I-TEAM: 'As long as I live, I'll still be waiting': Thirty years after their disappearance, Millbrook twins case gets national spotlight
Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019
News 12 at 6 O'Clock/NBC at 7
AUGUSTA, GA (WRDW/WAGT) – A set of twin sisters would have been 45 years old today, but no one knows whether they've aged that far.
However, the family of Dannette and Jeannette Millbrook still have hope. Since the sisters vanished nearly 30 years ago, their case has been closed, re-opened, then gone cold.
Now, the missing persons case is receiving national attention with an upcoming documentary to air on the Oxygen Network, Saturday, Nov. 23.
The official incident report is the only document the Richmond County Sheriff's Office would release for the Millbrook case. The four-page report reveals very little. In fact, the family feared the bare report might be an indicator of a bare investigation. We asked the sheriff's office for additional information, but they told us the report was all they could offer.
"Every time I look at a picture of them, I just look just to see if I can figure something out." Shanta Sturgis said. "What could have happened? I just don't know."
Not knowing is the gut-wrenching part.
Sturgis has been a big advocate for making sure her big sisters' names stay in the community. She's doing it for herself but also for her mother, Mary Sturgis, who has been without her daughters since they were 15.
A nearly 30-year-old agony clings to the store at the corner of 12th Street and Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard, the local restaurant along Milledgeville Road, and the home in the projects of Cooney Circle -- all landmarks in the missing persons case of the Millbrook sisters.
Cotton twine and pins can trace the hours leading to the twins’ disappearance. However, it's not enough to map out closure to an open case gone cold for far too long.
"I pray and I'm still hoping,” Mary said. “I ain't going to give up on them."
A mother usually never does.
Although Mary never gave up on her girls, many times along the way she thought signs showed investigators may have.
"Every time you think you got somebody to help, and you think you take a step forward, you got to take a step back,” Mary said. "I don't think they think my children were important enough to go out and look for.”
On March 18, 1990, Dannette and Jeannette left their home three times. The first time to go church with the family in the morning. The second time, they went to pick up lunch from the Church's Chicken on Milledgeville Road. The third time, they went to pick up bus fare, but they never made it back home.
"There is no way in the world somebody would have ran away from home and had been gone for 30 years." Shanta said. “Thirty years."
"There was nothing going on at home that bad from them to say, 'Let's runaway and never show our faces again.'"
Despite that, investigators originally closed the case after one year in April 1991.
News 12 has previously reported the case closed based on hearsay. And the family once again confirmed to us, it was closed because someone told police they saw the girls leaving. Dannette and Jeannette's names were removed from the database for missing children as a consequence.
"So from 1991 to 2013, nobody was looking for my sisters,” Shanta said. “Nobody. Not the sheriff. Nobody. Period. Nobody but family."
On June 5, 2013, the sheriff's office reopened the case, according to the incident report. It renewed hope for a mom waiting on a reunion. However, the dosage of waiting seems like a lifetime prescription.
"As long as I live, I'll still be waiting,” Mary said.
This is all while the unknown continues to burden a family's spirit, sanity, and health.
The Millbrook case was allegedly mishandled back in 1990. The family believes back then, detectives did not take their claims seriously.
Our I-team wanted to talk with investigators about what happened that day and what happened to their investigation. The sheriff's office declined our interview request, and we were told the only thing they will release is what they already gave us: the incident report.
So here's what our I-Team continues to piece together on our own. The Millbrook file was inherited by at least five different investigators throughout the years. In this case, there was a questionable gap in the March 18th timeline. Remember, Dannette and Jeannette left home three times that day. The connection may be between the second and third.
Let's start from the first.
The family went to church in the morning and returned around 12:30 p.m. The twins walked from home to grab lunch at the Church's Chicken on Milledgeville. It was about 30 minutes in walking distance each way. Which means they likely did not back it back home until perhaps a little after 1:30 p.m.
As they walked into the house with food, one of them said something that now haunts the family.
"Both of them came in the house, but Jeannette was the one that told my mom that it was a white van following them,” Shanta said.
Mary echoed the same story.
"My daughter Jeanette said it was a white van following them, so I went to the door,” she said. “But, I didn't see the no white van."
Everyone ate together, but later the twins are in need of city bus fare, so they leave the house again to get money from their godfather. The family recalled the time being around 3 p.m.
Although they made it from their godfather's house, they never returned.
Dannette and Jeannette stopped at the corner of 12th Street and Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard on their way back. It's called Augusta Mart now, but it used to be the Pump N Shop in 1990. It was the last place they were reportedly seen alive.
"I didn't know what to think -- whether they was you know alive or," Mary paused. "Because I know they didn't run away. I do know that."
Call it a mother's intuition. She says something happened to her girls.
The white van lurking the second time they left home might be the answer to the third when they vanished.
"It was somebody that said they got into a white van, but I don't know if that was true. They could've been forced in."
After 29 years, they still don't have all the facts. After 29 years, they say they still don't have proof of a strong investigation.
But they do have theories. One of them involves a man named Joseph Patrick Washington. He was an Augusta serial killer in the 90’s. He was known for his arrest in connection to a series of assaults and kidnappings that law enforcement linked to deaths of women in Richmond and Aiken counties.
Washington died in prison in 1999 after being sentenced to roughly 17 consecutive life sentences.
But it's unclear whether this theory was thoroughly investigated. In fact, just like Mary and Shanta Sturgis, we know little about the leads police investigated.
"That's one thing,” Shanta said, chuckling. “I don't know. I don't know what they have.”
It's been a struggle to muster faith, but as unlikely as faith is tangible, it's been the only thing they've had to hold onto.
Our I-Team checked with both the GBI and FBI. The GBI says they were not called in to assist with this missing persons case.
"The FBI's Augusta Resident Agency has communicated with investigators about this case in the past, however we are not actively assisting in this case,” an FBI statement said.
In the decades that pain lingered and questions still loomed, Mary says she only recalls a handful of times she's talked with Richmond County investigators. The most recent time was about one month ago she claims.
"They asked me did I know these people, I didn't know who they was,” Mary said.
Mary explained to our I-Team she was questioned about two men, but their names were not familiar. It was another dead end in her book.
While the bells of justice don't seem to be ringing, the family will keep sounding the alarm for answers.
"They're my sisters, but they're her daughters, you know,” Shanta said. "When you birth two kids at the same time, and then they grow up to 15 years old and now they're 45 years old and you haven't seen them since they were 15, that's hard. Really hard."
And she's right, it's incredibly hard for Mary.
"I pray for them,” Mary said. “For God to keep them safe, and, you know, bring them back to us."
A documentary exploring this case is hoping to expose a new connection. It will air on the Oxygen Channel on Nov. 23.
Here's what a media representative sent us: