Innocence Lost

The murder of four young girls leads to two murder convictions, but then everything fell apart -- 25 years later, there's new DNA evidence

Produced by Gail Abbott Zimmerman

More than 25 years ago, “48 Hours” correspondent Erin Moriarty started reporting on what turned out to be the most horrific crime story she says she ever encountered.

It happened in Austin, Texas, in December 1991.

I’ll never forget how the lead detective described the crime scene.

“For a long time I shut out what I saw … just wholesale carnage,” said John Jones. “We knew immediately that they were kids.”

L-R: Jennifer Harbison, Sara Harbison, Amy Ayers and Eliza Thomas

L-R: Jennifer Harbison, Sara Harbison, Amy Ayers and Eliza Thomas

The victims: Eliza Thomas, Amy Ayers, Jennifer Harbison, and her sister, Sarah.

“At 3 o’clock that morning, some people were at my door and then they said there was a fire and … they told us … that both of my girls were dead,” said Barbara Ayers-Wilson, mother of Jennifer and Sarah Harbison.

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

“I’d seen homicides,” Jones said. “But not four. 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 deal with those parents the next 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 finally, in 1999, there were suspects and arrests.

1999 press conference: Early this morning, the Austin Police Department served four arrest warrants, charging four individuals with capital murder.

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

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

I never thought more than 25 years after these girls were murdered, that I would still be reporting on this story. But, as it turns out, that closed case wasn’t closed after all.

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

Did authorities get it wrong? Did they put innocent men in prison? 

EARLY IN THE INVESTIGATION

All we knew when we first started on this story was that four young girls, one was as young as 13, were murdered. They were executed and then the building was set aflame. What could be more horrific than that?

These were the facts: Jennifer Harbison and Eliza Thomas – both just 17– had been working the late shift in the yogurt shop. Jennifer’s 15-year-old sister, Sarah, and her friend, 13-year-old Amy Ayers, had dropped by to help close the shop for the night.

“I feel the loss everyday, I miss her everyday. I really do,” said Amy’s dad, Bob Ayers.


“They were so sweet. They were good,” said the Harbison girls’ mom, Barbara Ayers-Wilson. “All four of those girls were wonderful kids.”

“Unless you’ve been through it, you just cannot imagine how bad it is to have lost a child and to have lost one to violence, too,” said Eliza’s mother, Maria Thomas.

Austin, Texas was a big city, but with a small-town attitude -- that kind of crime happened somewhere else. So in many ways, these four murders changed Austin forever.

The cops told me that three of the girls had been shot once in the head… little Amy was shot twice… as police and firemen worked the scene, lead detective John Jones had to face the press.

Jones: What we found in the back, we found four victims.
Reporter: Were they bound in any way?
Jones: I can’t give you that
Reporter: Were the victims together or were they in different parts of the building?
Jones: I can’t give you that, either. I’ll give you as much as we can, but we are going to have to hold a lot of things back because we are handling it as a murder.

Jones worked the case with his partner, Mike Huckabay.

“It was dark inside, smoky, burned insulation everywhere. Just the cold feeling of death,” Huckabay recalled following the crime.

“I saw things in Vietnam that … I thought nothin’ will ever match that. Well, this matches that, you know. Because it’s in Austin, Texas,” he said years later. “It’s right down the street from where we live.”

“The problem with this case -- what really hampered the investigation -- was that firemen were called first.  So you had all these people walking through the crime scene and then you had that water that washed away much of the evidence,” according to Huckabay.

“Had it happened today,” he explained, “there’d probably a better way to process the crime scene. But back then … we processed the scene the best as we could with what we had.”

Of course, you assume that these four murders were just so awful that they had to be committed by monsters. And so the investigation went that route. 

“We’ve come across all lifestyles, every type of criminal person that you can think of. Every kind of looney and crazy,” said Huckabay.

The cops went after satanists and serial killers, like the infamous murderer Kenneth McDuff.

“That was a strange man,” said Jones.

