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.