The Unsolved Case of the Austin Yogurt Shop Murders

Friday, December 6th 1991. Shortly before midnight, a police officer patrolling sees a fire in a ‘I Can’t Believe It’s Yogurt’ shop in Austin, Texas. He calls it in and the fire department is sent out to extinguish the fire. But… after the fire is under control, fire fighters find the nude bodies of 4 girls inside the yogurt shop. The girls are identified as sisters Jennifer and Sarah Harbison (17 and 15 years old), Eliza Thomas (17) and Amy Ayers (13).

The ‘I Can’t Believe It’s Yogurt’ shop in Austin

All the girls had started this Friday morning at school. Amy and Sarah then went to the mall, driven by Jennifer, who was on her way to her night shift at the yogurt shop. Eliza was a colleague of Jennifer at the yogurt shop and was scheduled to share the night shift with her. Northcross Mall, where Amy and Sarah wanted to go, happened to be down the road of the yogurt shop, so the girls waited at the shop for Jennifer to be done working, to get a ride back home (around 11:00 p.m.).

Amy Ayers (13), Eliza Thomas (17), Jennifer Harbison (17) and Sarah Harbison (15)

After the fire had been extinguished and the following horrifying discovery of the remains of the girls by the fire fighters, an investigation by police quickly started. It was clear all girls had been murdered, as they had obvious gunshot wounds to their head. The remains of Sarah, Jennifer and Eliza were found together and were severely charred by the fire. They all had been tied up and gagged with their own clothes. Amy’s body was found in a different part of the shop. Her body had burn damage, but less severe than the other girls. She had also been shot in the head, not once but twice. Two different guns were used, a bullet of a .380 was found as well as the .22. At least one of the remains showed evidence of sexual assault.

Police diagram of the yogurt shop (from the

Investigators believed that at least two men had shot the girls and had set the shop on fire to conceal the evidence. Accelerant was found at the crime scene. John Jones, the lead investigator, later said that in the beginning stage of the investigation, he and his team looked at all the customers in the shop that night to see if they witnessed anything. Multiple customers had noticed two men sitting in the back of the shop in a booth, not eating frozen yogurt, but just drinking something. All witnesses said they ‘looked out of place’. Every customer had left by 10:42 pm, except for the two men in the back. However, these men could not be identified by the police team. John Jones said this about the men to ’48 hours’: ‘They never have been identified. And we did everything. We even hypnotized some folks.’

Multiple witnesses had also seen a man sitting in a car outside of the yogurt shop at the night of the murders. A police sketch was made and… someone recognized it. A fellow investigator, from the Sex Crimes Unit, claimed they had a sketch just like it.

Left is a suspect in a sexual assault, on the right is the man sitting in a car outside the yogurt shop

The Sexual Crimes Unit investigator told them that three weeks before the murders a woman in Austin had been kidnapped and sexually assaulted. Three men were thought to be involved, with one of those suspects looking remarkably like the sketch of the man sitting in a car in front of the yogurt shop. So could this be one of the murderers? A later tip resulted in the arrest of two men in Mexico, one of them looking like both the sketches.

The two men arrested in Mexico, with the man on the right looking a lot like the sketches

When interrogated by the Mexican police, both men confessed to the yogurt shop murders. But then John Jones learned that the confession was wrong on some important details and did not match the crime scene. So Jones and his team went down to conduct their own interview and the men recanted their whole confession… claiming to be coerced by Mexican officials. This would not be the last confession John Jones and his team would face, over the years another 6 people confessed to the yogurt shop murders. All were ruled out as suspects.

The case of the yogurt shop murders went cold. Investigators had no further leads, until in 1999 four men were arrested in connection the the murder of Amy, Eliza, Jennifer and Sarah. Robert Springsteen, Maurice Pierce, Forrest Welborn and Michael Scott had been teenagers at the time of the murders in 1991. They all had been questioned in the days immediately after the crime, and were released due to lack of evidence. Maurice Pierce was arrested in possession of a gun at a mall near the yogurt shop in the weeks after the murders at the yogurt shop. This weapon was not connected to this case.

The four men arrested in 1999. Clockwise from top left: Maurice Pierce, Forrest Welborn, Robert Springsteen and Michael Scott (via AP photos)

In 1999, investigators decided to re-question all four, due to new information (it is unknown what this was). In a surprising twist, Springsteen and Scott confessed to the killings in the yogurt shop and also implicated Pierce and Welborn in the crime. Of course, all 4 men were then arrested for the murders. But… after a couple of days, Springsteen and Scott recanted their confession, claiming they had been coerced by investigators (yes, again!). Robert Springsteen later said – in an interview- when asked why he would falsely confess to something so horrible: ‘I was berated and berated and berated by the police officers. Until they obtained what it was they wanted to hear, they were not going to allow me to leave. And I basically— they broke me down’.

