The Millbrook Twins
On one particular Sunday - March 18th, 1990 - 15-year olds Dannette and Jeannette Millbrook walked through their old neighborhood, hoping to collect bus fare from their godfather. They visited their godfather, then their cousin, and finally their sister, before stopping by a convenience store to buy some snacks. When they left the store, they were never seen again.
Part One: The Known
February 12th, 2018 Micheal Whelan
On a surprisingly warm day in the middle of December, I was driving through the city of Augusta, GA. Stuck in frustratingly slow-moving surburban traffic, I was trying to get to my destination: the street corner of Dean's Bridge and Milledgeville Roads.
You may be wondering why this destination was important. If you know anything about Augusta, you know that this area is slightly run-down. South Augusta, as a whole, isn't a terrible place to be, but it isn't ideal. You pass by almost as many closed-down shops as you do open ones, a mixture of the Augusta that once was and the Augusta that is. This street corner is a little more than a five minute drive away from one of the largest military installations on the east coast, Fort Gordon.
As I pull up at my destination, I look around. I'm not quite sure what I'm looking for, but I know who I'm looking for. It's a woman that's lived in Augusta for her entire life, who I have met face-to-face only once before. She is more familiar with this area than I will ever be, having grown up just around the corner in a nearby cul-de-sac.
Her name is Shanta Sturgis. Looking at her, you would be hard-pressed to note anything particularly unusual about her. In fact, she looks like the kind of person you'd walk by every day. She's a mother, a neighbor, a coworker, a friend, an aunt, a grandmother, a daughter, and - as far as this story is concerned - a sister.
You see, I'm not meeting Shanta at this specific street corner for no reason at all. The corner of Milledgeville Road and Dean's Bridge Road is home to a billboard that towers above the surrounding storefronts. It bears the faces of thirteen missing men, women, and children... the faces of Augusta, Georgia's missing people.
As I'm looking for Shanta, I can't help but look up at the billboard. It's a shameful reminder of the things I take for granted. You see, I'm meeting up with Shanta for an important cause, but my mind is already focused on what I'm doing afterwards. There's a Hawaiian Barbecue joint just a few blocks away that my wife and I adore, and I plan to pick up some take-out on my way home.
In the far-right corner of this billboard are two faces, which look similar to one another. Their names are Dannette and Jeannette Millbrook, and they are Shanta's older sisters, who disappeared nearly thirty years ago.
After a minute or two of slowly driving around the parking lot of the shops at the base of the billboard, I come to a stop. I'm preparing to text her, but Shanta - perhaps much more observant than I am - notices me and gets out of her car. In her hand, she has a small stack of papers.
You see, even though it's been nearly thirty years since Shanta's sisters went missing, she hasn't given up on finding them. The billboard we're meeting under? That wouldn't be standing if she hadn't worked so hard to draw attention to the missing people in Augusta. The flyers? Printed off by Shanta herself.
She was hoping that many more people would be here to help hang these flyers in the surrounding area. Unfortunately, nobody else showed up. Just me.
Even though Shanta's voice has been heard by thousands - if not millions - of listeners around the country, she still has to fight for her sisters' story to be heard. That's why, on this lukewarm day in the middle of December, she is taking time off from her weekend to hang up flyers.
You may be asking why I'm telling you this story. I usually try to abide by the first rule of reporting: which is, of course, to not insert myself or my thoughts into the story. But I hope that this story shows you the kind of struggle that Shanta Sturgis has had to endure for years. Me meeting up with her to put up posters was just a detour in my original weekend plans: a two- or three-hour gap in-between seeing the latest "Star Wars" movie and eating Hawaiian take-out while binging the latest Netflix series.
To Shanta, though, this is something that has occupied her life for decades.
When her sisters, Dannette and Jeannette Millbrook, disappeared in March of 1990, Shanta's family received close to no help finding them. Now, almost thirty years later, after a successful podcast series was made about their plight and the story was featured in a number of different news articles and podcasts, Shanta is still in the exact same place. She's struggling to correct the wrongs perpetrated by a generation of ignorance, indifference, and apathy.
This is the story of Dannette and Jeannette Millbrook.
Jeannette and Dannette Millbrook come from a large family.
Growing up, they had eight brothers and sisters: some were older, and some were younger. The girls, who were fraternal twins but not identical, were born on April 2nd, 1974, and grew up in an environment surrounded by family. In addition to their siblings, they also had an assortment of cousins, nieces, nephews, aunts, and uncles.
The twins lived with their mother, Mary Sturgis - nicknamed "Louise" - who worked hard to provide the best possible live for her children. The father of the girls, whose name I won't mention, was not really involved in their lives. However, the twins did have a stable relationship with their paternal grandparents.
When I talk to Shanta, the younger sister of the two, she describes the girls as being relatively normal kids. They were primarily homebodies, and Shanta describes one of their most noteworthy hobbies as staying home and watching TV.
I think many children of the 1980s can sympathize.
The hosts of the podcast the Fall Line, Brook and Laurah, have become some of the biggest experts in the case. I was lucky enough to speak to them for this story, and what they know of the twins matches up with what Shanta told me: that they were just normal teenagers.
The girls grew up with some minor health issues, both having scars from hernia operations. Additionally, Dannette had a history of seizures which required daily medication, and was described as walking a bit bow-legged.
The girls were well-known in their neighborhood for being relatively quiet and kind. However, their personalities closely resembled the divide between most twins: one becoming the "dominant twin," and the other remaining passive.
Dannette was the most outgoing of the two, often acting as the defender of Jeannette. This became apparent in a 1989 incident involving the two, which I'll detail shortly. Dannette was the twin most likely to call you out on bad behavior, while Jeannette would likely brush it under the rug.
