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.)


60 comments:

  1. Some sick individuals. Why kill them and set the shop on fire? Shame the right individuals weren't caught without a doubt.

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    1. The fire was likely to destroy DNA evidence? It sounds like it worked...they got VERY little DNA from the scene or the girls. But yeah, why kill them? I wondered at first if it was Paul Dennis Reid--he was the "fast food killer" here in Tennessee in the 90s and he moved here from Texas. But it doesn't match how he operated.

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    2. Great blog post, Stephanie. I agree they used the fire to destroy evidence, and I think this is key to understanding who committed this crime. The men who did this were experienced and hardened criminals: both the nature of the crime and the fact that they knew to burn the shop to destroy evidence tell us this. The police should be looking for two men who were convicted criminals and b/t the ages of 25 & 35 at the time of the crime (1991) and who were living or working in Austin at that time. They should also be looking at other robberies / sexual assaults. I think there is a decent chance these men are in jail for other crimes --- as it is hard for me to imagine them not continuing to commit crimes and not eventually getting caught --- and I wonder about the fact that they haven't been able to find a match through any DNA databases. It must be that the DNA evidence is a special kind that can't be submitted to the normal databases. They can solve this crime, though, and I hope they do.

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  2. Sad situation. At first you'd think with four girls it would be harder for them to do anything but being teenagers I'm sure they were quite scared. Wonder if the couple was able to describe the two men that were there when they left?

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    1. They did...the two men were wearing hoodies and the woman describes a paper sack sitting on the table between them. One of the guys had his hand in the bag and was fiddling with whatever was in there...she said at first she thought it was change but later she thought it might be bullets? That's all described in detail in the book I read, but I can't find it anywhere else online. The author dove into all of the files, though, so I'm guessing she had access to things that haven't been available to the public before.

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  3. This is another one I was not aware of until now. Your weekly posts are very informing.

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    1. I somehow missed this one until earlier this year...and I'm a bit of a true crime junkie. I happened upon a 48 Hours episode on it.

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  4. So sad that these go unsolved...

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    1. I know. I suspect at least a couple of those guys were the ones who did it, but there just isn't enough evidence.

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  5. A terrible way for those poor girls to go.

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  6. This gives me chills. Especially since my daughter worked at a Nashville TCBY when she was in high school--around that time. Your Mystery Mondays are very interesting.

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    1. That's what I thought of when I first heard this story!

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  7. Oh I saw an episode about this!! Horrible. We had tcby down here in the 90s.

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    1. We had TCBY everywhere here. I'd never heard of I Can't Believe It's Yogurt until I heard this story. I think the TCBYs closed? Last one I saw was attached to a gas station.

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    2. TCBY tried to grow too fast. They thought they were more popular than they really were and did themselves in. I don't know if any are left.

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  8. Those poor girls. Monsters live among us.

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    1. Definitely horrible people, whoever did this.

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  9. I can't help but think of the parents of the girls because they lost their daughters in such a horrible fashion especially the 2 sisters. There were 2 men for sure who did this crime and the other is covering for him. If he didn't do it at all, he knows who did but won't talk....a true shame.

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    1. Yeah, it had to be at least two, but one true crime podcast I listened to raised the question--if it was more than two, why bind the girls? Four guys could have kept them contained, especially if they had a gun. So that makes it possible it was only two... It's very possible, since the police interrogators basically pushed the guys until they named the two other guys who were supposedly with them. Michael Scott even named the fourth guy as a question--as in, "Is that who you want me to say?"

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  10. Isn't it awful how individuals can be coerced into confessing to something that DNA indicates they might not have done? Poor girls.

    Side note: I totally remember going to TCBY because it was "healthy."

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    1. Right? And we have Sweet Cici's now--you can put CANDY on top of the yogurt. At least people know what it is. I believe gelato is healthier than ice cream or yogurt? It's made with milk instead of cream.

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  11. I remember this crime. I didn't know it was unsolved.

    Love,
    Janie

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    1. Well...they thought it was solved for quite a few years. The guys served ten years before being released. One of the guys is dead now...Maurice Pierce. Shot by a police officer when he pulled him over for a routine traffic stop and Maurice went all crazy on him.

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  12. I do wonder who that guy is covering for. So sad about those poor girls.

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    1. And what would be the motive for covering for the person? It would have to be someone important for him to let innocent people go to jail instead of him.

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  13. That's so sad! When I was a teen, the crew I was supposed to close with left me alone in the restaurant. Being the easily spooked person that I am, I ditched the dirty dishes and took off. I used to feel bad about that until now.

