Quadruple Homicide In Texas Yogurt Shop Remains Unsolved After Over 30 Years
Who brutally murdered teenagers Eliza Thomas, Jennifer Harbison, Sarah Harbison, and Amy Ayers in 1991?
Warner Bros. Discovery, Inc. (Screenshots from ID's "48 Hours on ID")
Over three decades ago, four girls were found fatally shot in the heads in an I Can’t Believe It’s Yogurt shop in Austin, Texas. Despite years of searching for whoever killed the teenagers, the unsolved case continues to frustrate investigators to this day.
On the evening of Dec. 6, 1991, emergency responders found the young victims bound and gagged in the building, which had been torched. They were identified as Eliza Thomas, 17; Jennifer Harbison, 17; her sister, Sarah Harbison, 15; and 13-year-old Amy Ayers.
The two older girls, Eliza and Jennifer, worked at the shop, while the younger victims, friends Sarah and Amy, were at the business waiting for rides home once the store closed at 11 p.m.
Retired officer John Jones, now 70, recalled what he saw when he responded to the report of the girls’ murders that night. “We hadn't had one that I knew of like that: multiple bodies, fire, gunshot wounds, probable robbery,” he said in an interview with KVUE. “It was a pretty overwhelming scene. There were firemen everywhere. There was water everywhere."
According to Jones, the fire was centered in the back of the yogurt shop where the bodies were found and smoke and soot covered surfaces, destroying potential forensic evidence.
Spent rounds from two different types of guns, a .380 and a .22., were recovered as well as a very small sample of DNA from an unidentified male.
Police launched an in-depth investigation into the killings and they followed up on thousands of tips and leads as the years ticked by.
In 1999, detectives relooking into the case believed they had four viable suspects based on an interview of a teenager arrested shortly after the murders who, at the time, implicated three acquaintances. The case, however, was shaky from the start. “I said, 'Is that all they have is a confession?'” Jones recalled. “They said, 'Yeah, against each other.’”
Eventually, two of the men were found guilty of the murders, largely based on their self-incriminating statements. The convictions were eventually overturned after they recanted and both were freed in 2009. The other two men never went on trial.
Despite investigators’ ongoing efforts, the question remains: Who killed Eliza, Jennifer, Sarah, and Amy?
“There is a kind of torture that continues by the fact that it's unsolved and it's ongoing," Sonora Thomas, the sister of Eliza Thomas, told 48 Hours.
“It's 30 more years of not giving up, 30 years of trying. If it takes 30 more years, it takes 30 more years...we are not giving up,” Shawn Ayers, the brother of the youngest victim, Amy Ayers, said in an interview with KVUE. “There will be a resolution to this one way or another.”
Now there’s new hope for families in similar circumstances who are struggling with unsolved murders of loved ones.
In the summer of 2022, President Joe Biden signed into law the Homicide Victims' Families' Rights Act. According to Congress, the bill establishes a framework for immediate family members of victims to be able to request a review of their case files “if the murder was committed more than three years prior, the murder was investigated by a federal law enforcement entity, all probative investigative leads have been exhausted, and no likely perpetrator has been identified.”
Jones, the officer who worked the yogurt shop murder case for years, said identifying and locking up whoever killed the four teenagers can’t change the outcome of what happened, but it would help.
“Even if it was solved tomorrow, it wouldn't bring back those girls,” he said. “But I do think it would bring some comfort to those families.”
For more on this case, stream People Magazine Investigates: "Who Killed Our Girls?" on Max.