Jeannette, the other side of the twin coin, as much more passive. As described by some people that knew her, Jeannette was passive... almost to a fault. While she expressed deep empathy and kindness - which often came out when she was taking care of her kitten, which she named Jennifer - she was known to allow teasing and bullying without much blowback.
The girls were involved in a bus stop incident, which as detailed on the Fall Line, really highlights their differing natures.
Dannette had been struggling at school, so she had to go to a different local school for academic support. This also resulted in her staying back a grade. So, she had to use a bus stop down the block from her own to get to class in the morning, while Jeannette continued to go to the same school on their usual bus route.
A local girl decided that this was an opportune time to torment Jannette, since alone, she made a easy target.
When dominant twin Dannette learned about this, however, there was hell to pay.
One morning, as the neighborhood kids waited to board the bus, Dannette came down and confronted the other girl. This resulted in them getting into a bit of a scuffle, as teenagers are known to do.
The fight drew attention from kids across the block, including the kids from two different bus routes. Kids that went to Dannette, Jeannette, and younger sister Shanta's schools were witness to this altercation, as was an Augusta police officer, who happened to drive by during this incident.
The officer broke up the fight, and took down the names of Dannette and the girl that was allegedly bullying Jeannette. They would face no real punishment: the girls faced no further issues at school or with the law, and this would mark the only remarkable outburst from either girl. Besides this small incident, which could be summed up as a standard high school catfight, the twins had no run-ins with the law or known behavioral issues at school.
However, that girl that was bullying Jeannette and fought Dannette? She was related to the principal of Lucy Laney High School, which the girls would soon attend. It is perhaps that relationship that would cloud the early investigation into the disappearance of the twins, so please keep that in-mind.
Throughout March of 1990, the major buzz in Augusta was the preparation for the year's Masters Tournament.
In case you're unaware, Augusta, Georgia is the home of the highly touted golf tournament, which includes competitors from around the globe. The best and the brightest in the golf world meet up in this Georgia town during the first week of April, and compete for the prize: which, in addition to the nearly quarter-million dollar reward for the winner, came with it the prestige of the entire golfing world.
In Augusta, the Masters Tournament also brings with it a swell of tourists and out-of-towners. Even now, almost thirty years later - as the city of Augusta has continued to spread outwards - the tournament is a big deal. Traffic becomes overwhelming, restaurants near the downtown golf course experience hour-long wait times, and the population of the surrounding area basically doubles.
However, at this point in time - 1990 - the Masters Tournament wasn't something that either Jeannette or Dannette would have been interested in. They were probably aware of the impact it had on their town - the traffic, the people, etc. - but the tournament wasn't something that they would have kept up on. After all, while 1990 doesn't seem that long ago, the Augusta National Golf Club wouldn't accept it's first black member until September of that year.
Hell, the first black competitor in the Masters itself, Lee Elder, wouldn't compete until 1975 - just fifteen years before this. Other legendary golfers, like Charlie Sifford, Ted Rhodes, and Pete Brown were never able to compete in the tournament.
I'm not bringing this up to hate against the current Augusta club administration. I'm just bringing it up because I view this as a good example of the casual discrimination that existed until not that long ago. It's easy to view the Civil Rights movement as being a lifetime ago, but a black man wasn't able to join this golf club until the 1990s. And this is in an area where the demographics have been predominantly African-American for decades.
Over the years, the Masters Tournament has become a more open and diverse competition, but there is still a seedy underbelly that not many know of. It has cropped up over the past few years in some smaller localized news stories, and it concerns human trafficking.
Every year, the Richmond County Sheriff's Office stays on the look-out for signs of sex trafficking, monitoring hotels, bars, restaurants... anywhere that activity can find itself. Whenever the Masters Tournament, they turn their sights upwards, not only looking at low-cost motels and seedy bars, but at the more glitzy and glamorous establishments. The Masters often brings in high-rollers, who can afford to take a week off to pay for up-charged accommodations.
The police also set their sights on the internet, monitoring sites like Craigslist and Backpage to stay vigilant against sex trafficking. They note that the personal ads experience a significant uptick during the Masters Tournament - the number of classified ads can double, if not triple, during select days of the competition.
So, as this story evolves, these are a couple of things to keep in-mind. The Masters itself provides a good backdrop for the story, but the ideas of a racial divide and potential sex trafficking continuously loom over this story.
On March 18th, 1990, the Millbrook twins would spend the day primarily with family.
They went to church that morning, with their mother and siblings, as was typical for a Sunday morning. As noted on the podcast the Fall Line, the pastor gave their mother, Louise, a few dollars to buy the children lunch. When they got home, Louise gave the money to the twins and asked them to go and pick up some food at a nearby Church's Chicken.
When Jeannette and Dannette returned home just a short time later, they made mention of being followed by a man in a white van. An odd comment, to be sure, but something that a couple of teenagers would note that might not mean anything to a hectic household.
Recently, the two girls had been getting used to their new neighborhood. You see, over the past couple of months, the family had moved from their old neighborhood, the area known as Bethlehem, which existed around Augusta's 12th Street. Their new community, known as Jennings Homes, was still a little bit foreign to them.
The move had taken the girls out of their comfort zone, and away from not only their friends, but their school. They no longer had the school buses that would take them to-and-from Lucy Laney High School, but had to rely on public buses, which took money.
On this Sunday, in particular, Dannette and Jeannette had to worry about how they were going to get from their home, located on Cooney Circle, to Lucy Laney. The school was almost three miles each way, which is an easy distance to cross in a car, but that was something that their mother, Louise, did not have at the time.
They planned on switching schools at the end of the year, but wanted to finish out the semester at Lucy Laney.