“He flat out said, ‘Had I done it … I would tell you ‘cause I’d be proud of it,’” said Huckabay.

It was just one dead end after another.

“The phone never quit ringin’. There would be stacks and stacks and stacks of tip sheets on the desks,” said Huckabay.

I had never seen a case where there were so many leads coming in. So you had these detectives, John Jones and Mike Huckabay completely overwhelmed. They didn’t even know where to start.

At one point, they had 342 suspects. When asked how this compared to a normal murder case, Jones said, “It’s off the scale. Way off the scale.”

Back then, this is what the cops knew: there was about $540 missing from the register. There were two guns used in the crime.  And investigators were focusing on young people like a 16-year-old kid picked up at a local mall.

“We had the very first one, a guy named Maurice Pierce,” Jones explained after the murders. “He got arrested at the Northcross Mall with a gun.” But Pierce didn’t pan out. “He sounded good. We had to move on him.”

Years later, Jones said, “We couldn’t prove that the gun was used because the ballistics wouldn’t match up.”

Jones remembers interrogating Maurice Pierce – along with three of the friends he was hanging out with that day: Michael Scott, Robert Springsteen and Forrest Welborn. But nothing panned out.

“So we got to a point to where we couldn’t go any further with any of the four,” said Jones.

There were plenty of leads to follow. Believe it or not, there were actually people who were volunteering that they were the killers. I know that false confessions happen in high-profile cases, but in this case, there were dozens.

“People brag about killing--”

“Yeah, they did,” Jones said. “And, you know, at first… they puff out their chest. …But after a few minutes, you know, they give it up. ‘Oh, well, I -- I was just kidding.’”

“We had six written confessions. Some of them were pretty good,” Jones continued.

Huckabay and Jones agreed that any confessions would have to be backed up by solid evidence.


“We weren’t gonna sign on the line until we had met the standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt,” Jones said. He also needed evidence. “We felt like we owed it to the families to get it right.”

I thought, “they’re gonna find out who did this.” There were so many leads coming in. But after weeks, and then months, and then years, even the girls’ parents began to fear that maybe police would never solve these murders.

“What happened? Did they know they were going to die? Were they afraid?” Ayers-Wilson wondered.

“I don’t think they’ll ever solve it,” said Pam Ayers.

“I want to know who did it and why,” Bob Ayers said. “I need to know that somebody’s paying for this.”

That was just the question everyone was asking.

WHO KILLED THESE GIRLS?

Bob and Pam Ayers describe their daughter, Amy, as “a cowgirl, she’s country… Clint Black. Garth Brooks.”

“Beans and cornbread, onion. Bowl of cereal every morning with chocolate milk,” Bob recalled fondly.

“I can see her riding, and just taking off across a pasture on a horse and enjoying it because she loved it so much,” said Pam.

“Every day I go down there and throw a leg over her horse, I think about her. I wish she was there with me,” said Bob.

When I caught up with Bob and Pam Ayers almost eight years after their daughter, Amy, was killed in the yogurt shop, there were still no arrests.

“It’s hard to think that your child had to go through that and you couldn’t do anything, you were not there for them,” said Pam.

“Your life changes when you have kids, and boy, does it ever change when you lose one,” added Bob.

My job was to follow the investigation. So from the very beginning, I was with lead detectives John Jones and Mike Huckabay. This case took over their lives.  They were determined to find out who killed the four girls: Amy, Eliza, Jennifer and Sarah.

For years, they got nowhere.

“It seemed like every time that you opened a door and you thought an answer was going to be on the other side, there would be a brick wall,” said Huckabay.

Huckabay and Jones were taken off the case, replaced by new investigators.

“We did the best we could do,” Jones said. “Some people will argue that it wasn’t enough.”

Then, in 1999, almost eight years after the murders, low and behold, investigators have four real suspects. It’s the biggest break in this case.

The Suspects

Soon after the yogurt shop murders, detectives questioned four teenage boys. Maurice Pierce, top left, was arrested for having a gun at a local mall. Forrest Welborn, top right, Michael Scott, bottom left and Robert Springsteen were the friends Pierce was hanging out with that day. They were all questioned and released.

