National show puts focus on Yogurt Shop murders
Reported by: Katherine Stolp
Wednesday, April 14 2010
The parents of all four teenage girls killed in the yogurt shop murders reunite for the first time in years. They're joining forces with the hope of finally putting the horrific crime to rest.
It's been nearly two decades since their daughters were murdered at an I Can't Beleive It's Yogurt shop in Northwest Austin.
On Tuesday evening they taped an episode of America’s Most Wanted and spoke exclusively to KEYE TV’s Katherine Stolp.
It will be the fifth time this case has aired on that show. The parents said they’re desperate because just months ago, the two men who served nine years in jail for the murders walked out; the charges against them dismissed.
Last June, an unknown man's DNA found on at least one of the girls, cast doubt on the confessions of two men. But a judge said their case was too weak. Michael Scott and Robert Springsteen walked; all charges against them dropped.
“I am totally convinced these guys killed my daughter,” exclaimed Ayers.
“They know they murdered our girls,” said Thomas. “They let them out. It just doesn't make sense.”
“The brutal murder of these four innocent young girls here is one of the worst crimes in the history of America,” said the host of America’s Most Wanted, John Walsh. “It's appalling. I can't wait for the DA to saddle up and do the right thing and retry these guys.”
Until then, the parents hope this national show will help bring them the justice they've waited for, for so long.
“It may be small, we just need a little break,” said Ayers-Wilson. “We have so much evidence we just need a little break to finish this.”
The District Attorney is still trying to find out who matches that mystery DNA. The America's Most Wanted episode will air next Saturday on April 24th.
Good 48 Hours article with background info on the case
The show aired tonight. Unbelievable case. The parents of these poor murdered girls have gone through hell waiting for justice all these years.
I'm praying that the people who did this are found and punished.
I saw the show last night too - that is so awful. I wonder if they're testing the unknown DNA... if any of the girls had a boyfriend who might have innocently left their DNA in an unrelated earlier situation.
Last edited by Hucklepie; 04-25-2010 at 01:00 PM. Reason: clarity
He ran from LEOs after they tried to stop him for running a stop sign.
The man who was killed by police after officials said he stabbed an officer late Thursday was identified by police officals today as Maurice Pierce, one of the four men initially charged in 1999 for the infamous 1991 yogurt shop slayings.
Pierce, the only person in the car, traveled a short distance, then led the officers on a foot pursuit through a neighborhood near Parmer Lane and McNeil Drive, officials said.
Carter said that Wilson later found the driver, and that a tussle began between the two of them.
During that fight, Pierce grabbed a knife from Wilson’s duty belt and stabbed him in the neck with it, officials said. Wilson then fired one round at the man.
I very much wonder if this guy had something to do with it. Not that we'll know now.
Officials vote to hire outside help to solve yogurt shop murders
Posted: Jun 04, 2012 4:29 PM CDT
Updated: Jun 04, 2012 6:50 PM CDT
The Public Safety Commission voted 5 to 4 to pass a resolution asking for an outside investigation into the yogurt shop murders.
On December 6, 1991, four young girls were sexually assaulted and killed at the I Can't Believe Its Yogurt Shop in North Austin.
Nearly 21 years later, no one is behind bars for the horrific crimes, which is why Dr. Kim Rossmo, proposed the resolution.
<More story and video at link>
Quite some time ago I watched the 48 Hours episode (likely a repeat) regarding this case and soon thereafter I did a little reading and searching for background info. I don't mean to open a can of worms, but I remember a (questionable?) attorney made quite a stink... his theories involved insurance money and a stepfather of one of the victims. Then, from another source I read that particular stepfather's brother and SIL were murdered and their house set on fire. I found the similarities in these cases quite noticeable... is it simply coincidence?? I'm curious if anyone else has wondered about these two cases.
About two years earlier, there was a horrific "robbery gone bad" of a bowling alley in Las Cruces NM. It was similar to the extent that what could have/should have been a simple armed robbery of a small business became a "mass murder". There were a few other "robberies gone bad" in the south west during that period but none were particularly noteworthy. There has been a suggestion floating around that these "robberies" were really staged in order to prorogate an elaborate insurance fraud. The "(questionable?) attorney" was probably Erik Moebius who has what can only be described as a "checkered pass". Is he some kind of a hero who has been shut out by "powers to be" or is he just a publicity seeking nut job?
