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.– D.D.L. Moore
Check out: The Millbrook Twins Part One: The Known to start from the beginning
Check out: The Millbrook Twins Part Two: The Unknown
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”