Overview of Jennifer Harbison
Jennifer Harbison was an ambitious, trustworthy, and mature 17-year-old high school senior at Lanier High school in Austin, Texas.
Jennifer took great interest in the agricultural programs of Future Farmers of America with her sister and visited a local farm twice a week to tend their lambs. Jennifer was also the head of the Lanier drill team, the Vikettes, and was a member of the track team. Jennifer had a boyfriend, Sammy Buchanan, and a younger sister, Sarah, age 15. Jennifer lived with her sister, and her mother, Barbara Harbison.
Jennifer was a hard worker. She wanted to work to help make payments on a dark blue Chevy S-10 truck that her natural father, Michael Harbison, had helped her to buy that summer. She worked at a local frozen yogurt shop located in a strip mall called “I Can’t Believe It’s Yogurt.” Prior to this job, she worked at an Albertson’s grocery store.
On December 6, 1991, Jennifer had a regular day of school.
Jennifer went to school and then stopped by to see her high school boyfriend, Sammy Buchanan. Sammy and Jennifer hung out for a few hours at his apartment. Jennifer would return home at around 7:00 pm to get ready for her work shift which started at 8 pm at “I Can’t Believe It’s Yogurt.” Before she went to work, Jennifer picked up her sisters’ friend, Amy Ayers, and dropped her off at the Northcross Mall which was just down the road from the yogurt shop. The Northcross Mall was in an upper scale northwestern corner of Austin.
Sarah and Amy would spend the evening at the mall together and were planning to have a sleepover at Sarah's house that evening. At 9 pm, Jennifer took her break from work and drove to Northcross Mall to pick up Sarah and Eliza and bring them back since the mall was closing soon.
That night, Jennifer and Eliza worked the closing shift at the yogurt shop, with Sarah and Eliza helping out, as they often did. The last customer left by 10:42 pm, and it is reported that two unidentified males were still in the shop and may have been listening to the girls talking. By 11 pm, the store closed and the girls locked the door and continued their closing procedures. 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 per a receipt still in the register. Sometime between 11:03 pm and 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; Sarah Harbison, Jennifer Harbison, Amy Ayers and Eliza Thomas.
Investigators would later find $540 dollars was missing from the register. Jennifer’s body would be found adjacent to her sister Sarah and Eliza, both girls were stacked on top of each other. It is believed that when the fire was set, Sarah, Eliza, and Jennifer were stacked on top of each other and an accelerant was used. However, while firefighters were putting out the blaze, Jennifer’s body was knocked over. Jennifer’s autopsy would reveal that her body was severely charred, her hands were bound but no binding was ever recovered from the scene. There was a ligature mark around her neck. Each victim 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.