The best I can tell Insurance Reserve Fraud can be understood as follows: Insurance companies operate by setting aside a certain amount of their operating cash for every potential claim that is identified. Claims often take years to settle (any who has been in an accident knows about this). If the claim is eventually paid, the money is transferred to the plaintive in the case. If the claim is successfully fought and the defendant (who is covered by the insurance co) prevails, the Insurance company would transfer this money from the reserve account back to the operating funds. There is the potential for someone in the insurance company to create documentation to the effect that the claim was really paid to the defendant and somehow misdirect this money for their own use. Like any business that relies on employees to handle money, internal controls are generally in place to prevent this. Could it still happen? I have no idea.
For the Liability Insurance carrier of a business that has experienced the death of an employee during an armed robbery, a large sum would probably be transferred to the reserve account "just in case" since the potential loss could be very large if, and only if, the employer is "negligent". If the employer was not negligent there would be a Workers Comp" settlement but no Liability settlement. If internal controls were not sufficient, this would create a good opportunity for "Insurance Reserve Fraud".
Although I have no information to the effect that this has actually happened, it would certainly be possible for an individual or a group of people working for an insurance company to defraud their employer this way. This would be classic "white collar crime". Taking it a step further and having "hit men" stage robberies and murder employees in order to create particularly lucrative Reserve Accounts would again, be possible, but, to my knowledge, unprecedented.
I recall reading where some relative of one of the Yogurt Shop Girls had ties to the Insurance industry but it didn't seem significant. Perhaps you have more information.
This all sounds like "Conspiracy Theory" stuff, but I am open to the possibility that sometimes there is "something there".
Thank you for your reply, Kemo Yes, Erik Moebius is/was the attorney behind the insurance fraud theory, and I agree with you... it sounds like "conspiracy theory". It was only when I read the story about the cold case of the murdered relatives (Carl & Jane) I felt there could be some truth (or quite the coincidence). I have no additional information. I was actually hoping someone had noted the connection.
The cases in Austin and Las Cruces have a number of similarities - complete overkill being one.
It's likely that whoever committed both crimes is long gone - South - where they probably came from - dead, or in jail.
I don't think, sadly, that either case will ever be solved. The insurance fraud theory is fascinating reading but just too 'out there' for me.
Most all of the info regarding insurance fraud is definitely "out there", and is probably not worthy of discussion. I just thought the murdered relatives brought it a little closer home, but it's likely just a terrible coincidence.
There are a few subplots in the Yogurt Shop Murder case. The false confession/conviction of Springsteen and Scott was certainly the angle that has dominated the news of late. There have been far too many of these in Texas. I do like the place and have always had a good time there, great food and lots of good live music and people are really friendly and don't hold my Blue State/Liberal opinions against me. Still, I can't help but get the feeling that the Rich and Powerful have pretty much free reign and run roughshod over the rights of everyone else; particularly anyone with the bad judgment to be poor.
I really think it is time for the Travis County DA's office to come clean and admit they were wrong. Yes, they will have to pay out a couple of settlements and perhaps re-open the investigation. Is that such a bad thing?
Anyone who still doubts that "false confessions" really exist needs to brush up on this case (but there are plenty of others). This is also a pretty good example of why we have a Fifth Amendment and the Miranda Decision. The kids confessed only after they were roughed up and threatened with a gun (there is a video tape of that). There was no other evidence and the details of the crime that were laid out in the signed confession were all wrong; particularly the part about the unknown Perp who raped and left DNA on Amy Ayers.
That DNA is probably the best clue available. Officially, that sample has never been matched to anything on CODIS. I give Texas Law Enforcement the benefit of the doubt that they would never "hold back" on a criminal investigation in order to defend a law suit.
If the Perp has managed to avoid a felony arrest in the 20 years following the crime, interesting questions are raised. This was not an ordinary "robbery gone bad". The Perp(s) came with gasoline. The plan all along was to rob rape, kill and then torch the place. This is the sort of thing a stone cold sociopath might do. Kind of scary that he could then settle back into the life of a law abiding citizen. There is also the problem/possibility that the matching sample is sitting in some storeroom waiting for funds to be available to test it, log it and submits it to CODIS. If there really is no "hit" out there, very likely the case will never be solved. I'm sure any valid leads were dropped once they got the confession from Springsteen and Scott. It is probably hopelessly cold by now.
I know it's ridiculous, but I can't seem to let go of the conspiracy subplot ... maybe the perp was hired and he just happened to be a psychopath? Yep, I feel silly thinking about these oh-so-questionable theories but they nag at me.
