Changes to Major Crimes in Austin
Austin’s Public Safety Commission has recommended a change in the way the city investigates unsolved crimes. The decision comes 20 years after the murders of four young women in a crime known as the Yogurt Shop Murders remains unsolved.
The commission’s vice chair, Kim Rossmo, said in a meeting Tuesday afternoon that a review was long overdue. Long-unsolved crimes like the Yogurt Shop murders need to be reviewed by new, non-departmental eyes. He said an exchange with the chief investigator in the case, Detective Paul Johnson, shows why.
“No one else is allowed to have an opinion different from his,” Rossmo said in a presentation to his fellow commissioners. “This defensiveness is very worrisome. Given his long and ongoing involvement in the Yogurt Shop Murders case, Det. Johnson’s bias strongly suggests the investigation has suffered from tunnel vision and group think.”
The crime dates back to 1991 – when, the bodies of four teenage girls were discovered after a fire in an I Can’t Believe It’s Not Yogurt shop. APD’s homicide unit identified four male teenage suspects. Two suspects, Robert Springsteen and Michael Scott, ended up going to trial and were convicted. Their convictions were later overturned. No other suspects have been identified or charged.
Jordan Smith reports for the Austin Chronicle. She says new information, including as-yet unidentified DNA evidence, does not seem to have deterred Austin Police from their original theory of what happened and who was responsible.
“There’s always tension with these things because the police feel great ownership of this, as well they should,” Smith said. “They’ve done a ton of work, and I suppose on some level it feels threatening maybe to suggest that somebody else would be able to say, ‘well, maybe you didn’t do such a great job.’”
Assistant Police Chief David Carter was at the meeting. He said APD is open to the idea of an external review process, but says it would be time and labor intensive.
The commission voted five to zero in favor of Rossmo’s resolution. Chairman Michael Lauderdale abstained.
It’s remains unclear how the city would pay for these external reviews. The approved resolution will now go before the Austin City Council..