I-TEAM UPDATE: After TV documentary, Sheriff Richard Roundtree reacts, talks leads in Millbrook twins case
Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2019
News 12 at 6 O’Clock/NBC at 7
AUGUSTA, GA (WRDW/WAGT) – AUGUSTA, GA (WRDW/WAGT) – Richmond County Sheriff Richard Roundtree has plenty to say following an Oxygen documentary on the missing Millbrook twins.
“The Oxygen documentary was an edited documentary,” Roundtree said. “If we weren’t committed to solving the case – we were the ones who re-opened it – the case lay dormant for 25 years until the family came to us.”
Roundtree says the documentary did not reflect the interview he did with the network.
Dannette and Jeannette Millbrook would be almost 45 years old today. They disappeared from Augusta when they were 15.
Since then, the case was closed, re-opened, and now remains cold. But colder than this case are the chilling details unraveling nearly 30 years later.
Mostly how the serial killer Joseph Patrick Washington had some ties to the girls’ father, John Millbrook. John Millbrook has been linked to crimes in Richmond County dating back to the 90s.
“I know, but I didn’t know all that [at the time],” the girls’ mother, Mary Sturgis, said. “I didn’t know all that.”
Our I-Team's first investigation shed light on Washington, a convicted killer charged with murders, kidnapping, and sexual assaults on black women in the 90s. He died in prison in 1999. He was sentenced to a least 17 consecutive life sentences for his crimes while waiting on a death-penalty case to proceed. Washington died before that case was prosecuted.
But his crimes still have lives of their own.
Sturgis says she now knows Washington was affiliated with the twins' father through a life of alleged crime and drugs.
It's unclear if his own affiliations played any role in the disappearance of his daughters.
“I don’t think he harmed them,” Sturgis said, “but I don’t think he helped either.”
The day her daughters vanished, she confided in her ex, John. At the time, she didn’t think much of his response.
“He just said I shouldn’t be looking for them because they’re with some man,” Sturgis said.
While that response seemed ambiguous at that time, now his responses are even more unclear. John is in a nursing home with dementia. Both Sturgis and police say they can't get clear answers out of him.
"I can't really say his involvement or non-involvment,” Roundtree said. “He was involved in some other horrific crimes here in Richmond County.”
If hindsight is 20/20, the brush of history strokes even more clarity.
Years after the twins went missing, John's alleged criminal behavior caught up to him. He pleaded guilty for concealing a murder -- a murder Ernest Vaugnhs was convicted of. While that case has no connection to the missing Millbrook sisters, it does intertwine a community.
Vaughns claims he, the twins, and few other others were at John's house partying the day of the disappearance. He alleged an argument happened, and he thinks the twins were taken from house, killed, and dumped in the Brickyard Pond area.
Have investigators searched that area?
“No, not at all,” Roundtree said. “Based on the information they got, it was from the person whose information turned out to not be credible.” Adding, the brickyard is such a vast area they’d need a specific location to narrow down the search. The sheriff says they never got a specific location and that tipster, Vaughns, was not credible.
So what is credible? Roundtree says not much so far. Most leads have hit a dead-end. But let's go back to another lead: Joseph Patrick Washington.
Remember the twins left home three times on March 16, 1990. The connection could be between the second and third. In part one of our cold case investigation, the family told us the twins mentioned a white van following them on their way back home from buying food at Churches Chicken on Milledgeville Road. Back then, Sturgis says when she looked out the door once the twins made it inside the home, there was no white van.
We don't know if Washington had anything to do with the white van spotted in the area. But we do know, based on district attorney files reviewed by the I-team, he had different cars, different tools, and different weapons he used during kidnappings, murders, and sexual assaults.
But the MO is the same: harming young black women across town around the same time Dannette and Jeannette went missing.
“But there is nothing in our investigative tools that can tie those two cases together,” Roundtree said. “Now are they related? I can’t say with 100 percent certainty.”
Certainty seems to be expensive for the family who lived in the projects of Cooney Circle. For a family who could not even afford their own dinner on the day the twins went to get it, perhaps accountability can help pay for justice.
“I don’t think they’re doing nothing to try to look for them,” Sturgis said.
Roundtree defended the sheriff’s office, saying they’re the ones who re-opened the case.
“So why would we do all of that, then say we don’t want to help the family,” Roundtree said.
The difficulty with the perception of help – if you don’t see for yourself – the distance looks just as far away as answers in this case.
Do investigators even have any information or evidence to suggest the twins are alive?
“There is nothing in the investigation that we’ve gotten now that shows an activity in almost 30 years,” Roundtree said. “It’s highly unlikely based off my experience as an investigator. Do miracles happen? Yeah. We believe in them. We couldn’t do this job if we didn’t.”
“What I want them to know is I love my girls,” Sturgis said. “I don’t believe they’re dead.”
Since this case reopened 7 years ago, RCSO says they've only gotten a few tips -- clearly not enough to solve the case. The FBI tells us they've been in contact with Richmond County investigators on this. News 12 was also told, DNA of Dannette and Jeannette has been entered into the national database.
But still, the well of information is running dry.
Meanwhile, hope is prevailing for the family of the Millbrook twins.
If you know anything, call the sheriff’s office.