AP Photo

In custody: Forrest Welborn, Michael Scott, Robert Springsteen, and Maurice Pierce, all in their 20s.

If those names sound familiar, there’s a reason for it. Those are the same four guys who were picked up just eight days after the murders, investigated and then dismissed.

“We both looked at each other and I think we both felt like we were going to fall on the floor. I mean that was the last thing we expected here,” said Pam Ayers.

There was a feeling that maybe the two lead detectives screwed up.

Maurice Pierce was that gun toting 16-year-old caught at the mall. But this time, when the new detectives spoke with Pierce and his three friends, they got a big break. One of them, Michael Scott, confessed:

Michael Scott: I remember looking at this girl. I hear the gun go off… I only pulled the trigger once. I hear another gun go off. I think I hear a total of five shots.

Scott said it started as a simple robbery. The four guys had cased the place that afternoon and jammed the back door open.

Detective: Come on Michael, you’re doing good. Tell us! Let’s do this today! Let’s do it!
Michael Scott: I remember one girl screaming, terrified.

And it wasn’t just Michael Scott telling the story. The new detectives got a second confession from Robert Springsteen. He told them he not only killed one of the girls, he raped her: 

Detective: You f-----g know you f-----g raped her. Alright, just say it.
Springsteen: I stuck my d--- in her p---- and I raped her.

The police theory was these four guys planned to rob the yogurt shop.  Three of them would go in and then one of them -- Forrest Welborn -- would stay outside as the lookout. But something went awry and then the killings began.  

Seeing the suspects actually admit to the killings made it all too real for the families.


“We had accepted the fact that Amy had died quick, but she didn’t,” said Bob.

“They suffered that night and we’ve tried to make it less than it was. And we’re finding out that it was as bad as we ever thought it was for them,” said Ayers-Wilson.

You would think that these four guys -- suspects in this horrific murder  -- would be cold-blooded characters. So I was taken aback when I met the youngest one, Forrest Welborn.

I spoke with Welborn shortly after his arrest. He was 15 years old at the time of the murders. He came across as a simple, frightened teenager. There was absolutely no physical evidence, nothing to tie him to the murders except for the word of one of the other defendants, Michael Scott.

Detective: How many people were in the LTD, just f-----g tell me.
Michael Scott: Three.
Detective: Three people. You, Maurice Pierce and Robert Springsteen…
Michael Scott: Yes.

And even he seemed to need prodding to put Welborn at the scene:

Detective: Who else was in the car?
Scott: Me, Robert, Maurice and Forrest?


I asked Welborn if he was there as a lookout. “No,” he replied.

“Were you in the car? Could you have been in the car?”


“No. Not at all,” Welborn replied.

Detective: Forrest waited in the car, didn’t he? Forrest was in the car, wasn’t he?

Michael Scott: Forrest was in the car, but -
Detective: Yeah, Forrest was in the car. Forrest waited outside.

When Welborn -- the alleged lookout -- was interrogated by police, he denied knowing anything about the crime:

Detective: You could have done something. You could have suggested something. Maybe you did suggest something.

Welborn told me, “They tried to tell me what to say.”

Detective: Did you try to suggest something, maybe, “We shouldn’t do this? This ain’t right? This ain’t the right thing to do?”


Detective: Did you try to convince anybody? This wasn’t the right thing to do? Don’t say you weren’t there because you were there.


“They get right in my face and tell me everything I said was a lie,” he continued.

At the time, I found Welborn credible. And as hard as the cops tried, they couldn’t get him to crack.

Detective: You ain’t gonna forget hearing them g…damn screams. You ain’t going to forget hearing those g…damn gunshots.

Welborn told me he was never tempted to back down. “I wasn’t going to lie about something like that,” he said.

They tried twice to indict Forrest Welborn and they couldn’t do it.  So, eventually, charges were dropped against him. Charges were also dropped against Maurice Pierce. Police were convinced he was the mastermind, but they just didn’t have any evidence to prove it.