So, after returning from Church's Chicken with lunch, they talked to their mother about bus money for the week. She recommended that they call their godfather, a family friend named Ted, and ask him for the money. They did just that.
Ted, who lived in their old neighborhood of Bethlehem, agreed to lend them $20, which would be enough bus money for the entire week. It would also give the girls a couple of bucks in pocket change, which they could use to buy snacks or a little treat for themselves.
At around 3:00 in the afternoon, the girls set off to Ted's house. Dannette had changed out of her church clothes into something more comfortable for the nearly-two mile walk to Ted's: a white Mickey Mouse t-shirt, white jeans, and black sneakers. Jeannette simply changed into a more comfortable pair of sneakers, still wearing her church attire of a white turtleneck, blue pullover, beige skirt, and tights.
Their younger sister, twelve-year old Shanta, had asked if she could go with them. At the time, she looked up to her older sisters, and enjoyed every opportunity to be cool and hang out with the older kids. But Dannette and Jeannette, perhaps wanting to be left alone, told Shanta no.
As they walked out the door, the two girls had the understanding that they were supposed to be back before dinnertime. This usually just meant right before dark, which is in the area of 7:00 in March.
However, that would be the last time that Shanta, Louise, and the rest of the family at home would ever see the twins, as they walked outside and began to walk towards their old neighborhood of Bethlehem.
The twins made it to Ted's home a little while later, located on Forest Street. They both seemed to be in good spirits. They visited for a bit, got the $20 from their godfather, and then left. Just like any other day.
While they were in the area, they decided to stop by and visit their cousin, Juanita, who lived just a block away, on Tin Cup Lane. They were really close with Juanita, constantly having sleepovers and hanging out together. The twins asked if Juanita would be able to walk home with them, but her mother said no. Since it was starting to get late, she didn't want Juanita out walking when it was dark.
So, the twins left. However, they decided to stop by the home of someone else in their life, their older sister.
This sister, who was older than the girls and lived on Picquet Avenue, had just recently given birth. Yet, despite this, the twins asked if she would mind walking home with them.
Their older sister would be the only person to recall anything off about this encounter. Years later, the family would recall this request, and recognize that the girls might have been spooked by something or someone. After all, this would mark the second person they asked to walk home with them - a walk they had become used to, after weeks and months of visiting friends and family in their old neighborhood.
Could it have been the man in the white van they claimed was following them earlier in the day? Honestly, it could have been anything. Their older sister recalled the feeling of Jannette and Deannette not wanting to be alone.
However, as the sun was setting, the girls set off back home. Before they came home, though, they decided to stop by a nearby Pump'n'Shop convenience store, on the corners of MLK and 12th Streets.
The clerk working at the convenience store, named Gloria, was familiar with the twins. She was actually a family friend, and knew the girls by sight. She recalled the girls coming in to buy some chips and a couple of sodas with the extra money given to them by Ted. But then, just like that, they were gone.
Gloria said it was something as simple as seeing them, turning her head for a moment, and the girls had moved out of sight.
Just like that, they were gone.
When Jannette and Deannette Millbrook failed to return home on the evening of March 18th, 1990, their family immediately became frightened.
You see, their family - especially their mother, Louise - was well aware of the crimes plaguing the area, and only felt comfortable letting the twins walk the streets because they were always together.
Louise called the police, hoping to report her daughters missing. The Richmond County Sheriff's Office told Louise that she would have to wait at least 24 hours to file a missing persons report - a fact that now stands in clear contrast to how we currently deal with missing children and teenagers.
So, with no help on the front of law enforcement, Louise had to head out to try and find her missing daughters. Twelve-year old Shanta went with her, and recalls having to look in the bushes alongside the sidewalk because her mother was worried about the girls having become a casualty of the ongoing crime sprees.
They went down Olive Road towards MLK Boulevard, where the girls had last been seen. However, they were unable to find anything concrete that night. Or the next day, when the girls were both noticeably absent from school.
On the evening of March 19th, Louise was able to file a missing persons report for both of her daughters. A detective would come out later in the week to collect some face-to-face information, and collect some statements from the twins' family.
Before long, however, that detective would hand off the case to a juvenile investigator - a man that is now deceased. This juvenile investigator would handle the case for the next few months, while the family of the twins had to trust in him and the investigative process.
Unfortunately for the family, it seems like the people in charge of the investigation - both the original detective and this juvenile investigator - never really took the case seriously. Both Jannette and Deannette were deemed runaways before the facts were even known.
Part Two: The Unknown
February 12th, 2018 Micheal Whelan
The area that Jannette and Deannette Millbrook disappeared from - the Augusta neighborhood known as Bethlehem - was home to Augusta's cotton industry in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Over the next couple of years, the area would see an evolution of sorts. The cotton companies would make way for brickmakers, who took advantage of the pond's on Bethlehem's east side.
Nowadays, there is still a brick-making company in that area, but the brickyards exist as a bit of an oasis in Bethlehem: a place where people who live in the city can travel just a few blocks and go fishing.
The family of the Millbrook twins knew this area to be a bit rough, but they had never had reason to fear danger coming to themselves or the ones they cared for. With the two girls traveling in unison, they had no reason to believe that harm would - or even could - come to them.
So, after reporting the girls missing, their family believed that the police would go through the proper process - you know, the stuff you see in cop movies and police procedurals. That they would canvass the area, ask people if they had seen the girls, etc.
Well, they asked some people - like the woman who had been working at the Pump'n'Shop on the night the twins disappeared. And their godfather, whose house they had gone to for the week's bus fare. But family members and friends - like their cousin and sister, whom they had visited on their way home - were not asked any questions by police, despite being some of the last known people to see the twins.
