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.
Check out: The Millbrook Twins Part One: The Known if you have not done so.
The area that Jeannette and Dannette 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.