“That’s tough.  Because he -- he doesn’t have the-- he’s so guilty and he’s walking around. That’s – ooh that’s a tough one,” said Barbara Ayers-Wilson.

Everything falls apart except for the cases against Robert Springsteen and Michael Scott. And even there, there were some serious problems. All they had were the men’s confessions.  And the defendants said those confessions had been coerced:

Detective: You’re the coldest guy I’ve ever talked to in my life. Are you a cold-blooded murderer?
Robert Springsteen: No, sir, I’m not.
Detective: I think you are.

“I was berated and berated and berated by the police officers,” Springsteen said. “Until they obtained what it was they wanted to hear, they were not going to allow me to leave. …and basically, they broke me down.”

Ten years after the yogurt shop killings, Robert Springsteen was the first to go on trial.

“These young men have been implicated and they have confessed,” Ayers-Wilson said before the trial. “They can withdraw it, but the truth is they actually were there and they actually did the murders.”

A SHOCKING DEVELOPMENT

In May 2001, nearly a decade after the yogurt shop murders, Robert Springsteen’s trial began.

“There’s been a lot of hoopla and madness going on here the last several years and I would like to get some of … the record set straight on this. And have the people know the truth,” he said.

When Springsteen was arrested, he was married and working in a stockroom. But at the time of the murders, he was a 17-year-old dropout who hung out at the mall.

When you first start working on a case like this, you want to meet the defendants.  You want to talk to them, you want to look them in the eye. You want to see for yourself these guys who have been accused of such horrific murders.         

“Let me just ask you again, did you have anything to do…”

“No. I did not,” Springsteen interrupted.

“…with the murders at the yogurt shop?”

“No. Never.”

Springsteen pointed out that there never has been any physical evidence linking him to the crime: no fingerprints, blood, DNA or hair.

But Springsteen did have trouble explaining -- after denying for hours that he was involved -- why he would later confess to both rape and murder:

Detective: What did you do?
Robert Springsteen: I shot -
Detective: Which one?
Robert Springsteen: I don’t know.
Detective: What was she doing when you shot her?
Robert   Springsteen: Crawling.

“How does that happen?”

“I don’t know,” Springsteen replied. “There’s psychological aspects to it that I don’t understand.”

What really helps somebody like Robert Springsteen is that he had a litigator, Joe Jim Sawyer -- a bigger-than-life Texas lawyer -- on his side.

“They were going to get a confession out of Robert Springsteen. Period. Period,” Sawyer told me in 2009. “They weren’t leaving without it. They got him isolated and they went to work, ‘You’re going to confess. And g--damn it, you will confess.’ And he by God did confess.”

But Springsteen seemed to get some of the details right. For instance, he demonstrated the position of Amy’s body. And he knew that she had been shot with a .380 handgun.

There are details in Springsteen’s admissions that are pretty credible. I asked Sawyer how would Springsteen have those kinds of details unless he was there?

“Because he had known the details for years,” Sawyer replied. “Because they were on the street.  They were known to virtually every young kid who had interest in this case, who had been there the night of and the nights following those murders.

The parents of the victims were absolutely convinced that the police had it right. That they had arrested the right guys. And that Robert Springsteen and Michael Scott had killed their little girls.

“The first trial was extremely hard,” said Barbara Ayers-Wilson, the mother of two girls killed at the yogurt shop. “It was so hard and it was long. We were all there. And we were sitting through it day after day.”

For three weeks, the families sat there and heard the horrible details.

“Knowing what the girls went through that night. Listening to them talk about them pleading for their lives,” said Pam Ayers.

Prosecutors used Springsteen’s confession and corroborated it with parts of Michael Scott’s written confession, which was read to jurors. Scott, himself, refused to take the stand and Sawyer never got the chance to cross-examine him.

Jurors deliberated for 13 hours. Robert Springsteen was convicted and then condemned to death row.