Even their father, who had not had a close relationship with the twins and would later be revealed to have a criminal history, wasn't spoken to. Despite living close to where they disappeared from and having a rocky relationship with the teenagers, he wasn't even interviewed when they went missing.
The family would receive some help from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children - nicknamed NCMEC - who helped print and hang up some flyers and posters with pictures of the twins. The girls had been reported to their organization, and they were happy to provide help for this family that didn't have a lot of resources.
The family tried reaching out to other organizations and news agencies, but didn't receive much support. It seems like the case of two missing black teenagers wasn't worthy of much attention at the time, especially since the police seemed to be treating them as runaways.
This would reach a head on approximately April 8th, 1991, a little over a year after the girls had gone missing, when one of the investigators handling the case came to the home of the Millbrook and Sturgis family. This investigator told the family that the case he had been given - the case to find Dannette and Jeannette Millbrook - had reached a dead-end.
His reasoning was that they were now seventeen years old. At this point, due to Georgia's laws regarding runaway teenagers, they could no longer be forced to return home... from wherever they were. And because they were viewed as runaways, there was no reason for police to continue looking for them.
Of course, this statement given to the family by one of the investigators would stand in complete contrast to what they were later told by NCMEC - the same organization that had helped them spread awareness of the missing twins. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children would tell them that police had closed the case because the girls had been found.
So which is it? Were they runaways and out of the grip of law enforcement, or had they been found? Almost three decades later, the family of Dannette and Jeannette Millbrook still don't have an answer to that question.
This is their story.
Throughout the 1990's, the area of Augusta saw some pretty significant growth.
A quick look at the 1990 census shows a population of 44,639 people, a population lower than the previous seven decades. In fact, the total people living in Augusta had not been lower than this since 1910. Many attribute this to the urban decline period of the 1970s, when businesses and people began to move away from the downtown Augusta riverfront, and expanded into surrounding areas, like Evans, Grovetown, Hepzhibah, and Martinez.
Throughout the 1990's, Augusta and its surrounding area would see a major uptick, in terms of not only population, but economic significance.
Fort Gordon, one of the largest military bases in the southeast, saw some pretty significant improvements throughout the decade, which brought thousands of military members and their families to the region. In addition to the fort, several large companies opened up headquarters or facilities in the Augusta area, such as John Deere, Kellogg, T-Mobile, and Delta Air Lines.
But with all of these new corporations and wealth, a couple of missing teenagers found themselves lost between the cracks. Their case was soon dropped by police, shortly after their seventeenth birthday. Their story was unknown to many - a good number of their friends were unaware that the twins had even gone missing. After all, police never came to ask them any questions about the girls disappearing.
As I said in the introduction, this meeting with the detective happened on approximately April 8th, 1991. The girls had gone missing in March of 1990, and over that year, the family had placed hope in the police being able to find some vital piece of information.
However, the police didn't uncover any real clues or evidence. In fact, many of the information they had on-record was flat-out wrong.
For example: the date in which this detective had met with the family of the twins to inform them their case was being closed. April 8th. This happened to be the day after the police thought the girls turned seventeen, April 7th.
Unfortunately, April 7th was not their birthday. Their birthday was April 2nd. Their last name was Millbrook, not Millbrooks - as it has been repeated in police filings and news articles. On the day they disappeared, they did not walk down Florence Street, they walked down Forest Street.
Many of the simple facts were not only misguided - they were just flat-out wrong.
With this misguided information, police had been unable to dig up any new evidence. So, a little over a year later, they closed up shop, informed the family that they were shit out of luck, and moved on.
At the time the Millbrook twins disappeared, the Richmond County Sheriff's Office and the Augusta Police Department were two separate entities. Of course, they often worked in unison, but would not merge together for a few more years, in 1996.
At the time, one detective handled most of the area's missing teenager cases. The vast majority of these cases were runaways, and approximately 95% of the cases were cleared with the kid being found.
The hosts of the Fall Line Podcast bring up this information on their podcast, and they were actually able to speak to this detective. They recall him as seeming disinterested in the people he had looked for, and perhaps showing some kind of distaste.
Maybe this is why he handed off some of his investigations to a juvenile investigator, whose name isn't mentioned on any of the official police documentation of the case... which, actually, isn't a surprise, because there's not much paperwork to be seen.
The original detective would move into a teaching position in 1994, two years before the Sheriff's Office and the Augusta police force were set to merge. It's possible that he tried to clear his cases as much as possible, but this time frame has become very muddied by a good amount of "he said, she said."
You see, the family of Jeannette and Dannette Millbrook were told in April of 1991 that the twins could no longer be forced to go home. But they still expected the case file to be left open... you know, in case some new information were to come to light and change things.
According to the records kept by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the case file of the missing twins was kept until 1993. And that's when police apparently called them to permanently close the case in NCMEC's system, for reasoning that has never been clarified.
So, before I begin telling you the reasons HOW or WHY the case file was closed, I do need to preface this with a bit of a forward: this is a somewhat complicated story full of gossip and what amounts to rumor, so take the next few minutes with a grain of salt. After all, I am titling this episode "The Unknown" for a reason.
The family of Jeannette and Dannette Millbrook recall the original detective, who was in charge of their case file, coming to their house shortly after what would have been their seventeeth birthday. This was in April of 1991 - a little over a year after they went missing. I've already told you this, but it bears repeating because of how uncommon this is.
The case of the missing twins was kept open in the NCMEC system, however, until 1993. Two years, between when the family was told that the twins could no longer be forced to return home, and when their case file was officially closed.
