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.
Editor’s Note: Micheal Whelan (yes, spelled correctly) is a valued author and American Crime Journal contributor. He is the creator, writer and host of Unresolved, an investigative podcast that aims to tell stories which have no ending. The following article is Micheal’s official Unresolved transcript of The Millbrook Twins Part 1: The Known. Michael’s in depth coverage includes a heartbreaking yet, insightful interview with Shanta Sturgis, Dannette and Jeannette’s younger sister. Follow the red link below the original transcript and an introduction to the Unresolved Podcast case library.
Part One: The Known
On a surprisingly warm day in the middle of December, I was driving through the city of Augusta, GA. Stuck in frustratingly slow-moving suburban 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.