The murder immediately struck a nerve with residents of the tony Maryland suburb in which it occurred, not just because of the sheer brutality of the crime, but because it happened in a safe neighborhood at a time when the streets were full of people, and looked like the work of a mad man. It was immediately compelling to the media and others not familiar Bethesda, but because, in the words of the book’s author Dan Morse, the extremely bloody crime “happened inside a place extolling zen and peace inside its walls.”
The Yoga Store Murder is about the March 11, 2011, murder of Jayna Murray, 30, who was bludgeoned and stabbed to death inside a lululemon athletica store by an assailant who made not less than 331 injuries to her body. Employee Brittany Norwood, 28, was found beaten, bound and sexually assaulted in another part of the store. From her bed at the hospital, Norwood recounted for police their ordeal at the hands of two masked assailants, who left blood all over the store hunting down at least eight weapons with which to kill Murray.
In the author’s note Morse says, “I tried to present this material as a narrative account of what characters said and thought as events unfolded.” Well, he succeeded, and then some.
The book is a page turner from beginning to end, not at all dry or removed like one might expect of a true crime book. Instead, it reads more like a detective novel, giving a minute-by-minute account of the investigation, including thoughts, personal insights and key conversations between investigators. Morse weaves the detective work and the complex forensics with his own research, giving his reader a front row seat from through the exhaustive investigation process, through to the sentencing phase.
According to Morse’s author’s note he was there, following the case from day one. His account is based on 2,000 pages of documents and electronic files, interviews with 154 people, including hours of interviews with detectives, prosecutors, forensic specialists and the victim’s family. Morse also studied three years of the suspect’s text messages, as well as many more sources that were never released to the public. These include detective’s and prosecutor’s personal notes, audio and video recordings of witness interviews, evidence logs, diagrams, photos and tips from the public, and much more.
Though the suspect has been tried and convicted, the motive for the murder remains elusive, and was not revealed to detectives during questioning nor was it mentioned in the trial. Morse explores the question of motive, but unanswered, it remains a tantalizing loose end that will nag the reader, as it has nagged detectives, prompting us to return again and again to the story. Detectives hope that in the years to come their suspect will be willing to discuss the motive, but until then, we can only guess.