Book excerpt: Dan Morse’s ‘The Yoga Store Murder’

November 5, 2013

Excerpt adapted from the “The Yoga Store Murder.”

The sounds reached Jana Svrzo as she walked across the sales floor of the Apple Store, now closed for the night. Jana was 29 years old and wore funky black sneakers and a ready smile — an easy fit among Apple’s hip, young sales army. It was just after 10 p.m. on Friday, March 11, 2011, in downtown Bethesda, and Jana, the store’s manager, had about an hour’s worth of record-keeping ahead of her, following the opening day sales for Apple’s hot new product, the iPad 2.

Now, though, she looked to her right and listened. The sounds were high-pitched yelps and squeals, and low-pitched grunts, thuds, a dragging noise, as if something heavy was being moved. Jana thought they might be coming from a room near the back exit or a room upstairs, where technicians were still on duty. She asked a security guard to help her search.

Jana and the guard split up, meeting two minutes later upstairs, where they spoke to another young manager, Ricardo Rios.

When 30-year-old Jayna Murray was murdered in a Bethesda store in March 2011, it shook the community to its foundation. The Washington Post’s Dan Morse unravels the twisted story in his new book, “The Yoga Store Murder.” Morse tells The Post’s Henry Kerali how Murray’s murder unfolded. (The Washington Post)

“Screaming,” the guard said. “It sounded like some lady was screaming.”

They checked out the technicians’ room. All clear. They walked downstairs to the sales floor and heard more yelling. “It’s coming from next door,” Jana said — from Lululemon Athletica, the luxury yoga store with which Apple shared a wall.

She and Ricardo walked closer to the wall. Jana now could hear someone saying: “Talk to me. Don’t do this. Talk to me. What’s going on?”

Then she heard what sounded like a different voice, maybe the one that had just been screaming. Now it was quieter: “God help me. Please help me.”

“Maybe I should just call the cops,” Jana said.

“That’s up to you,” Ricardo answered. He told Jana it sounded as if one person had just heard tragic news and the other was trying to get her to talk about it. “I think it’s just drama.”

Ricardo went back upstairs. It was 10:19 p.m., eight minutes after Jana had first heard the noises.


Clockwise, from top left: A hammer used in the killing; Jayna Murray, who was murdered; convicted killer Brittany Norwood. (AP; courtesy of Heather Barron; Montgomery Co. Police)

Wilbert Hawkins, a second security guard, had been observing the commotion. The crashing sounds, he figured, could have been a merchandise display falling over, the yelling some kind of horsing around. He and Jana and Ricardo came to the same view: This was Bethesda; surely the noises were something explainable.

They could see pedestrians walking around and nearby restaurants that were still open. People’s instincts often work against them in such situations. The more people there are around, they assume, the more likely it is that someone will call — or has already called — for help if there really is a need.

Jana went upstairs and for the next half hour, she and Ricardo added up receipts for the day.

Ricardo left at 10:56 p.m. Jana finished 10 minutes later, and walked out as well.

The next morning, 26-year-old Ryan Haugh walked up to the Apple Store. He’d tried to buy an iPad 2 the night before and waited in the long line outside for more than two hours, but the tablets were sold out by the time he got to the door. Ryan didn’t want to make the same mistake again, so he’d thrown on jeans and a bright red Philadelphia Phillies baseball cap and dashed out of his home that morning without a shower.

It was now 7:45 a.m., more than two hours before the store would open. No other customers had yet arrived, so Ryan took a seat on a teak bench near the Apple Store.

Shortly after 8 a.m., he saw a woman approach, her orange running shoes bright against the gray morning, and go into the store next to Apple, clearly an employee about to start her day. Moments later, Ryan heard a voice.

“Hello? Hello?!”

There was an edge to it. The woman in the orange shoes came back out and was talking on her phone. “I hear someone moaning in the back,” she was saying, “and it looks like it’s been vandalized and I’m just really scared to go in.”

To Ryan it was clear she had called 911. She answered a few more questions, giving her name, Rachel. She ended the call and turned toward Ryan. “Have you seen anyone go in or out of this store this morning?” she asked.

No, Ryan said. “Do you want me to go in?”

“Would you mind?”

Ryan had never been inside a Lululemon shop. He thought it looked like a Gap, with lots of low racks and tables full of bright-colored clothes. He walked to the back as Rachel waited up front. “Anybody here?” Ryan called out. No response.

On the floor, Ryan saw scattered blood stains, which grew more concentrated as he advanced to a back corner. He noticed even more blood at the base of a purple door, as if it had seeped from the other side. He gently pushed the door. It stopped, hitting the side of a body.

Ryan saw a pair of legs extending from a body facedown surrounded by more blood. He reached down. No movement. “There’s somebody back here!” he shouted back to Rachel. “It looks like they’re dead!”

He headed back toward the front of the store, for the first time noticing two bathrooms to his right. Their doors were both open, and he saw another pair of legs, bound at the ankles and extending from one of the doorways. “There’s somebody else in here!” Ryan called out.

He approached the second woman, noting that her hands were bound over her head, and her face was bloody. “Are you okay?” he asked. She moaned, barely.

Rachel rushed outside and called 911 again.

Seconds later a police car zoomed down Bethesda Avenue, stopping in front of the crowd. The officer jumped out and told the crowd to get back; she drew her gun and went into the store.

Then, silence. No shots. No screams. More cops arrived and rushed in, then paramedics, who rolled a stretcher into the store. Minutes later, they wheeled it out. There was a woman on top, covered in a blanket, writhing in pain. The customers could see blood on her face. “Is she going to make it?” one of them asked.

The author will discuss the book on Thursday, Nov. 7, at 7 p.m., at the Barnes & Noble in downtown Bethesda. Two jurors from the Lululemon trial will also be available to take questions.

Adapted from “The Yoga Store Murder” by Dan Morse. Reprinted by arrangement with Berkley Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, a Penguin Random House Company. Copyright © Dan Morse, 2013.

Post staff writer Dan Morse covers courts and crime in Montgomery County, Md.
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