NCMEC - the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children - is an organization that relies on the information provided by law enforcement. So whenever a child is reported missing, their info is provided to NCMEC, who - in exchange - tries to push the story in any way they can. They give that information to other agencies, organizations, etc.
However, when police find those missing children - or otherwise close the case file - the case is closed in NCMEC's system, as well.
This is what happened in this case. The family was told there was nothing police could do, and then two years later - for some reason - the case was officially closed.
The question remains: why? Why was this case closed? The Millbrook and Sturgis family never saw Dannette or Jeannette after they went missing on March 18th, 1990. That never changed. The twins never called, never wrote a letter, never corresponded with anyone in their family or social circle again. Their social security numbers were never used, they had no documentation or identification on them when they went missing, and they were just fifteen years old with roughly twenty dollars in pocket change between them.
Well, according to the earliest police theories, they were runaways. This is the theory that police gave early on when talking to the family. The girls had run away, and gone to live somewhere else.
Unfortunately, this theory doesn't make any sense.
When the family of the twins got in-touch with NCMEC, they were surprised to learn that the case file had been closed in 1993.
I mean, think about it... you had two daughters - or sisters, depending on your perspective - vanish. A year later, the police come and tell you that they believe they ran away, based on very little to no evidence. Then, you discover that three years after they disappeared, the case was permanently closed.
This means that not only was the police file shuttered in 1993, but someone from the Augusta Police Department contacted the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and told them that the case was closed.
When the family contacted NCMEC, they were told that the girls had been found. As the family, this was a revelation. Imagine being told that police had found your two missing family members, but had not told you.
At this point, the Augusta Police Department had merged with the Richmond County Sheriff's Office. So the family contacted Richmond County, and spoke to one of the clerks working for the department. They were told that, just like NCMEC's records, their system showed the girls had been found.
They tried pushing further, and were eventually told by someone at Richmond County to "go and ask their mother where they are."
Well, the mother of the twins has no idea what this meant.
Further questioning revealed that the police had the idea that the girls had been put into foster care and adopted out to another family. This, of course, goes against known protocols: namely, the mother of the twins not having any knowledge of this happening, and, the understanding that Child Protective Services had never been called on Louise for any of her children.
Plus, why would two teenage girls - who were neither the oldest nor youngest of the children - be taken away right before their sixteenth birthday? If CPS had been called to take away ANY children from Louise, wouldn't they have taken the younger kids away, as well?
So, why would the police have this understanding of the case, which was fundamentally absent of any facts? It's hard to say. The hosts of the Fall Line go through this several times on their own podcast, and they theorize that it has less to do with malice or any cruel intention, but perhaps just apathy and misunderstandings.
You see, two relatives of the family - who also had the last name "Millbrook" - had been put into the foster care system. It's possible that the original detective, or the juvenile investigator that worked with him on the case, had seen that two children with that surname were in the system. That might have been enough: a simple misunderstanding that derailed a missing persons investigation.
However, a further look reveals that something more might have been afoot. You see, the juvenile investigator shared his thoughts with the detective in charge of the case. This juvenile investigator is now deceased, so we can't ask his opinion on these affairs, but he told the detective that he had actually seen the twins with his own eyes. He made this claim, that he had personally found the twins, and that they had been trying to get to Texas.
You remember what I told you about gossip being tied into the closure of this case? Well, here we are.
Personally, I would love to have a time machine, so that we can go back in time to discover how these conversations truly unfolded. It's hard to tell whether time or experience has shaped these conversations into something they might not have been: warping them into something new and unfounded. It's really hard to tell.
For what it's worth, the detective in charge of the case did reach some conclusions of his own during the original investigation. Unfortunately, his conclusion was the same as the juvenile investigator: that the girls had run away, to start a new life elsewhere. It seems like a good chunk of this conclusion was based off of his interviews with administrators at the school the girls went to, Lucy Laney High School. Namely, the school principle, who was familiar with the twins after they had gotten into a bus stop scuffle with one of his younger relatives.
The conclusion the original detective had reached was that one of the twins had gotten pregnant, and they both decided to run away.
So here we are, back to the theory that two teenagers ran away, despite there being no evidence to back it up.
There's also no evidence to support either of the twins being pregnant. Neither of them had a boyfriend at the time of their disappearance, and they wouldn't have a reason to run away.
You see, their older sister, whose home they visited on the night they disappeared, was a teenage mother. Shanta, their younger sister, would get pregnant just a few years later. The idea of Jeannette and Dannette running away because one of them had gotten pregnant just falls on its face when you look at any aspect of the theory.
Yet, despite this theory having no evidence to back it up, the case was closed regardless. We still don't understand the reasoning for the case being closed, since the police gave multiple rationales, none of which really jive with the others.
We do know that the detective in charge of the case file moved into a teaching position in 1994, and the Augusta Police Department would merge with the Richmond County Sheriff's Office in 1996. Neither of which really excuse why the case file was closed in 1993, but they provide an important background as to why so many of the original case files have been lost.
Perhaps, the detective wanted to close the case before leaving the department. It's possible that he viewed the case as solved, and closed the file because of this. After all, he was of the understanding that the juvenile investigator had laid eyes upon the girls and vouched for their continued existence, so he viewed the matter as solved.
Then, you have the police forces merging in 1996. The Augusta Police Department was swallowed up by Richmond County's Sheriff's Office, consuming not only their officers, but their case files, notes, and everything else that entailed. Since the investigation into the Millbrook twins had been closed for three years, at that point, the original case file might have just been shredded.
However, as noted on the Fall Line podcast, the police have been less-than-forthcoming when it comes to the case file of the twins.
