It’s been a tough winter for the yoga clothing giant., Lululemon. Chip Wilson, their founder and chairman, stepped down after sticking his foot in his mouth yet again, over the idea that women with big thighs should just stay out of their clothing. This wasn’t the first of his offensive quotes, click here to read others.
The book does a chillingly good job documenting this true crime story of the gruesome murder that took place in one of Lulu’s Washington DC area stores in 2011. At first, it was assumed, that two yogini saleswomen were horribly beaten and raped by violent intruders. Thirty year old Jayna Murray died and twenty eight year old Brittany Norwood lived.
Who could imagine anything else? Lululemon puts its employees through a series of rigorous interviews, to weed out anyone who doesn’t have their generous, yogic attitude. Once employees have been hired, they go through a rigorous training program. Their corporate manifesto stresses yoga, exercise, and learning to teach others to do good in the world. Employees are even encouraged to go to free yoga classes, together, regularly.
Two wily seasoned detectives started to untangle the story and the truth emerged. It was pretty bizarre. Petite, pretty Brittany Norwood, woke up one morning, took an aerial yoga class, got her nails done, went to work and then, at the end of the day, brutally murdered her co-worker after the woman discovered that she had been stealing an expensive pair of yoga props.
The book presents a fascinating, nail-biting, stay up all night read that you almost forget is a true story. As an inquisitive yogi, I wanted to know more and called up the author Dan Morse. I asked him why he chose to write this as his first book – he’s been writing about gruesome crime for years - and how could it have happened in a store cloaked in yogic philosophy.
Cynthia Kling: You’ve done literally hundreds of crime stories, been nominated for a Pulitzer, why were you drawn to writing your first book about this story?
Dan Morse: Washington Post readers were fascinated by this murder, just gobbling it up. For starters it takes place in a yoga store, in a really nice neighborhood. Then I learned about the most gruesome crime scene I have ever covered, totally over the top violence. Jayna was killed by 331 injuries using over five different weapons that her attacker found around the store. The whole thing stunned everyone working on the case.
CK:After Brittany set up a bloody murder scene, including faking the rape of her co-worker, walked around in the blood in size 14 tennis shoes to pretend that male intruders had been there - and even spent the night in the store with her co-worker’s dead body- do you think it was premeditated?
Dan Morse: The defense wanted you to think it wasn’t, just a fit of rage. Even though it is scarier, I’ve come to think it was the opposite. She had a problem. She was going for a job as a personal trainer and this woman would blow her chances if she told about the stealing. The killing was her solution even though it took ten maybe twenty minutes. She didn’t have the ideal weapon but she was determined, and so used a small hammer, a wrench, knives, a rope and a merchandising peg, which is this steel bar about a foot long used to help display merchandise. That turned out to be the most effective.
CK:Do you think there was something special that made it happen in the Lululemon store?
DM: Those in yoga and Lulu circles have posited the idea that the company's culture played a role in the murder. The argument centers on Lulu's encouragement that employees not only set goals, but they post them in the store for all to see, and these employees must work toward a stated mission to elevate the world to greatness.
Part of Lulu's manifesto ridicules the idea of not striving for the top: "Nature wants us to be mediocre because we have a greater chance to survive and reproduce. Mediocrity is as close to the bottom as it is to the top, and will give you a lousy life."
So, what if you're a person like Brittany, who didn't graduate from college but told people she did, who left what could have been a lucrative career in hotel management, who was fired and rehired by Lulu, who kept dark secrets hidden while those around her succeeded? If you're such a person, the Lulu environment could very well be a bad fit, could very well make you angry. And I certainly talked to a lot of people about this -- whether there was something about Lulu that played a role in Brittany's behavior the night of the murder -- but I could never make that leap.
It's simply because what happened that night inside the Bethesda Lulu store was so beyond the pale, was such a level of extreme violence, that no outside force can explain it -- only the killer can. And I essentially give the company a pass on having Brittany in their employment, even though she'd been fired, even though she was suspected of thieving. That's because her situation was, as I get into in the book, murky and gray -- and besides, all that it ever added up to was that she was a thief, not that she was violent.
So yes, there's fault to find with Lulu -- I mean, really, what's so wrong with being mediocre? -- but minting a killer isn't one of its sins. Lulu did make a statement after the trial that always struck me as odd. It read, in part: "The actions of Brittany Norwood that night are the antithesis of the values of our company." For me, it was odd because of how Lulu brought up its own values in the context of such a gruesome, horrible murder. Of course it was the antithesis of the company's values -- it was the antithesis of anyone's values.
CK:They are smart at distancing themselves from this.
DM: Yup. Lulu is great about getting socially conscious people to spend $100 on yoga pants and then feel good about doing it. I think they are kind of brilliant.
This is a fascinating story. Even for those who don’t normally read true crime, The Yoga Store Murderspeaks to what can happen when this group of characters sadly got mixed up with the corporate world, money, and pushing yourself too far. To buy on Amazon ($8.99) click here.