“We all just wept when he was found guilty. Even though we got what we wanted -- he got death, and we were happy for that,” said Ayers-Wilson said. “It was still horrible that we were hoping to take someone else’s life.”

A year-and-a-half later, Springsteen’s friend, Michael Scott -- who also claimed to be innocent -- was convicted as well. He was sentenced to life in prison.

And so after all those years, it felt like the end.  But, in fact, the case was far from over. 

Fifteen years after the murders came a shocking turn of events. 

Ultimately both Scott’s and Springsteen’s convictions were overturned -- the cases thrown out. 

Here’s why: Everyone is entitled by the Sixth Amendment to confront an accuser.  But in the case of Michael Scott and Robert Springsteen, their confessions were used against each other.  But they were never allowed to cross examine each other at trial.  And so their constitutional rights were violated.

They would have to be tried all over again.  It was pure agony for Eliza Thomas’ mother, Maria.

“I felt like my head was gonna spin out of my body,” Maria Thomas said. “And it was because their rights were violated. Every time I hear those words, that their rights were violated, I just feel like I’m gonna go insane. I mean, I just - I don’t - pretty angry, you know? Their rights are violated. Our girls were murdered.”

CONFESSIONS QUESTIONED

Robert Springsteen, then 35 years old, had already spent 10 years in prison.

“It’s 23-hour lockdown. There’s no human contact,” he said. “Everywhere you go, you’re handcuffed and escorted by two officers,” he explained. “When you’re forced into an environment like that, it’s very, very difficult. …It’s so restricted and regimented.”

Springsteen admitted he was no choirboy as a teenager.

“I had -- kind of like a minor in possession, or disorderly conduct, or whatever it was, back when I was 17,” he said.

But he also had no history of violence.  

“I’m very humble.  Very family oriented,” he said. “I’m … just a normal guy.”

Although his murder conviction was overturned in 2006, the district attorney was determined to retry him. Ironically, neither he nor Michael Scott would even be in this situation had they not confessed to the murders.

Even when you look someone in the eye, even when he tells you he was pressured, it is still so hard to understand why a normal guy in his 20s would admit to something so horrific.  

So we collected sections of Michael Scott’s confession and showed them to Saul Kassin, a psychology professor at John Jay College for Criminal Justice. Kassin was familiar with the case because he was once contacted by the defense.

Michael Scott: I remember looking at this girl. …I hear the gun go off. …I only pulled the trigger once… I hear somebody get slapped. 

“A good valid confession will look something just like this. But there are many false confessions that are known, proven false confessions, that also look just like this,” Kassin explained.

 “You can’t tell just by looking,” he said.

I asked him, “But why would somebody confess to something they didn’t do? What goes on in a person’s mind to say, ‘Yeah, I was there. I was thinking this’?’”

“One is the person feels absolutely trapped,” said Kassin.

Detective: At some point, Maurice hands you that revolver. What does he say to you?

“The goal of interrogation, very explicitly, is to increase the anxiety associated with denial,” Kassin said.

Detective: Let’s do it now. You went inside with those boys, didn’t you Michael?

“’We know you did it. And we don’t want to hear any lies,’” said Kassin.

Detective: Didn’t you, Michael?
Michael Scott: I don’t remember.
Detective: Yes, you do remember.
Michael Scott: No I don’t.
Detective: Michael!

And when police apply pressure for long periods of time, Kassin says even innocent people can crack.

Take a look at what happened during Scott’s interrogation:

Detective: Is that the gun you shot somebody with Mike? Is this the gun you walked up behind somebody with and shot in the head?

“People will make very, very myopic short-term decisions,” Kassin told me. “They are very concerned about, ‘I’ve got to stop the pain now.’”

“Come on, though. I mean, I think most people think when they look at this, ‘You could not make me confess.’”

“The only answer I can give to the question is that when you look at DNA exonerations, roughly a quarter of them had false confessions as a factor in those cases,” said Kassin.

Confessions are so powerful; Kassin says they may even influence experts evaluating other evidence.

And it’s not just Kassin who had concerns. So did John Jones—the original lead detective on the case. Even though Jones was taken off the case, he knows as much about it as anyone.

