Book Review: Who Killed These Girls?

Lowry brings a careful and deeply compassionate approach to her investigation of the Yogurt Shop Murders

<i>Who Killed These Girls?</i>

Here's an easy litmus test to discover whether the Austinite you're speaking with is a recent transplant or a golden oldie: Ask their thoughts about the Yogurt Shop Mur­ders. I was born after the slayings, but the brutal 1991 quadruple homicide of teenagers Jennifer and Sarah Harbison, Eliza Thomas, and Amy Ayers in an I Can't Believe It's Yogurt! haunted my childhood. It doesn't matter that I don't remember the "Who Killed These Girls" poster that plastered the town (and from which author Beverly Lowry derives her book's title) – the crime continues to shape my and many others' understanding of our city's identity.

Who Killed These Girls? is a patient book, which means it forgives you if this is your first true crime rodeo. Because of the Yogurt Shop Murders' cultural significance – the loss of Austin's innocence, as many city officials referred to it at the time – Lowry understands the importance of extending the book's appeal beyond genre fanatics. She takes care to explain more complicated legal terms in depth. Her prose is precise, but not clinical. She describes not just the facts of the case, but the mechanics of her journalistic work as well, and it has an unglamorous but deeply compassionate aspect to it that brings to mind the heroes of Spotlight.

It's not a whodunit – of course not, because after all these years, all the original convictions have been overturned and the perpetrators are more mysterious than ever. (And for those who can't fathom why anyone would confess to a crime they didn't commit, Lowry's analysis of the Mike Scott interrogation video paints an agonizing portrait of coercion so powerful that there's not a person I know who would be immune.) Lowry knows it's a tragedy with endless victims and no identifiable villain, and we're fortunate to have her as our investigator, our cultural historian, our mourner.

Who Killed These Girls?

by Beverly Lowry
Alfred A. Knopf, 400 pp., $27.95

Beverly Lowry will speak about Who Killed These Girls? in the session “Unsolved in ATX,” with Skip Hollandsworth (The Midnight Assassin) and moderator Mike Hall, on Sat., Nov. 5, 3:45pm, in Capitol Extension Room E2.026.

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