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    1. Even today, the nature of many jobs like that has young girls working alone late at night. I was always spooked when I worked in a mall and had to walk to my car alone after dark. This was even back when that was a fairly safe area of town. Now I wouldn't even park my car near the mall I worked at as a teen after dark!

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    2. I worked in a mall as a teenager, too. We were required to park in the back of the lot, far from the doors. I closed up by myself and took the deposit for the day to the bank. I would never allow one of my kids to have a job like that.

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  14. Absolutely tragic. May the evil perpetrators burn in hell one day if not caught in this life.

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    1. Exactly. There are apparently multiple officers assigned to the case, but after all this time, I can't imagine they'll be able to solve it, whether it was the guys who were originally arrested for it or someone else.

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  15. Oh so terrible.. I hope all people involved (if there are others than the one man who confessed) get found..

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    1. I hope so, but it's looking unlikely there will ever be justice.

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  16. DNA evidence (or lack thereof) is a bit sketchy these days. When it first came out, I think it helped to exonerate many innocents who had proclaimed their innocence from the beginning. This is a different case altogether, the man admitted complicity, so that should place less importance on the DNA results, which can be faulty.

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    1. Right...I think they showed on one of those JonBenet Ramsey shows that underwear can have DNA because it was handled by someone at the factory. They took the DNA directly from the body, but it still could have been somehow contaminated. It's not as straightforward as CSI makes it seem!

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  17. That's a sad mystery. Hope one day it can be solved.

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    1. There are SO many cold cases that never will be solved. The more true crime you listen to/read/watch, the more you start to get creeped out at the number of murderers that have never been caught. I usually end up just hoping they ended up in jail for some other crime.

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  18. Oh my gosh, that's so sad! I know it's a long shot but I always hold out hope that someday these types of cases will be solved so the families can have some peace of mind at last. Thank you as well for the kind comments on my last post as well. - Tasha

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    1. I agree...I've heard several cases where they were solved AFTER the child's parents died, which is truly tragic.

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  19. Based on the beginning of the story, I expected some kind of funny twist. Horrific true stories proved less entertaining. :(

    Thanks for the history lesson though. My wife loves murder mysteries, so gonna have to share. :)

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  20. That's scary. And sad. Especially for the one family who lost two daughters that night. :(

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  21. Now this is my kind of book. I must check it out, thanks for the review.

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  22. I love murder mystery books and shows. Especially if they are true.

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  23. I remember visiting TCBY stores. I still enjoy yogurt but mostly the type from the grocery store. Of course this is not about yogurt but I do think the story piques our interests because of the familiar setting. Certainly a very scary and sad story but and the same time we tend to over react to the actual possible danger out there. The story could help a person realize there should pay attention to odd settings/situations such as 2 guys sitting there near closing while not even eating anything. Could this have been prevented if the girls called the owner/police to report a suspicious customer?
    BTW - I gave your "30 Days of No Gossip" as a gift to our 8yr old granddaughter.

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    1. YAY! Thank you, Bill! Contact me through my website if you'd like me to send an autographed bookplate and some bookmarks for her:

      https://stephaniefaris.com/contact-me/

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  24. So sad and so terrible! Those poor girls!

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  25. Oh, so sad! I don't understand how ppl can be so evil. As a parent, my worst nightmare is someone hurting my child.

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  26. Well that's just genuinely creepy! Definitely a nightmare situation.

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  27. CREEPY! You certainly made the book sound intriguing. This is why my mother tells me every time I leave her sight, "Don't get mugged." Even in my 40s!

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  28. What a sad story. Imagine the terror those girls suffered. I hope that some day the guilty men get what they deserve.

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  29. I remember hearing about this. Definitely a creepy story. I think there needs to be security cameras in every shop for this reason. No one should get away with murder.

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  30. That's just awful. Those poor parents, poor girls. This will haunt me.

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  31. Yes, I do remember all those yogurts back in the day. I didn't hear about this crime, but when things like things like this go unsolved, I often wonder what kind of karma came back. Even though they haven't been caught, I'd like to believe that they suffered in some other way for the heinous crimes they committed.

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  32. I'm a die hard reader of true crime, so I found this story rather intriguing and extremely sad.

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  33. I'm a die hard reader of true crime, so I found this story rather intriguing and extremely sad.

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  34. What a terrible crime and how awful for the families that it was never solved. I had never heard about this case before. Thanks for the book recommendation.

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  35. Just came back across to say thank you for all of the kind comments on my last post Stephanie! - Tasha

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