“It’s a nice confession. But it’s still gotta match up to the facts,” he said.

For instance, Jones says the killers did not go into the yogurt shop office as Michael Scott claimed they did.

“And how do you know that that part of the confession just didn’t happen?”

“Well, the door was locked when we got there.  We had to use a key on it to open,” said Jones. 

Jones also wonders about Scott’s language in his written statement.

“’I had a Zippo lighter with me and lit the fire. I heard a whoosh sound of the accelerant when it caught fire.’ Accelerant was a multi-syllable word,” Jones said. “And I think that was his first multi-syllable word.”

“You think it was fed by one of the investigators?”

Jones replied, “I think he heard it earlier, yeah. ‘Cause who refers to lighter fluid as an accelerant? I mean, that’s cop talk.”

Surprisingly —it was during our interview that Jones – one of the initial investigators -- saw the video for the first time.

“Odd, isn’t it?” he said.

Jones and his partner were troubled that they weren’t consulted by the new investigators when they got those confessions -- especially since Jones spoke to the suspects first right after the crime.

 “We had ‘em in. And we didn’t get anything close to that out of them. And they were still juveniles then,” Jones explained. “I didn’t think and I still don’t that - that persons of that age could hold that information in.”

Prosecutors were hoping to bolster their case with new, more reliable DNA tests. If you remember, Springsteen said that he had raped one of the victims. But prosecutors got a shock when those DNA results came back. As it turns out, DNA from the crime scene did not match Springsteen nor any of the men accused of the crime.

“The beauty of DNA is that it damns and it saves,” said defense attorney Sawyer.

Sawyer says that in this case, it saves Robert Springsteen.

“After they began wringing admissions out of Robert, the cops get him to the penultimate question: ‘You killed her, didn’t you?’ ‘Yes, yes, all right. I killed her.’ And then, of course, they tell him, ‘No. No, that’s not enough. You were man enough to admit you murdered her, own up to it! You raped that girl.’ ‘No, I did not.’ ‘Come on, Robert! Be a man, Robert! You’ve got the guts for it. Tell us.’

Detective: You f-----g know you f-----g raped her. Alright, just say it.
Springsteen: I stuck my d--- in her p---- and I raped her.

“Except that, that can’t be true.  We know to a scientific certainty that is not true,” said Sawyer.

And yet, the prosecution was still determined to retry both men. After months of delays, however, the judge decided to release Robert Springsteen and Michael Scott without bail. They would await retrial as free men.

Asked what it feels like to be out, Springsteen told a reporter, “it’s wonderful and I’d like to thank God and my family and my attorney.”

“I didn’t really quite exactly believe it,” said Springsteen.

The girls’ families couldn’t believe it either.

“I cried for days about it,” Maria Thomas said. “When I was told they were let out, I was just angry. I wanted to hit something.”

“You just take a breath, and you go, “OK, this is one more thing to deal with,” said Barbara Ayers-Wilson.

There never would be new trials; there simply wasn’t enough evidence. And so prosecutors dropped all charges against both men.

Today, investigators still won’t admit they might’ve gotten the wrong guys. Their attitude is, “well, if the DNA didn’t match those four guys, there must have been a fifth one with them.”

“That’s absolutely absurd,” said defense attorney Amber Farrelly. “Why have they never mentioned a fifth man in the entire time? The boys have never mentioned a fifth man; the D.A.’s Office has never mentioned a fifth man. …There’s no fifth man.”

Farrelly says not only did the Austin Police have it wrong, she has a pretty good idea who did do the killings.

MYSTERY MEN

I’ve never seen a case go off the rails like this. Even with so much at stake, the investigation completely collapsed.

With both Michael Scott and Robert Springsteen out of prison and cleared by DNA, the real question is whose DNA was it?

“It’s haunting to this city,” said Beverly Lowry, who has written a new book, “Who Killed These Girls?”

So what’s her first reaction to the fifth man theory? “Oh, I don’t hear people talking about that so much anymore,” Lowry said.

