICBY). On the night of December 6, 1991, two girls were working at the ICBY on West Anderson Lane.

Photo credit: AP

Seventeen-year-olds Jennifer Harbison and Eliza Thomas were working the counter that night. Jennifer's 15-year-old sister, Sarah, was hanging out at the shop with her 13-year-old friend, Amy Ayers. They were catching a ride home with Jennifer after hanging out at the nearby mall.

Just before the store's 11 p.m. closing time, a couple came in. Jennifer and Eliza waited on them. There were only two other customers in the store--both were men. They didn't appear to be eating yogurt and they were quiet, seeming to pay more attention to the girls than each other. When the couple left around 11 p.m., the two men were still in the shop.

Just before midnight, a police officer spotted smoke coming from I Can't Believe It's Yogurt. Assuming the shop was empty, firefighters put out the fire, only finding the bodies of the four girls once the fire was out.

Layout of the yogurt shop, including where the bodies were found

Four men were eventually arrested for the murders and two served time. But their convictions were overturned due to evolving DNA technology. Evidence found on one of the girls did not belong to any of the four suspects.

Although police can't identify who committed the crime, they do believe they know what happened. All of the tables in the restaurant had chairs on top of them but the booth where the two mystery men were spotted. That booth was also the only one in which the napkin holder had not been refilled (part of closing activities).

Evidence photo showing the booth where the two men
sat on the night of the murders. Photo source: The Austin Chronicle

An unopened Coke can was found on the counter near the cash register. Experts speculate that the girls were closing up when one of the two men came to the register and asked for a Coke. The employee leaned over to get it and when she stood up, she likely had a gun pointed at her. The men bound the girls with their own clothes, assaulted them, and killed them before setting the shop on fire.

There have been many suspects over the years, but it's hard to shake the very detailed confession given by Michael Scott, one of the above men who served time for the murders, even if it was coerced out of him. While he was wrong on a few of the facts, he was disturbingly accurate in most of what he told the police. Could someone else have been involved that he didn't name? Or maybe the DNA evidence itself was faulty.

I just want to give a special shout-out to this book, which helped me research this story. If you want to read more about the yogurt shop murders (including Michael Scott's eerie confession), I highly recommend this book. It's available on Amazon.

Still need Christmas gifts for the young people on your list? I'll be signing copies of my books for my online friends on December 19th. Order by December 16th, specify what names you'd like them signed to, and Parnassus will ship them directly to you!!! Click here to go to the site. (There are also a ton of other great signed books you can order from there.)