Investigation Discovery’s ‘On The Case With Paula Zahn: Unthinkable Betrayal’ chronicles the brutal rape and murder of 31-year-old Linda Slaten in Florida in September 1981. It would take the police almost four decades before they would be able to nab her killer using forensic advancements. But since the matter is now closed for good, if you wish to learn the details of the same, including the current whereabouts of the perpetrator, here is what we know.
How Did Linda Slaten Die?
Linda Patterson Slaten was born on March 8, 1950, and was a single mother of two teen boys, Jeffrey Slaten, aged 15, and Timothy Slaten, aged 12, when their whole world turned upside down. Yet her family still remembers her as a devoted and caring mother who tried her best to raise her boys despite their limited financial capabilities. They had moved to the city of Lakeland in Florida in the middle of 1981, about weeks before the fateful incident.
Linda’s sister, Judy Butler, went over to her place on September 4, 1981, to have their usual Friday morning coffee — a tradition they’d picked up since the former’s move to Lakeland. Therefore, when she did not open the door even after repeated knocks, the latter got suspicious and went around to find the window screen of her bedroom missing. She peered inside, only to see her sister’s lifeless body lying on the bed. A hysterical Judy alerted a nearby maintenance worker for the Lakeland Housing Authority, John Allen, who called 911.
The investigators reached the scene at around 8:30 am to find Linda dead with her dress pulled down from the top and up from the bottom, exposing her private parts. They reportedly witnessed bleeding from her vagina, with her underwear and shoes scattered across the floor. A wired coat hanger had been used to strangle her to death, and it was still wrapped around her neck. Her autopsy later confirmed she’d been sexually assaulted. The strange part, though, was that there were no signs of struggle except for the missing window screen.
Who Killed Linda Slaten?
Due to all the major entrances being secured, detectives initially faced difficulty getting into the house. And that’s when a horrifying thought dawned on Judy — her minor nephews were also inside, and no one knew if they were okay or not. Thankfully, upon using a window to enter, they found both boys sleeping in their respective rooms. The younger son, Tim, would later recount, “I saw the crime scene. It’s still burned in my brain today.”
Linda’s body was taken to the Lakeland General Hospital, where the medical examiner performed an autopsy and a sexual assault kit. As per the subsequent police reports, semen was found in her body, and a fingerprint was also retrieved from the crime scene. However, with forensic science not as developed as it is today, investigators had very little to go on when the DNA did not match anyone in the existing databases. They thus had to question her boys to get a picture of the night of the murder and maybe uncover potential suspects.
Linda’s 12-year-old, Timothy “Tim,” told the detectives he was at practice with his football coach, Joseph Clinton Mills, at Winston Elementary. The latter was a coach for the Lakeland Volunteers football program and had driven the youngster home on that fateful evening. According to court records, the young mother had come out to thank him for giving her son a ride, and Joseph also claimed he’d not only never gotten out of his vehicle but had left almost immediately.
With no concrete evidence and all possible avenues exhausted, the Lakeland Police Department didn’t have anything that would lead them to the offender, and the case went cold. Linda’s boys did occasionally drop in at the station to ask for updates over the years, but it soon began to look like the culprit would never actually be caught. Jeffrey “Jeff,” her elder son, once candidly stated, “It’s been rough on me my whole life not knowing who [killed my mother]. Always being scared to death, I was friends with him…always looking over our shoulder.”
However, a breakthrough finally came in November 2018 when the authorities resorted to using a cutting-edge forensic analysis method known as genetic genealogy. As per experts, this technique compares an unknown DNA profile to those on public genealogy databases, created with the help of ordinary individuals like you and me voluntarily uploading them. The investigators finally had a match — Timothy’s football coach, Joseph, who was then in his 20s. His fingerprints also matched the ones found at the crime scene. He was thus arrested on December 12, 2018, on charges of first-degree murder, burglary, and sexual battery.
Where is Joe Mills Today?
When initially questioned back in September 1981, Joseph had feigned ignorance about the crime and alleged he had never met Linda except once. Yet, upon being arrested, his entire narrative changed and he claimed that he had gone over to the Slaten home upon request to have sex with her. He further contended that Linda already had the hanger around her neck and had died while having consensual rough sex.
The prosecutors, though, debunked his statements by providing evidence that the acts of that night were not consensual. Ultimately, in February 2022, 61-year-old Joseph pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting and killing the single mother. In doing so, he escaped the death penalty and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Therefore, he is currently serving his sentence at the Reception and Medical Center in Union County, Florida.
Read More: Where Are Jeff and Tim Slaten Now?