The “fifth man theory” was that  idea  authorities came up with—if the DNA found at the crime scene didn’t match any of the suspects, there must have been a fifth mystery man.

“I’ve been in the backroom of what used to be the yogurt shop. It’s a very, very small room,” Lowry explained. “…and you think, ‘five guys in the back of there doin’ that,’ it just makes no sense.”

Not long ago, I took a drive back to the scene of the crime with attorney Amber Farrelly, who was on both Scott and Springsteen’s defense teams.

“It’s very close to the highway, two major highways actually, and railroad tracks,” she explained. “So if anybody wanted to come in and get out of Dodge quickly, they could.”

“Definitely not something that I would say would be a crime of opportunity, it’d be more like a something premeditated, definitely planned,” Farrelly continued. 

And she believes those killers were in the yogurt shop that night. And the cops missed it.

“I know exactly who killed those four girls. I have his … DNA profile,” she told me. “I know who it is I just don’t know his name.”

Farrelly put together a timeline -- a detailed account of everyone who came into the yogurt shop that night.

“And are these then customers who were there at the yogurt shop at the time,” I asked.

“Yes,” Farrelly replied, “and I’ve got them here in pretty much kinda their important nuggets that they said to police.”

But she found two men police never identified and never talked to.

“And you start looking at everything,” Farrelly continued, “and you can tell that we’re missing two people.”

“And when you say you’re missing two people what do you mean by that?” I asked.

“They have accounted for and interviewed 52 people that were in the yogurt shop that day,” she replied. “There are several customers in there that mention a guy, or at the very end, two guys.”

These two mysterious guys were still in the shop at closing time.

“These two men that you have marked with these big question marks, these are the two killers you believe -- who were definitely in after 10:47 -- and the last two people in there except for the girls

“The last two people in there,” she affirmed.

Farrelly told me how they were described by witnesses.

“One is described as having lighter hair, maybe like a dirty blond … about 5 foot 6 … late 20s, early 30s. The other is described as a bigger man. Both are described as wearing bigger coats…one as a green coat…Army fatigue kind of looking jacket, the other with a black jacket,” she said.

A local newspaper, the Austin Chronicle, illustrated her theory. An artist’s drawing, based on what witnesses say they saw -- two men sitting at a table.

What was the motive? Was it just robbery?

“No, absolutely not … there was an open… bank bag underneath the cash register,” she said. “I think that the motive for the crime was evil. Just to do what those men did and it wasn’t about money.”

“To hurt those girls.”

“Yes,” said Farrelly.

Farrelly believes the mystery DNA belongs to one of those two men; the trouble is identifying them.

“I believe one day we will find them. I probably am the only person on this case with … hope that we will actually be able to identify this person by name one day,” she said.

Farrelly hopes that someone will see this broadcast and will come forward with new information on the unidentified men.

But the original detective on the case, John Jones says you can only consider them potential witnesses … nothing more.

“That’s two witnesses that we don’t have. That’s all I can say about that,” he said.

Will authorities take a new look at the case, and track down those two men?

“I have confidence that they will. I can’t tell you when, I can’t tell you how. The only thing I’m confident about is that the crime will be solved,” said Jones.

Until then, it’s an investigation hanging in limbo.

“Why is this anniversary something that hits you every single year?” I asked Jones.

“Well, it represents one that got away,” he said.

Returning to this place 25 years after I first reported on this crime, feelings came rushing back.

I think about Jennifer, Sarah, Eliza and Amy a lot these days. Three of them would be in their 40s, maybe with children of their own.

And I may never be able to forget Maria Thomas’ pain.

Sadly, last year she passed away.  I can never forget what she told me. 

“The missing – the missing is the hardest part,” she said. “I just wish I could have more memories.”

Under Texas law, neither Robert Springsteen nor Michael Scott is entitled to compensation for their wrongful convictions until a court declares them actually innocent.

CAN YOU HELP?

If you have any information on this case, police encourage you to call 512-472-TIPS