Linda Slaten was raped and strangled in her Lakeland, Florida home September 4, 1981. Genetic Genealogy and new DNA technology determined Joseph Clinton Mills, her son’s football coach, was her murderer.
The Slaten Family
Linda Slaten, 31, was a single mom of two sons and had just relocated the family to Lakeland, FL from Hartselle, AL. She had recently divorced her husband and had moved for a fresh start. She was on a very tight budget and received state assistance. Slaten was known for being a loving and attentive mother to Jeffery, 15, and Timothy, 12. She was very close to her sister, Judy Butler. The two sisters were known to spend a lot of time together and had a regular standing Friday morning coffee date. The family did not have a vehicle so the boys used their bicycles for local trips. Timothy’s football coach, Joseph Mills, often gave rides to and from football practice. Linda’s parents lived approximately 10 miles away, so the family would see them often.
On the morning of Friday, September 4, 1981, Judy Butler arrived at the Slaten apartment for coffee. Butler repeatedly knocked on the front door, but no one answered. She made her way around the outside of the apartment and noticed that the window screen for her sister’s bedroom window had been removed. When Butler looked through the window, she discovered Linda laying crossways on her bed, with her clothes askew and a wire coat hanger wrapped around her neck. An apartment maintenance worker, later identified as John Allen, encountered an inconsolable Butler and called 911.
Investigators and emergency personnel arrived on the scene. They found the front door locked. They used a window to gain entry into the apartment and discovered Linda Slaten laying on her bed. The front of her dress had been pulled down and the hem of her dress had been pulled up which made her fully exposed. Blood was located around her vaginal area. She had a wire coat hanger wrapped around her neck. Other than her underwear and shoes laying on the floor, there was nothing out of place and no signs of a struggle.
Emergency personnel located Jeffery and Timothy Slaten sleeping in their beds upstairs unharmed. They escorted the boys out of the apartment, but not before Timothy witnessed the crime scene of his mother. He would later state, “I saw the crime scene. It’s still burned in my brain today.”
The Investigation of Linda Slaten’s Death
The medical examiner determined she had been brutally raped and listed her official cause of death as manual strangulation. Biological DNA evidence was collected from her body. Investigators and crime scene technicians processed her bedroom and discovered additional evidence and a palm print on the windowsill. All the findings were entered into the national database, but no matches were found. Investigators interviewed anyone that knew or had even a remote possibility of coming into contact with Linda. DNA samples were taken from many individuals over the years including, family, neighbors, co-workers, and even Linda’s ex-husband. No matches or evidence was discovered, and the case grew cold.
Since 1981, DNA technology has made remarkable advancements in the past few years. The process of Genetic Genealogy has become an exciting advancement in murder investigations. This is the technique used that led investigators to catch Linda Slaten’s killer in 2018. Forensics positively matched the DNA profile that had been developed based on the evidence taken from the crime in 1981 through genetic genealogy to Joseph Clinton Mills, Timothy Slaten’s football coach. Mills, had been 20-years-old when investigators questioned him during the original investigations; but he denied any knowledge of her murder. In order to confirm the genetic genealogy match, investigators monitored Mills, hoping to catch him discarding something in a public trash can. He did not, so investigators obtained his household trash from his curb before the garbage truck could pick it up. They combed through it until they found a piece of medical tape that contained DNA. It was sent into the FDLE crime lab. The DNA sample from the medical tape was compared to the genetic profile from 1981. It was determined to be a positive match.
Joseph Mill’s Arrest
Investigators arrested Joseph Clinton Mills, on December 12, 2018. Prosecutors charged him with first-degree murder in the death of Linda Slaten. They also charged Mills with burglary and sexual battery. During the interrogation, Mills initially stated that he had virtually no knowledge of her death, then changed his story. He stated Linda had invited him to her home to engage in rough consensual sex. When he had shown up, she already had the wire coat hanger wrapped around her neck. Investigators immediately stated that this was false and prosecutors proved that his account was false based on the previously discovered evidence.
Detectives offered what they believed was the course of events. On September 3, 1981, Joseph Mills drove Timothy home from football practice. Later in the evening, Jeffery went to his grandparents’ house and Linda had gone with Timothy to a neighborhood party. While they were gone, detectives believe this is when Mills entered the home (undetected) through Linda’s bedroom window and hid in her closet, waiting for the family to arrive. Linda and Timothy arrived first. Timothy went to bed while Linda tidied up the house. She was doing the dishes when Jeffery came home. He went to bed. When Linda finished, she entered her bedroom, and that’s when Mills attacked. They believe that the clothes hanger came from her bedroom closet. He brutalized her, then strangled her to death.
After Slanten’s death, her son’s moved in with her parents. During that time, Mills continued to offer rides to and from football practice. He would often ask about any recent developments in the case. There was never any to give.
Joseph Mill’s Sentencing
On February 9, 2022, Joseph Clinton Mills, 61, pleaded guilty to the rape and murder of Linda Slaten. He received four life sentences without the possibility of parole. According to Florida law, pleading guilty allowed him to escape a death sentence. Mills is currently serving his life sentence at the Reception and Medical Center, Union County, Florida.
Jeffery and Timothy Slaten were raised by their maternal grandparents following their mother’s death. Both men have stated that it was a loving household. They have both said that they struggled with looking over their shoulder, wondering if the killer was going to come back for them.
One detail that made a lasting impact was that throughout years, Timothy had a picture of his recreational football team. His coach, Joseph Mills, was included in the photograph that hung on Timothy’s bedroom wall.
On December 3, 2022, the television show 48 Hours aired a special investigative episode entitled “The Betrayal of Linda Slaten“. It aired on the CBS Television Network.