Innocence Lost: The Yogurt Shop Murders

48 Hours: Four Teenagers Murdered, Two Murder Convictions; 18 Years Later, Case Is Blown Wide Open

In 1991, “48 Hours Mystery” correspondent Erin Moriarty began reporting on the brutal murder of four Austin, Texas teenagers. The case has come to be known over the years as the “yogurt shop murders.” It’s a story that she continues to cover today. She says, “it’s the case I can’t forget.”

Eighteen years ago, I started reporting on what turned out to be the most horrific crime story I’ve ever encountered… it was one of the most brutal, senseless murders in Austin’s history.

Blog: “The Case I Can’t Forget”
Photos: Yogurt Shop Case

On the night of Dec. 6, 1991, four teenage girls were found murdered in an Austin, Texas I Can’t Believe It’s Yogurt! shop. The crime scene was described by the lead detective as “wholesale carnage.”

The four victims - Jennifer Harbison, her sister, Sarah, Eliza Thomas, and Amy Ayers - were so young and their deaths, so senseless.

“At 3:00 that morning, some people were at my door and they said there was a fire and that’s when they told us that the girls were dead. That both of my girls were dead,” said Barbara Ayers-Wilson, mother of Jennifer and Sarah Harbison.

It wasn’t just the fact that there were four young kids who were killed. It was how they were killed.

“I’d seen homicides, but not four,” lead detective John Jones said. “And not four all tied up, and not four stripped down, and not four burned.”

“They were stacked. Their bodies were stacked. They were burned and they were stacked,” said Ayers-Wilson.

“One of toughest parts about this was having to tell the parents in the morning,” Jones explained. “Having to look them in eye and tell them we’re going to do everything in our power to make sure we get the people that did it.”

It took years to come up with any answers. But in 1999, there were suspects and arrests and finally, a sense we knew what had happened.

Austin police charged four individuals with capital murder; one of those was Robert Springsteen.

“Are you one of the killers of those four little girls in that yogurt shop?” I asked Springsteen.

“No. No way. Not at all. Never,” he replied. “…I’m just a normal guy.”

“Americans wanna believe that everyone is good and pure as they are. And that’s just not the case,” said Jones.

I never thought that today, 18 years after these girls were murdered, that I’d still be reporting on this story or that this case that we thought was closed would be blown wide open.

“It’s the first time we have physical proof about who was there,” said Jim Sawyer addressing reporters.

“Everybody who loved those girls has to suffer and bleed a little more every time the case comes up,” Ayers-Wilson said. “I know without a doubt we have the right people. These young men are guilty.”

“What does it take to make people say, “I was wrong?” asked Sawyer.