The Yogurt Shop Murders

On Friday Dec. 6, 1991, An Austin police officer on patrol noticed a fire coming from the I Can’t Believe it’s Yogurt Shop at 2949 West Anderson Lane in North Austin and reported it to his dispatcher.

Upon arrival to the scene, firefighters discovered the bodies of 13-year-old Amy Ayers (sometimes spelled Ayres) and 17-year-old Eliza Thomas, as well as 17-year-old Jennifer Harbison and her 15-year-old sister Sarah. Eliza and Jennifer were closing the shop for the day, Jennifer’s sister, Sarah and her friend Amy were keeping the girls company.

Firemen were initially sworn to secrecy regarding the details of the crime scene. However, it was eventually the firemen who reported to The Austin American Statesman that when they entered the shop they found the bodies of three of the girls piled atop one another. The fourth victim, Amy Ayers, was found in another part of the shop a half hour later.

According to autopsy reports Sarah Harbison’s nude body was found gagged and with her hands bound behind her back with a pair of panties. Her body was severely charred. She had been raped and shot through the back of the head. A .22 lead bullet was recovered from her brain.

Jennifer Harbison’s nude body was not bound, but her body was found with her hands behind her back. Her body was severely charred, and she had been shot through the back of the head. A .22 lead bullet was recovered from her brain.

Watch Jennifer and Sarah’s parents being interviewed shortly after the murders

Eliza Thomas’ nude body was gagged and her hands bound behind her back. Her body was severely charred, and she had been shot through the back of the head. A.22 lead bullet was recovered from her brain.

Watch Eliza’s mom and sister shortly after the Murders

Amy Ayers’s nude body was found with “a sock-like cloth material wrapped around her neck with a half hitch in the back.” Her body was not severely charred, but covered in second and “very early” third degree burns over 25 to 30 percent of its surface. She had been shot through the back of the head with the same .22 caliber gun used on the other girls, but the bullet did not enter the brain. However, a second gunshot of a caliber not specified in the report caused severe damage to the brain. This bullet exited the right lateral cheek and jawline.

Watch Amy’s parents shortly after the Murders

The autopsy reports also reveal an enormously high BTU output from the accelerant, indicating the probable use of gasoline to burn the bodies.

The killers placed all 4 girls on top of each other, started the fire and left the scene.

Ayers managed to pull herself out of the pile of bodies and crawl away to another area of the blazing shop, where it was discovered by firemen a full half hour after their arrival at the shop.

Authorities located and arrested Carlos Saavedra and Alberto Cortez in Mexico in October 1992. According to the Mexican police, Saavedra confessed to the November 1991 rape of an Austin woman, as well as to the yogurt shop murders. The two men were tried and convicted; however, they were later released from custody when Saavedra recanted the confession. It was then discovered his interrogation involved the use of a Coke bottle filled with water and cayenne pepper, which was poured down Saavedra’s nose until he “confessed.” Saavedra denies any knowledge of who killed the girls.

A notorious central Texas serial killer, Kenneth Allen McDuff (below) also confessed to the murders. He had a history of multiple murders involving teenagers, but was soon ruled out of the crime due to DNA.

McDuff was executed by lethal injection in Texas on November 17, 1998.

In 1999 four men who were suspected in the case were arrested: Robert Springsteen IV, Michael Scott, Maurice Pierce, and Forrest Wellborn.

On September 14, 1999, police took a written confession from Scott in which he stated that he, Pierce, Springsteen, and Welborn had murdered the girls.

Then, in June 2000, a photo of Scott’s “confession” was made public.

In the photo, Homicide Detective Robert Merrill is seen holding a gun to Scott’s head. Merrill denied threatening his life but he did admit that he had held a gun “in the proximity” of Scott’s head.

In 2001, Springsteen was convicted of capital murder and was sentenced to death. That sentence was later commuted to life in prison. Scott was also convicted and sent to life in prison

In 2006, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals said Scott and Springsteen were unfairly denied the chance to cross-examine each other and their convictions were overturned. Pierce and Wellborn never went to trial over lack of evidence

In 2008 police found Springsteen’s DNA did not match the sample taken from a vaginal swab of Ayers.

On October 28, 2009, all charges were dismissed against The men.

Several customers at the yogurt shop on the night of the murders have reported seeing two unknown suspicious looking males sitting in a booth and drinking sodas.

The Austin Police Departments cold-case unit continues to pursue the identity of the unknown males, using DNA found on the youngest of the victims.

2949 West Anderson Lane is now a nail salon, before that it was a check cashing store. A memorial stone is located at this address as well and 28 years later people still leave behind items in the girls memory.

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