You see, police claim that this file was destroyed, either by shredding when the departments merged, or in a flood the department faced in the 1990s. However, the original incident reports were copied in June of 2013, when newly-elected Sheriff Richard Roundtree re-opened the investigation. The incident reports, made by cold case investigator Ashley Pletcher, are each two pages long and contain information from the original 1990 incident reports... which police claim were destroyed.
If they still have copies of the original incident report, do they have any more of the original documentation? It's impossible to tell, as the sheriff's office has been tight-lipped since re-opening the case in 2013.
Major Scott Peebles was quoted as saying the case was closed on "hearsay," and described the mysterious closing of the case as "unsettling."
“We’ve pretty much expended everything we can on our side. They never showed up on radar,” Lt. Calvin Chew told local media.
Sheriff Richard Roundtree stated: "Twins don’t just go missing. One person may go missing but not twins. Sixteen-year-olds don’t have the means (to leave).”
All of these quotes were from 2013, when the case was re-opened. In the half-decade since, police have yet to make any more public statements regarding the case.
The story of the Millbrook Twins was a story that didn't get close to any coverage for decades.
For years, the family of Jeannette and Dannette Millbrook appealed to TV personalities, like John Walsh, Montel Williams, and even Oprah Winfrey, to cover the story on their programs. They were ignored.
They tried reaching out to NCMEC and the police to keep tabs on their missing loved ones. They weren't exactly ignored, but they were told a variety of answers, some of which would openly contradict what they had been told beforehand.
For the longest time, they had to just accept that they were going to get little-to-no help from anyone.
The mother of the twins, Louise, struggled with this. She was raising a family at the time, and struggled to provide for them while dealing with this tragedy. I mean, consider that: many people lose one child, and it's the biggest tragedy in their lives. She lost two daughters in a single night, and received no help from anyone to find them.
Eventually, the younger sister of the girls, Shanta, had to take over as the point person for the family. As true crime and mystery podcasts began growing in popularity, Shanta reached out to a number of them. Of those, Thin Air and The Trail Went Cold were two that responded, and they both put out episodes about Dannette and Jeannette, when information about the case was very splintered and fragmented.
It was Shanta I spoke to when I began preparing for these episodes. I started speaking to her in the spring of last year, which - ultimately - became a very busy and tumultuous time for the both of us.
When I was finally able to speak to her in-person, I found out that there was a long-form podcast in the works about the story. I was able to get in-touch with the hosts of the podcast, Laurah and Brook, who had been hard at-work on the story, doing much of the investigative work that the early investigators had failed to.
Their podcast, the Fall Line, provides a more comprehensive look at the story than anything else released thus far. If you found these episodes captivating, I can't recommend their project enough.
In the wake of their podcast series, Laurah and Brook have remained close to Shanta, who they now consider a friend.
They have continued to forward the information they've received to the Richmond County Sheriff's Office, and remain optimistic that an answer will present itself soon, hopefully bringing to an end the unsolved case of these two missing teenagers.
A fundraising effort was started by Laurah and Brook, which focuses on raising awareness for the case. It has worked to establish a reward for information, which is now over $8000. The fundraising effort itself has raised over $3000, with significant contributions being made by Atlanta's Encompass Studios and the Osteen Law Firm.
The Richmond County Sheriff's Office had originally declared its intention to match any reward contributions - essentially doubling the reward for information. However, ever since then, the Sheriff's Office has remained hesitant to commit to anything. They have not tried to publicize the reward at all, or even announce it.
Only time will tell whether or not the case of Dannette and Jeannette Millbrook gets solved. But if it does, it will likely have to rely on you, the listening public. After all, without you all paying attention to podcasts like this one, the story of the Millbrook Twins would have been forgotten years ago.
If you can, get in-touch with Richmond County. The phone number for Sheriff Richard Roundtree's office is 706-821-1065. Give him a call, and let him know that the story of Dannette and Jeannette Millbrook deserves to be heard. The reward he promised to match deserves to be promoted on social media and in his press conferences.
The faults of this early investigation do not lie at the feet Sheriff Roundtree or his officers. Just like they don't stick to us, the ignorant public that would not - could not - help Shanta Sturgis and the rest of the twins' family.
But we can help remind Sheriff Roundtree, and the rest of the Augusta area, that this case is still very much open. The family of Dannette and Jeannette Millbrook deserve answers. They've had to wait nearly thirty years for them, but that's thirty years too long.
So, as I begin to wrap up this story, I want to bring everything back to where I began last episode: meeting a woman in a parking lot to help put up some flyers.
Shanta Sturgis is a woman that deserves all of the respect in the world. She grew up as one child of nearly ten. She saw tragedy face-to-face as a twelve-year old girl, and lived under the shadow of its gloom for the next thirty years. She has somehow managed to work two jobs, while providing a solid life for her children and now, her grandchildren.
Throughout her busy and complicated life, she has never forgotten the story of two people from her childhood: her older sisters, who should have been her guardians through middle school, through high school, through her teenage pregnancy, everything.
Over the years, she has become THEIR guardian: their only advocate, when no one else would or could stand up for them. She has constantly petitioned the police department, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and the news media to not only keep their stories alive, but to simply acknowledge them as missing.
I've only had the honor of meeting Shanta face-to-face twice now, but I consider her a personal hero of mine. I can only pray that if something as tragic and terrible were to happen to one of my loved ones, I would have the ability to persevere as she has.
Despite all of the heartache she has had to endure, Shanta still holds out hope. While many theorize that a wandering serial killer may have been responsible for the disappearance of the twins, Shanta believes that they may still be alive, out there. Now, she doesn't believe that they ran away, as they would never want to purposefully hurt their family that way. But, perhaps, they're still alive somewhere, and unaware how much they're missed.
I have to admit... it's taken me a lot longer to make this story than originally intended.