Charges were dropped against Pierce and Welborn after the grand jury failed to indict them, but Springsteen and Scott went on to stand trial for murdering Amy, Sarah, Jennifer and Eliza. There was no evidence linking Springsteen and Scott to the crimes, other than their -now recanted- confessions. The two men were convicted, resulting in the death penalty for Springsteen in 2001 and a life imprisonment for Scott in 2002, as he had been 15 at the time of the crime.

However, in 2009, both convictions were overturned on the Confrontation Clause. The Sixth Amendement (of the American Constitution) gives defendants the right to confront their accuser. The two men had been tried separately, but because neither of the men would testify against the other, the prosecution had used their ‘confessions’, reading parts out loud to the jury. This was against the 6th amendment, as it also meant that the defense could not cross-examine the other defendant.

Springsteen and Scott were now free men, released, but not exonerated. The prosecution was determined to do a re-trial, until… the DNA found at the scene did not match Springsteen or Scott (and also did not match Pierce or Welborn, for that matter). The District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg stated about the DNA evidence: ‘Currently, it is clear to me that our evidence in the death of these four young women includes DNA from one male whose identity is not yet known to us. The defense asserts that the testing reveals more than one unknown male, but the evidence presented at the hearing on Thursday, June 18 contradicts that notion.The reliable scientific evidence in the case presents one, and one only, unknown male donor. Given that, I could not in good conscience allow this case to go to trial before the identity of this male donor is determined, and the full truth is known. I remain confident that both Springsteen and Scott are responsible for the deaths at the yogurt shop, but it would not be prudent to risk a trial until we also know the nature of the involvement of this unknown male. My office and the Austin Police Department remain committed to these cases. Their further investigation will continue to be a priority. My commitment to the victims, their families, and this community is that we will not give up until all of the people responsible for these terrible and tragic murders are brought to justice.‘ Scott and Springsteen asked for compensation for their time spent in prison, but Texas’ courts later stated they were not entitled to compensation as they did not prove in a court of law that they were innocent of these crimes. Seven jurors of the 1999 trial later claimed that – had they known all the information at the trial – they would not have convicted both men.

Attorney Amber Farrelly worked on the defense team of both Scott and Springsteen. She was interviewed on ’48 hours’ about this case and said: ‘They (police) have accounted for and interviewed 52 people that were in the yogurt shop that day. Several of those customers mentioned the two men sitting in the yogurt shop just before it was due to close. We have no names to them. And when you look at — when you step back and you look and you think, ‘They’ve talked to 52 people and didn’t miss one person from 4:30 until 11:00 at night. And several people talk about a guy or two guys, and they describe them in the same manner? And we don’t know who those two guys are? And they’ve never called in? … That raises, in my opinion, the suspicion… that these are the gentlemen who did it.’ Farrelly says that one of the men was described as having light (‘dirty blond’) short hair, and in his late 20s/early 30s. He was about 168 cm tall (5’6″). The other man was said to be ‘bigger’ and both were wearing big coats, one black and one looking like a army jacket. They were seen driving a green car. John Jones, the former lead investigator, agrees with Farrelly that these two men are suspects in the case, saying in ’48 hours’: ‘Yeah, it’s kind of a question to me that to this day, they haven’t been identified. Is that evidence that they did it? No, but that’s evidence that we really need to talk to them’.

Years later, using a public database, a match was found for the DNA located at the crime scene. But… it turned out the the matching sample had been submitted by the FBI, anonymously. The FBI refused to name the person from whom the DNA sample was taken, saying it would violate privacy laws. Also the sample was partial, only having 16 markers (where in genetic genealogy testing they would usually use 67 or 111 makers at least). The FBI later did assist in further testing of the sample, which lead to identifying 25 markers instead of the original 16. However, some of the additional markers found did not match the FBI sample, ruling this person out as the contributor.

A known serial killer, Kenneth Allen McDuff, was also a suspect in this case. He was in the Texas area in 1991 and had a history of killing teenagers. After investigating, he was ruled out by police. Kenneth Allen McDuff was executed in November 1998. His known victims are Edna Sullivan (16), Robert Brand (17), Mark Dunnam (15), Sarafia Parker (29), Brenda Thompson (36), Regenia DeAnne Moore (21), Colleen Reed (28), Valencia Joshua (22) and Melissa Northrup (22). A more detailed version of all the crimes committed by Kenneth Allen McDuff will soon be published on the blog.

The murders of Amy Ayers, Eliza Thomas, and Sarah and Jennifer Harbison are still unsolved to this day.