Justice with Judge Jeanine on Fox News Channel did a segment on this case Saturday night. I don't see anything on her website yet about it. I will add it if I check later and it is there. Here is the link to her page if anyone wants to check before I get a chance to.
"IT TAKES A LOT BIGGER MAN TO STAND UP AND ADMIT HIS MISTAKES THAN TO HIDE BEHIND A LIE"WHY WON'T ANYONE STAND UP FOR HALEIGH??!! WHY?? TELL THE TRUTH!!HALEIGH DESERVES IT!!
This may be reaching but I have always if Maurice Pierce the supposed "mastermind" had some form of PTSD and that's why he attacked that LEO and got himself killed. I could never understand if LE was so sure he was the mastermind how come they dropped the charges against him. We know the investigators weren't on the level of normal LE and they had no problem harassing, bulling, and practically forcing those boys/men to confess.
These girls deserve justice! It's been to long and it is overdue.
I have followed this case since the summer of '92. I recommend reading Corey Mitchell's book "Murdered Innocents" for a good overview of case. Jordan Smith of the Austin Chronicle weekly news journal wrote a very good article last December on the 20th anniversary of this painful cold case. After reading his article, I was online doing some investigating. I became aware of this second case involving the murder of Carl and Jane Suraci. I am aware that their murders in 2007 in AZ were somewhat similar to those of the "yogurt shop" victims. Is there any good sources of more information on the Suraci murders?
By all accounts the step father of two of the yogurt shop murder victims, and the brother of Carl Suraci, has led an exemplary life. Probably a very cruel coincidence. I have contacted law enforcement in both of these cases. I also contacted members of committee that has recommended bringing in outside help in Austin cold cases. I still feel that the guilty perp was probably a serial murderer like Kenneth McDuff. The fact that the "yogurt shop" had an unusually large amount of insurance coverage has always bothered me. A lot of loose ends.
I can find nothing to tie the 2007 murder of Carl and Jane Suraci to the Yogurt Shop murders. I agree: it was "Probably a very cruel coincidence". While there is a lot of commentary about the case (google "the murder of Carl and Jane Suraci”) there is little forensic evidence available and no suspects or other leads.
From what I gather, the case was originally written off by the Maricopa Sheriff's Dept as a "murder/suicide" only to have the county Coroner's office rule it a double homicide. It is not clear if the Sheriff'sDept then pursued a serious murder investigation. The folks in Aguila AZ are none too pleased with the investigation.
An interesting sidebar to this case is that the Maricopa Sheriff's Dept is headed by none other than Joe Arpiao; the self-billed "toughest Sheriff in America" and darling of Tebaggers and Conservatives everywhere. He is a product of the odd political role of "Sheriff" in the American West. He is responsible for running the County Jail, which is just a "caretaker-like" responsibility, not Law Enforcement per se, and "real" Law Enforcement in all unincorporated parts of the county, including Aguila. Most voters in the county however live in incorporated areas (like Phoenix) and the Sheriff is pretty irrelevant to their lives. To get elected and raise campaign money, there is a tradition of Sheriffs jumping on whatever political bandwagon seems to appeal to county voters even if it has nothing to do with their actual responsibilities. In Sheriff Joe's case, it is Right Wing Politics in general and Illegal Immigrants in particular. There is little to be gained by increasing law enforcement presence in tiny towns (like Aguila) with few voters.
How much Insurance did the Yogurt Shop have and what would have been "normal"? My understanding is that it was owned along with other businesses by some sort of "non-public" investment group that was chartered in the Cayman Islands: either a "shadowy" enterprise or just a means of avoiding taxes in The US.
The 4 girls were killed in a "I Can't Believe It's Yogurt, Ltd" shop. Two were employees. Brice Foods, Inc. of Dallas owned ICBY. Bill Brice was CEO of Brice Foods. The shop was in a medium size one story strip mall in a middle class area of Austin.
In January '93 the parents of the murdered girls sued all of the above. The case was to be heard before a judge on 2/28/94. In January '94 the parents accepted a 12 million dollar settlement. The legal team disclosed that most of the funds were from insurance coverage. I do not know the breakdown of the settlement. Normally the land owner would have the most coverage because of the parking lot and structure, but not much liability. Most small food service companies carry a few hundred thousand for slips, trips, food poisoning, etc. Most court decisions have determined that companies practicing a business with the public is not liable for third party murders. If anybody would like to share greater, more accurate knowledge, of the insurance situation, please do.
