Eliza Thomas was a 17 years old senior at Lanier High School in Austin, Texas. Eliza loved reading, animals, and country dancing. As a member of Future Farmers of America, Eliza had dreams of one day becoming a veterinarian and a rancher. Eliza was also mechanically inclined and was a talented welder and small-engine repair. Eliza’s mother, Maria always believed that her daughter would become a writer.
On December 6, 1991, Eliza attended school earlier that day and had to report to work for a 7 pm shift, at I Can’t Believe its Yogurt. That evening, Eliza and her coworker, Jennifer Harbison, had been serving the last few customers at I Can't Believe It's Yogurt and were cleaning up as they were supposed to be done by 11 pm. Jennifer’s sister, Sarah, and her friend, Amy Ayers were also at the store that evening, as Sarah and Amy had plans for a sleepover, and Jennifer was their ride back to the Harbison home.
At 9.30 pm, Eliza’s mother, Maria Thomas, dropped in to see how the girls were getting on. She bought some yogurt and left. The final sale on the register was clocked at 10.42 pm, and the store began to close. The policy of the yogurt shop was to lock the doors 15 minutes before closing and to manually let the final customers out of the shop while leaving the key in the lock. It stopped further people coming in and protected the girls while they cleared up. At 11:03 pm, the no-sale button was pressed, and by 11:48 pm the crime took place.
On December 6, 1991, at approximately 11:49 pm, Officer Troy Gay arrived at the yogurt shop to investigate the fire on the premises and upon entering the yogurt shop, he discovered the burned bodies of the four girls. Investigators would later find $540 dollars was missing from the register.
Eliza’s body would be discovered stacked on top of Sarah and Jennifer Harbison’s bodies. By the time officers arrived on the scene, and put out the fire, Jennifer’s body would be adjacent to the two girls. Eliza’s body was burned, nude, her hands were tied behind her back and she was gagged. She was also shot in the head with a .22 caliber gun.
Police were quick to determine that more than one perpetrator likely committed the crime. Despite multiple arrests, convictions, and exonerations over the years, the case remains unsolved. This case rattled the local Austin Community at the time and continues to this day. Many are hopeful that DNA could reveal the identity of the individual(s) responsible for the murders of these girls. This case is the inspiration behind the Homicides Victims Families Rights Act, which aims to provide families with a full reinvestigation of a cold case including forensic testing with today’s standards.