Jennifer Harbison was the head of the drill team and a member of the track team. She had bought a blue Chey truck that summer, and was working to pay it off. Sarah, her younger sister, also loved playing sports and was a cheerleader. She was, with her older sister, a member of the Future Farmers of America. The parents of Jennifer and Sarah lost their whole family that day, with their mother Barbara saying to ’48 hours’: ‘My life was focused around them from here to eternity. Someone took eternity away from me.’ Amy Ayers loved animals and arts. She was also a member of the Future Farmers of America program and wanted to become a veterinarian one day. Bob Ayers, Amy’s father, said about her in an interview (also with ‘48 hours’): ‘I lost my daughter.  I lost my first dance.  … I won’t see her graduate. I won’t see her become a veterinarian. … She was a Daddy’s girl.’ Sonora Thomas, Eliza’s sister, was 13 years old when her sister was murdered. She remembers Eliza wanted to become a rancher and a veterinarian. Sonora also remembers the shock of hearing Eliza had died and fantasized about her coming back soon. Sonora said her parents did not talk about Eliza, stating :‘My family never talked about my sister after she died. It’s too painful.’ Eliza’s mother Maria died in 2015, with a lot of unanswered questions about the murder of her daughter. Sonora later said: ‘There is a kind of torture that continues by the fact that it’s unsolved and it’s ongoing.’

If you have any information about these murders, call 512-472-TIPS.



The Massacre at the Las Cruces Bowling Alley

February 10th, 1990. Stephanie Senac, 34-years old, was starting her day as the manager of the Las Cruces bowling alley, in New Mexico. She was in her office adding up the receipts from the previous night. With her were her 12-year old daughter Melissa and Melissa’s friend Amy Houser (13). Both girls were also working that day, in the day care run by the bowling alley.

Ida Holguin, 30, was also in the bowling alley that day. As the cook, she was preparing for the expected lunch rush in the alley’s kitchen, when two men entered trough an unlocked door in the back. One of the men, holding a gun to her head, ordered her to walk to Stephanie’s office. As Ida arrived to the office, she was shocked to see the other man also holding a gun, pointing it at Stephanie, Melissa and Amy.

Ida Holguin

The men yelled at the 4 people inside of the office to lie down on the floor and keep their heads down. Ida later stated to a journalist: ‘I just thought they were gonna get money and then take off, especially when they told us, ‘All of you put your heads down‘. The men started to rummage around the office and looking at the papers on the desk, seemingly somewhat unclear of their goal in the office. After a while, they demanded access to the safe, a safe that only Stephanie could open. While Stephanie opened the safe, Steven Teran entered the bowling alley’s front door. Steven worked there as a pin mechanic and was scheduled to work this Saturday. Unfortunately, he hadn’t been able to find a babysitter for his two daughters, Valerie (2) and Paula (6), so Steven had taken them with him to work, so that they could stay at the alley’s day care.

Steve looked around in the bowling alley, expecting to see Stephanie or Ida. When he did not see either, he walked into the office, disturbing the armed men inside who were in the process stealing the approximately 5000 dollars in the safe. When Steven entered, it is thought he tried to overpower the armen men, but did not succeed. He and his two daughters were then told to also lie down. And then… the armed men started shooting at the 7 people lying on the floor. Ida later said: ‘When he said that (‘heads down!’), I thought, ‘These guys are leaving.’ And that’s when I felt they had shot me in the head.

Paula, Valerie and Steven

All of the victims inside the office were shot multiple times, including the 4 children. The gunmen left, but not before they set the office on fire by igniting some papers on the desk. They likely believed all the victims were dead and were trying to dispose of the evidence.

Melissa, alive after being shot 5 times, crawled to a phone in the office and dialed 9-1-1, asking for help. She told the 911 operator that she had been shot, and that ‘it hurts’. Later she said:’I had to do something. I picked up the phone. There’s a fire, too’. The call closed with Melissa telling the dispatcher: ‘Please hurry. There’s a bullet in my head’.

The crime scene in the office at the bowling alley

Police and firefighters quickly arrived at the scene. The first reposnders quickly dragged all the victims from the office – since as it was on fire- to the lobby of the bowling alley, where they could assess all the victims safely.

Steven, Paula and Amy were pronounced dead at the the scene. They rushed Melissa, her mother Stephanie and Ida to the hospital. Valerie was also rushed to the hospital, but pronounced dead within an hour of the shooting. Melissa miraculously survived being shot 5 times. Stephanie also survived after spending 11 days in hospital, but unfortunately died in 1999 due to complications from the injuries she sustained during the shooting. Ida recovered after spending six months in hospital.

Help arriving after the shooting, via

Firefighters quickly put out the fire in the office. Police set up roadblocks around Las Cruces within 60 minutes of the shooting taking place. A car with 4 hispanic men was stopped, who had thousands of dollars of cash on them. Stephanie’s brother was called in to see if he could identify any of the men as the shooters, but he did not recognize anyone. The Hispanic men were allowed to continue their journey. Investigators searched the area with planes and helicopters. But… there was no further sign of the men involved.