A part of that is that it's a hard story to tell: there's no real narrative after Dannette and Jeannette disappear, and most of the investigation consists of a twenty-five year game of "he said, she said." There are no real details or evidence, police never identified any suspects, etc.
But, of course, the larger part is that after meeting up with Shanta face-to-face, I became scared. Not of her, but of failing her. I didn't want to put out anything less than the effort she has put into the case... which, I now recognize, is impossible.
When meeting up with Shanta to help put up some flyers, I realized that it would be illogical for me to wait any longer. This is a woman that has spent almost thirty years simply trying to spread the word of her big sisters' disappearance. Not to age myself too much, but that's longer than I've been alive.
There is nothing in the world I can do that could match the focus and passion Shanta Sturgis has put into spreading awareness for Dannette and Jeannette, and that honestly inspired me to finally just make these episodes.
If you're interested in learning more about this story, please get in-touch with Shanta Sturgis at the Facebook page she has set up, called Missing Dannette and Jeannette Millbrook. Contact Laurah and Brook at the Fall Line - their website can be found at thefalllinepodcast.com, and they're on both Facebook and Twitter.
Lastly, call the Richmond County Sheriff's Office. Inundate them with questions and concerns. Let them know that this story deserves answers, and that the reward fund deserves promotion.
For the time, the story of Dannette and Jeannette Millbrook remains unresolved.
Part Three: The Now
February 21st, 2018 Micheal Whelan
On March 18th, 1990, teenage twins Dannette and Jeannette Millbrook set off from their home, on Augusta's Cooney Circle. They left that Sunday afternoon to pick up twenty dollars from their godfather, Ted, who lived approximately two miles away in their old neighborhood of Bethlehem.
When they failed to return that evening, their family received a less-than-stellar response from law enforcement. They were told that they had to wait twenty-four hours to report the twins missing. So they waited. When they finally reported them missing, on Monday evening, they were able to file an incident report, but the detective in-charge of their case wouldn't come out to collect personal statements from the family until later that week.
From the get-go, it seems like this family - a large family living in a poor area of Augusta, Georgia - would receive very little help from the local authorities.
This made itself clear when, early on in the investigation, the detective announced his belief that the twins had run away. Despite there being little proof to back this up, he made this assertion based on some flippant comments made at the twins' high school, and perhaps his own prejudices.
You see, this detective handled almost all of the area's missing teenagers cases. The vast majority of these cases were runaways - approximately 90 - 95% of which would return home in a period of weeks. Perhaps, based upon the age of the twins, he was less inclined to look for them, believing them to be simple runaways.
A little over a year later, in April of 1991 - just days after the twins would have turned seventeen - this detective met with the family once again. He informed them that because of their age, and Georgia state's laws regarding runaway teenagers, they could no longer be forced to return home. Just like that, the case was closed.
Two years after this, in 1993, the case of the twins was closed in the database of NCMEC - the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. As I - and the hosts of the Fall Line - have tried to describe, this generally only happens whenever a case is solved. The police would have had to have made contact with NCMEC to permanently shutter the file. Twenty-five years later, the family has still not been able to discover how or why the NCMEC file was closed... NCMEC has documents, showing who said what and when, they just can't - or won't - disclose this to the family.
The search to find Dannette and Jeannette Millbrook would remain closed until 2013, when Sheriff Richard Roundtree was elected in Richmond County. Shanta made contact with his department, hoping that a new administration would be able to right the wrongs. Thankfully, Sheriff Roundtree and his offers agreed to take a new look at the case... and what they found was disturbing.
As I detailed in the last episode, they used the term "unsettling" to describe the case being closed on nothing more than hearsay.
That word has become synonymous with the story of the Millbrook twins: hearsay.
The definition of hearsay is: "information received from other people that one cannot adequately substantiate." Synonyms include: rumor, gossip, tittle-tattle, scuttlebutt, idle talk, tall tales, the grapevine, etc. I could go on.
It is that word which provides the basis for today's episode.
In the last episode of Unresolved, part two of the Millbrook case - titled "The Unknown" - I tried to address this hearsay. Do you remember when I tried to detail who said what and when? What I called the "he said, she said" period of time during the investigation?
It is what the family of the twins has had to rely on for over twenty years. Since the twins went missing in March of 1990, they have had to deal with a constant back-and-forth between fact and fiction.
When the detective originally in-charge of the case labelled them as runaways, they had to combat these rumors head-on. You see, the twins had no real friends or family to turn to. They had no resources, outside of the twenty dollars they had picked up from their godfather that afternoon. They had no identification, being only fifteen years old, and their social security numbers have never been touched.
Basically, the detective took a couple of statements from classmates and school officials at the high school the twins had been attending for less than a year, Lucy Laney, and ran with it.
In the second part of the Millbrook story, I tried to detail who said what and when. I talked about the split investigation between the detective who was officially in-charge of the case, and a juvenile probation officer, who agreed to help out for some unknown reason.
However, it turns out that almost all of this information is based on hearsay.
You see, the juvenile probation officer - who handled many unruly teenagers in the area - agreed to help out with the case as a family friend of the twins' mother, Mary Sturgis. He lived in the area, and wanted to do what he could.
The detective who officially handled the case - whose name is on the original case documents - has tried to make it seem like this juvenile officer is responsible for the mishandling of the case. But, as I have since learned - based on conversations with both Shanta and the producers of the Fall Line podcast - this is only based on his recollection of events.
Shanta really wanted the chance to correct this, so this past Monday - President's Day - we agreed to meet up and discuss the case once again. She was kind enough to talk me through this chapter of the case, and really helped clarify things.