On October,5 '99 a jury in San Antonio found Brice Foods guilty of a $20 million investor fraud that was perpetrated from early '91 forward. The money was never found and the clients of Crescendo Investments who prevailed in the suit settled for pennies on the dollar. The Crescendo clients and the parents shared some of the same legal representatives. The Brice Foods conviction never received much publicity. This was significant fraud, but it was never discovered if any of the funds went into the parents settlement. Possibly the fact that a few hours after the Brice conviction was announced, the Austin Police department announced a break in the Yogurt Shop case, and arrests of suspects.
I was not aware that the Suraci murders were first treated as a murder/suicide.
How long before it was determined? I am sure the crime scene was significantly compromised by the fire, (probably volunteer fire response) and the homicide delay. Great background information about the politics of the law enforcement in the area. I know that the two cold cases have a common relative. I believe both were homicide by gun shot. I know that both structures were torched fter the homicides. Any other details on the Arizona cold case available. I know they lived in a semi rural area. Only a handful of houses per square mile. I believe Carl and Jane had about 50 acres of property? With dogs on the property, I can not believe they had no warning. Did they call out on a phone? We're they armed? Was anything of significance taken? We're they wealthy? I saw where the property was asking $700,000 when it was for sale. I understand they were counselors back in Virginia? I read on line that they were able to visit family and friends in Virginia the summer prior to their murders. Did everything look and sound normal?
I know it is not likely these cold cases are related. They both need to solved for their own reasons. To many guilty people are free to create further pain on others. I feel all of the murdered victims in both cases sound like great people. Both cases seem to be disappearing from the focus of law enforcement. I know the loved ones of these victims keep them fresh in their memories.
I have been out of the Insurance game for a while but as I recall, in California at least, the way it worked is that the Workers Comp Coverage paid off every time an employee was injured or killed on the job. This was essentially "no fault". It didn't matter if the employer was "at fault" or not. I think the basic principle was that payment would be based on anticipated future earnings. It could have been different in Texas. There would have been nothing for the two who were not employees.
Employers generally also carried Liability Insurance that would cover them if they were "at fault". Liability Insurance would also defend them in court if they were sued over an issue involving "liability". My understanding was that, legally, it wasn't the employer's fault if some criminal walked into a store and killed an employee during a robbery as long as "prudent" security measures were taken. The trouble was that family members who were not satisfied with a $100 to $200K settlement might file a liability claim based on some shortcoming the store's security arrangement. A jury could feel bad for the family member and give them a generous aware. For this reason, Insurance companies may make an offer before any suit is filed.
$12 Million seems pretty high but it was a horrific crime. It does raise the question: "did the family members really receive all that money?"
From what I understand, the Suraci's previously lived in Sedona; a pretty "upscale" area in Arizona but moved to Aquila on a small "hobby “ranch. (I.e. it wasn’t a real commercial operation but they could raise horses and perhaps a few cattle and live the life of a Rancher. $700K sounds like a lot for desert land in the middle of nowhere but who knows. Aquila had had a modest influx of retirees who want the "real" Arizona experience. My guess is that were few really rich people there but the Suraci's may have appeared pretty well off. If they lived alone out in the desert, they may have made an easy target.
From what I can tell, the Suraci's were know and well regarded by other "urban transplant" types in the town. The town appears to be made up of middle class white retiree types and Hispanics who work on a large commercial Melon farm in the area. There was a perception of a "crime wave" by young Hispanic men against the middle class folks that was attributed to methamphetamines. Until the Suracci killings however, it was generally non-violent property claims.
I got the impression that the other retiree types, who joined "community watch" believed this was just a robbery/murder. I am not aware if anything is known to be stolen. Since this crime may not have been effectively investigated, it is possible that many of your question will remain unanswered.
Wow... I didn't know of the Suraci murders - more for me to read up on.
I think of all cases I want the Yogurt shop murders solved the most. Back in the pre-internet days of 91 - when the first Bush was Pres. - they even made headline news in Scotland, radio and TV.
Thank you kemo for your input. I agree with all of your insights. Thanks Dreamnine for making me aware of the wide spread publicity of this crime.
I failed to mention that Morrison Properties were part of the 12 million dollar settlement. They owned the strip mall. I believe the laws in Texas must be very similar to CA. I think the parents received most of this sum, after legal fees.