There were two witnesses to the armed men leaving the bowling alley after the shooting. One of them coincidentally was Stephanie’s brother, who happened to come by the bowling alley at that time to pick up a bag he had left on Friday night. He later described to investigators:’I saw two Hispanic gentlemen walking from the back of the building towards the front. The older gentleman handed the younger gentleman a small case. The older gentleman squats down, and looks right at me as I’m driving towards them. I took notice of what they were wearing, and their descriptions, hair color, skin, eyes‘. Neither man was wearing a mask or gloves, leading investigators to think they not expect people to be at the bowling alley. Based on all the witness descriptions, police were able to draw up sketches depicting the suspects in the case.

Suspect number 1 was described as a younger man around 30, around 178 cm (5’10”) in height, with dark wavy hair, speaking english without an accent. Suspect number 2 was an older man, around 45-50, with short salt and pepper hair, around 170 cm in height (5’7″), who spoke with a slight Spanish accent. The sketches were widely distributed, but no-one came forward who recognized the men.

There was a massive manhunt in the first few days after the shooting. But after no sign of the men was found, it slowly turned into a cold case. The fire in the office of the bowling alley -and the subsequent actions to put out the fire- had destroyed a lot of evidence of the crime. No DNA-samples of the killers could be found. However, there were a lot of fingerprints found that could identify the killers. One of the detectives, years later, stated about the crime scene:‘It was a very complicated crime scene. They lit the office on fire. That’s a clear indication they were thinking about destroying evidence they had left behind. They weren’t going to leave any witnesses, no matter how young. I have no doubt when they left, they thought everyone in there was dead‘.

The reopening of the bowling alley after the shooting

Six days after the shooting, Ron Senac, the owner of the bowling alley and Stephanie’s father, reopened the business to customers. This led to a lot of rumors of his involvement, especially after it was discovered the bowling alley had been 1,5 million dollars in debt. Ron would go on to sell the bowling alley in December of 1990. There were also rumors surrounding another Senac family member. RJ Senac, the alley’s regular bartender and Stephanie’s younger brother, allegedly used to do some drug deals from behind the bar. However, no link between RJ, drugs and the murders was ever found. Some investigators and Ida, one of the victims, believe that the shooters were not at the bowling alley just to rob it, as money had been left behind in the safe and the shooters seemed to be looking for something else, before going to the safe. The police still states robbery as the motive for the shooting. One of the other most common theories is that the attack was revenge against specific people associated with the bowling alley, and that the victims were chosen randomly. In this theory the armen men were allied with a gang, and hired to do the shooting.

As of April 2023, the shooters have still not been identified and the murders remain unsolved. It remains an open case. Multiple investigators are still searching for leads, hoping new technologies can help shed some light on the killer’s identities. One of the detectives involved in the case told the Sun News in 2020:‘Some months we get just numerous tips and there’s really no telling why or what the reasoning is, why people come forward, but they do. So in random months I’ll get inundated with them and some months are a little lean. The advent in technology, the difference in technology, it’s at our disposal, we just have to find that right piece that will fit into that mold, that will fit into this new DNA technology, this new genealogy tree that we can use. We just have to find that piece and I’m positive we have it. I just haven’t found it yet’. Las Cruces Crime Stoppers offers 25.000 dollars reward for any information that helps identify the men responsible for the shooting.

In 2016, Anthony Teran, Steven’s brother, said this about not having answers to the Las Cruces Sun News: ‘In this day and age, things like this don’t go unsolved. How did we not get these guys? That’s the question I ask myself every day. Numerous people saw these gunmen, so someone out there knows something, and they need to come forward’. He also said about the gunmen: ‘I can almost guarantee that those two guys are dead. By their lifestyle, because if you can shoot a 6-year-old and a 2-year-old in the forehead, you can do anything. You can do anything. Nothing’s going to bother you’. Audrey Teran, who lost her husband Steven and her two daughters, said on the 30th anniversary of the shooting that she would go into a fit of rage, if she would ever face the killers. The Teran family still holds a candle-light vigil every year at the bowling alley, which has been empty since 2018. The family imagines what the future of Paula and Valerie could have been, with their grandfather Polo saying:’It should have been a beautiful story, but someone decided to play God and take their lives’. Raymond Holguin, Ida’s husband, also attends these yearly memorials, but Ida does not. She hasn’t returned to the bowling alley, since the last time – the filming of an episode of ‘ Unsolved Mysteries’- made her physically sick.

A detective currently on the case stated:’A lot of this case is dependent on someone coming forward with information… We’re really counting on the public‘. Tips can be provided anonymously by calling Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477. Tips can also be provided online at or through the Crime Stoppers app, “P3 TIPS.”