The facts are brutally straightforward. On December 6, 1991, the naked, bound-and-gagged bodies of the four girls--each one shot in the head--were found in an I Can't Believe It's Yogurt shop in Austin, Texas. Grief, shock, and horror spread out from their families and friends to overtake the city itself. Though all branches of law enforcement were brought to bear, the investigation was often misdirected and after eight years only two men (then teenagers) were tried; moreover, their subsequent convictions were eventually overturned, and Austin PD detectives are still working on what is now a very cold case. Over the decades, the story has grown to include DNA technology, false confessions, and other developments facing crime and punishment in contemporary life. But this story belongs to the scores of people involved, and from them Lowry has fashioned a riveting saga that reads like a Russian novel, comprehensive and thoroughly engrossing.
- ISBN-13: 9780307594112
- ISBN-10: 0307594114
- Publisher: Knopf Publishing Group
- Publish Date: October 2016
- Page Count: 400
- Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.5 x 1.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.45 pounds
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2016-07-18
- Reviewer: Staff
In this taut true-crime account, Texas-based author Lowry (Harriet Tubman: Imagining a Life) explores the 1991 murder of four teenage girls in an Austin frozen yogurt shop and the botched investigation of four suspects railroaded into giving false confessions. After recounting the terrible details of the murders, she enumerates the errors of the investigators at the crime scene, the grasping at false leads, and the unethical interrogation practices, including marathon stretches of grilling and threats to two of the suspects. She provides interesting information on how the brain creates memories, “adding, subtracting, removing, revising,” and about the creation of “false or illusory” memory that can lead to a false confession. Nearly a third of the book deals with the defendants’ trials and these sections are meticulous to a fault, providing irrelevant material such as descriptions of testimonies that were ultimately not given and even, ironically, the contents of an attorney’s statement that had “gone on too long.” However, the flaws of the state’s case are well articulated. One of the more compelling parts of the book is the end, where Lowry explores an alternate theory of the crime originally presented by Jordan Smith in the Austin Chronicle on the 20th anniversary of the murders in 2011. The case itself is fascinating, and Lowry covers every angle diligently with first-person interviews and other research, yet the story never takes hold of the reader. (Oct.)
Inside the investigation of Yogurt Shop Murders
As he looked back on the Yogurt Shop Murders, one former Austin, Texas, detective wanted to emphasize a hard fact: “Confession is a beginning,” he said. “We had 50.”
You read that right—maybe not exactly 50, but there were certainly dozens of confessions to the horrific 1991 killing of four teen girls, who were found naked, bound and shot to death in the yogurt shop where two of them worked. Police know that any big case attracts false confessions from the mentally unstable. They also know that overzealous officers sometimes convince suspects—often very young, ill-educated, suggestible ones—to make false confessions.
Was this such a case? Beverly Lowry’s gripping re-examination, Who Killed These Girls?, can’t be definitive, but her descriptions of the 1999 “confessions” of two hapless young men raise serious doubts about their statements. Nevertheless, they and two supposed accomplices were arrested. Two were convicted; the other two set free. There was no physical evidence against any of them. After 10 years, the two convicts were freed on appeal, and the D.A. reluctantly admitted that new DNA evidence didn’t implicate any of the four.
Lowry begins the book with moving depictions of the victims, and their still-suffering families are strong presences throughout. But the heart of her narrative is the perhaps-coerced confessions of Mike Scott and Rob Springsteen. Their defenders say they knew nothing about the crime until the police fed them information—and tricked and browbeat them into “admissions.” Lowry’s book is as much about the tactics and culture of American law enforcement as it is about this specific crime.
The Austin police still insist that the four men were guilty. But Lowry makes an impressive case that thanks to the department’s missteps, we really have no idea who killed those innocent girls.