The parents established the non profit SAJE with some of the funds. They used SAJE to lobby employers and legislators to take actions that would protect employees. Teen age workers in particular.
Barbara Suraci lost all of her children. In January '94 her husband quit his job at Dell Computer and enrolled in law school in Tulsa Ok. Their marriage dissolved shortly after. Barbara still resides in the Austin area. She has a knew marriage and career. She owns Southern Hospitality Home that provides assisted living for seniors. Frank Suraci completed law school and is licensed to practice in Texas, Oklahoma, and his home state of VA. He is currently a prosecutor for a DA in VA. Amy's parents moved about one hour from Austin. Eliza's mother recently returned to the Austin area, after several years in the north west USA.
Carl and Jane Suraci murders seem to be as big as mystery as the YSM's. They do not seem to be much like the other reported crime in the Aguila area before or after. I recently had business trip to Las Vegas. I had an extra day and visited old friends in AZ. I was only an hour from Agula so I could not resist.
Even with a street address I could not determine which gate belonged to the Suraci property. No houses are viewable from the street. I use street loosely.
N 529th Ave is a gravel road in bad repair. I do not find Carl and Jane as easy targets at all. Particularly from a night invasion. If you entered a property of this size in the dark that had dogs you would surely be announced. You would have to be familiar with the property. After committing the murders the perp(s) set a fire that could be seen from neighbors. They would have had to traverse this gravel road in the dark past a few houses that were close to the street when they approached the highway. I think this was a high risk murder that was as likely committed by intruders from afar and the past of the Suraci's than it was local meth heads. What could be stolen in the dark that would be worth the risk of these murders? If they did not have a large sum of cash or jewelry I can not imagine. The locals are going to recognize their possessions. I find it difficult to believe that robbery was the primary motive in either of these cold cases.
Good link with comprehensive coverage of the case.
Muddy water in the street; Muddy water 'round my feet... as sung by the inimitable Bessie Smith, "Muddy Water (A Mississippi Moan)"
The above link is to an article in the Texas Monthly that was written just before Robert Springsteen went to trial. This is before all the DNA stuff came out and "false confession" had entered the national lexicon. Writer Michael Hall is pretty skeptical of the whole thing.
Now, 12 years later, the consequences of a "false conviction" hang even heavier than that of an unsolved major crime. Officially, they are still claiming they got it right and Springsteen and Scott are guilty but you sort of suspect the lawyers are working out a settlement that will run in the millions.
Apparently the settlement to the Yogurt shop victim's families did amount to 12 million. Seems like a lot but, I have noticed an interesting fact: According to the step-father ‘s account, (Frank dropped Sarah Harbison and Amy Ayers off so they could help the older girls clean up the shop. This creates a liability situation for the employers since the girls would then be "working" for the employer yet not covered by Workers Comp.
There are some aspects of the Suraci murders that are similar to the yogurt shop killing (excess violence for a robbery and the fire to cover up evidence) but I can't see how they would fit into this caper. Carl was Frank Suraci's brother and he and Jane lived in Virginia before they moved to Arizona. I don’t see an obvious connection.
If you read up on Erik Moebius’ bizarre conspiracy theories, you get the impression that Moebius is hinting at, but not coming right out and saying, that Frank Suraci set up his step-daughters to be murdered as part of a wide conspiracy to rip off an insurance company. This is a pretty serious charge. It isn’t much of stretch from there to considering the possibility that Frank.s brother and sister-in-law “had to die” because they knew too much, or something.
Even though Eric Moebius was a former Texas assistant attorney general, I give no credence to his accusations. He implicated Frank Suraci and Bill Moerschell as being involved in the YSM's and gambling. I have seen no shred of evidence that supports these implications. He has gotten many facts wrong. From the names of the girls, to elements of the crime scene he has been wrong. He accused Frank of dropping off the younger girls at the yogurt shop shortly before closing. I have read that Frank did not see the girls at all on their final day alive. Sarah Harbison and her best friend Amy Ayers were dropped off at a near by mall by Jennifer Harbison on her way to work. After seeing a movie at the mall theatre the younger girls brought a pizza to the yogurt shop. They were to help the older girls clean up the shop after closing. They were to return home with Jennifer and spend the night together. They had plans for the following Saturday morning. I have wondered why the Suraci's did not show concern about the girls whereabouts before being contacted by police at 3:15AM.