So, the juvenile probation officer agreed to help out with the case and knock on some doors for the family. However, he never officially handled the case, and basically just went around, asking some questions.
Almost everything that has been said about him in the years since - such as the allegations that he laid eyes on the twins, that they were trying to get to Texas, etc. - is based off of what the original detective has since stated.
You see, the juvenile probation officer is no longer here to validate these statements. He has since passed away. So almost everything we know about that early investigation is based on the detective's remarks.
This brings us back to hearsay. This is all secondhand gossip. Yes, it is the case file's original detective saying it, but he also has a reason to assign his incorrect statements to someone else. He handled the area's missing children's cases... and, as we now know, he declared another missing black girl a runaway based on very little information.
That girl, nine-year old Tiffany Nelson, is going to be the topic of my next episode, and I'll try to cover the similarities between this case and that one.
The comments made by this original detective continue to loom large over the investigation. When the case was re-opened in 2013, the Richmond County Sheriff's Office described his closing of the case as "unsettling." They seem well-aware that he closed the case based on very little information... and, in fact, Shanta has a story to share.
When she and her family were able to meet with Sheriff Richard Roundtree, he apparently shared some choice words about this detective.
So, where does the case stand now?
Richmond County has admitted that the original detective didn't do his job, and they've admitted the faults of the early investigation. However, despite the Fall Line investigating some really interesting avenues - all of which they've shared with Richmond County Sheriff's - there seems to be no movement in the case whatsoever.
When I've tried to make contact with the sheriff's office, I've been forwarded to the desk of a sergeant who handles homicides in the area. I haven't had a chance to speak to him as of yet, but I have left a couple of voicemails and am waiting to hear back.
Shanta, the sister of the twins, has had a similar experience. In fact, as of this episode's recording, she has yet to hear back about who is simply handling the case file.
It seems like, for Shanta Sturgis, every step forward is another step back.
When the case was re-opened in 2013, there seemed to be progress for the first time in twenty-three years. Then, there came a period of silence, in which the police released no public statements and seemed to get nowhere.
Then, after reaching out to the podcasts Thin Air and the Trail Went Cold, Shanta got the story of the twins out into the public sphere.
When I reached out to Shanta last year, after moving to Augusta, I discovered that there was a podcast in the works about the case. The hosts of the Fall Line, Brooke and Laurah, have proven invaluable to Shanta. During our conversation, she lovingly refers to them as the people that have helped the case more than anyone else - more so than even the police in charge of investigating the case.
However, since the Fall Line began releasing episodes about the case, the Richmond County Sheriff's Office has cut off most contact with Shanta. They have stopped releasing statements about Dannette and Jeannette Millbrook, they have pledged no support to the reward fund for information, and now seem immune to simply answering phone calls about the case.
Shanta has always held out hope that she could hire a private investigator, but she has never had the means to do so.
Despite her busy life, juggling her two jobs with children, grandchildren, and other family members in need of help, Shanta continues to work for a resolution in this case. She only wishes that she had more time in the day.
Shanta is hoping to hold a candlelight vigil for her older sisters on the weekend of March 18th, a little under a month from now.
If you live in the area of Augusta, Georgia, and are interested in meeting Shanta and helping support the family, you can head to the Facebook page set up by Shanta, titled "Missing Dannette and Jeannette Millbrook." She'll be posting updates for the vigil there, and will respond to any questions or comments as soon as she can.
Other than that, if you are interested in helping spread the word of the missing Millbrook twins, you can continue to reach out to Richmond County. Tell the Sheriff's Office you want them to be more involved with the case. Tells local media personalities that you want the case to be covered in the news. Spread the word to family and friends.
Also, be sure to check out the Youcaring fundraiser, which I have started alongside Laurah and Brooke from the Fall Line. Our goal is to help raise a billboard in the area where the twins went missing, to not only remind the area of their case, but to let them know that there's an $8000 reward for any information that leads to closure for Dannette and Jeannette Millbrook.
I'll be back this weekend, bringing you another unsolved Augusta case, that of nine-year old Tiffany Nelson, but before I go, I want to end the episode on a remark from Shanta that brought a very sad smile to my face. It's these kind of remarks that I hope remind everyone that these cases are real: those involved are real people, affected by real tragedy. As much as storytellers like myself try to make these stories presentable and entertaining, at the end of the day, these are all real people. Shanta Sturgis, the younger sister of the Millbrook twins, is no exception.
Sources and further reading
- The Fall Line Podcast
- Thin Air Podcast - Episode 8: Jeannette and Dannette Millbrook
- The Trail Went Cold - Episode 12: The Millbrook Twins
- The Charley Project - Dannette Latonia Millbrook
- The Charley Project - Jeannette Latressa Millbrook
- The Huffington Post - "'Terrible Injustice' Prompts Sheriff To Reopen 1990 Case Of Missing Twins, Dannette And Jeannette Millbrooks"
- Facebook - "Missing Dannette and Jeannette Millbrook"
- The Augusta Chronicle - "Case of missing twins reopened"
- The Augusta Chronicle - "Family of missing twins still feeling hopeful"
- The Augusta Chronicle - "Missing persons cases frustrate families, law enforcement"
- The Augusta Chronicle - "Podcast will detail struggles of missing twins family in search for closure"
- The Augusta Chronicle - "New development in podcast detailing family struggle of finding missing twins brings awareness"
- The Augusta Chronicle - "Investigators still awaiting new evidence in missing girls case"
- The Augusta Chronicle - "Family of missing twins look to community to raise funds for reward into 1990 case"
- The Augusta Chronicle - "Augusta billboard recognizes those missing since 1990"
- The Augusta Chronicle - "Family of Augusta twins missing since 1990 announce reward into case"