The Mystery of the Millbrook twins: Shanta Sturgis opens up about her heartbreaking 30-year search for her twin sisters
On Sunday, March 18, 1990 Dannette and Jeannette Millbrook, both 15, walked into a shop to buy some chips and a soda in Bethlehem, Georgia and vanished off the face of the Earth.
Shanta Sturgis remembers the day her 15-year-old twin sisters Dannette and Jeannette Millbrook went missing like it was just yesterday. A fine Sunday morning in March 18, 1990, they had just come home from church. A large family, their mother and siblings were sitting around talking about their day like they usually did. The pastor of the church had given their mother some money and she did what she could to get them by. Their financial circumstances were little better than dire.
The twins took some money from their mother and went to the Church's Chicken restaurant to get some food. They came home and mentioned that some guy in a white van had been following them, but it became passing conversation.
As the siblings ate, they got talking about how they would get to school. The family had just moved to Jennings Place from their previous home in the Bethlehem neighborhood of Augusta, Georgia. The school bus that took the twins to Lucy C. Laney High School, three miles away from Jennings Place, wouldn't ferry them back and forth anymore. But they really wanted to continue at Laney -- they just had a few days left to finish their semester at the school. They had been zoned for Josey High School in their new neighborhood.
Their mother suggested they visit their godfather Ted in Bethlehem and that he would give them money for the city bus. "There was no way my mom was going to let them walk, you know?" recalls Shanta in an exclusive interview with MEA WorldWide, who was then 12 years old. They walked out the door around 3pm -- Jeanette still in her church outfit comprising a blue pullover shirt over a white turtleneck with a beige skirt and white stockings and Dannette in a white Mickey Mouse tee, white jeans, and black shoes. It was March 18, 1990. They would never be seen again.
The day went by quickly, but as the darkness started creeping in, Shanta remembers her mother panicking. She called Ted and Shanta's sister Aceander who the twins had visited in the day. They had seen the girls but they didn't know where they were. They had dropped by and asked if their older sister could walk them home, but because she had just given birth, she declined. She also didn't have a car, Shanta says.
"My sister told mom that they went walking in the direction towards the plumber store," she recalls. The neighborhood was familiar to them and the store lady whose name was Gloria knew the Millbrook kids. She told them they had come, but had been gone in the next minute when she turned to ring another customer.
It will be 30 years in March next year that the twins went missing and there is no information of their whereabouts till this day.
"The man they mentioned didn't come in the neighborhood. I don't know if he was from there or if he was even actually the following them," she says. They thought he was just going in the same direction as they were walking. "but now that I think about it, they're not here. Who knows? The same person could have been following them. The only thing I can do is assume." But she knows one thing for certain, it wasn't the twins who were to blame.
She says so because they were blamed. The police labelled them runaways. The parents had to first wait for 24 hours to file a missing person's report, following which an investigator came by days later to ask questions. Then he handed the case off to a juvenile officer who went on to wrongly say that the girls had been in foster care and adopted. "Adopted!" says Shanta, laughing bitterly. They suspended the search a year later saying that by law, once they were 17 they weren't obligated to return home.
Out of the hundreds of ads that played on TV for missing white girls, one played for Dannette and Jeannette Millbrook, Shanta says, her voice filled with grief. They had no help and they still have very little even now.
They weren't bad kids, she says. "I used to sleep in the same room with these girls. We took baths, the jams, and we played outside together. We got up in the morning to get ready for school together. We went to bed at night together. I know I would have known if they were planning on running away from home," she says, perhaps exasperated from defending her missing sisters. So what made the investigators think they were runaways and that it was an open and shut case? Simply put, they were poor black girls, Shanta says.
"To be honest with you, I think he [the investigator] stereotyped going by the neighborhood we lived in, we were staying in a project. In all of the 23 years they put my sisters one time on TV," she says. Until this happened with her family she didn't realize just how deep the prejudice ran. "When black children go missing there is no media attention. Nobody knows anything about it even when the family puts it out there. My mom tried to get help," she says.
It was podcasts like 'The Fall Line' that really helped the story get attention.
The only incident with the twins was a bullying incident by another teen who was a relative of the principal at Lucy Laney. The original investigation misspelled their name as "Millbrooks" and Jeannette's middle name as "Latressa". The family's push to find the twins led to the case being reopened in 2013 and a reward from the sheriff's department and the family for information of their whereabouts was announced. However, since then, the police have not spoken about it.
The police rarely ever talk to them, says Shanta. "The only time we speak with the police is if we initiate the call and they tell us they going to do this, they gonna do that and they'll give us a call back...and we never hear from them until we call them again," she says. They didn't try to promote the reward, says Sturgis. "They didn't even put money into the reward to help push it. This came from the listeners of the The Fall Line," she says.
A loss like the one she's been through changes you. You can't make peace with it, there is just no way, she says. "I have a lot of sleepless nights. My mind is somewhere else. We didn't know we were going to wake up one day and never see my sisters again," she says pausing for a moment to gather herself, close to tears. A mother now, she clung to her children after she had them. She didn't want them going anywhere alone. "I don't know if they're going to be the last time I see them again," she says.
Her older sister who the twins visited on that fateful day always felt the guilt. They think about that all the time, she says, especially their mom. "If she had never let them be...they just wanted to go to school," she says. They were two weeks shy of their 16th birthday. A lot of their family members have passed away since then not knowing what happened to their bright, young girls. "I want my mom to be able to rest easy, knowing she found them or at least know what happened to them. I'm not going to stop until we do," she says.
Mary "Miss Louise" Sturgis, who is 64 years old now has kept the same phone number for 16 years just in case they called. She even stayed in the same apartment complex for a year, in case they came home.
The police officer who came to investigate was so "arrogant" says Shanta, that he blatantly told them he didn't care. He was convinced they were runaways. Had they investigated with due diligence they would have found the girls, she says. "He thought that if he would go find them and bring it back home, they would run away again. So he really couldn't care less, you know?" she says.
He laughed about it when the family asked if they were still alive. "He said that if we find dead twin girls, we'll come back and let you know. You're supposed to help the community and supposed to do all you can and take your job seriously," she says.
The case of the missing twins has been explored in podcasts like 'The Fall Line', 'My Favorite Murder', 'Thin Air', 'The Trail Went Cold' and 'Unresolved'. The twins would be in their mid-40s now.
Oxygen has an upcoming special on this extremely tragic case and she hopes it helps her find them. Three decades of no leads and no help from the police has not shaken her faith that she will one day know the truth.
"I'm still going on. The truth is out there somewhere, somewhere I don't know. I don't know who did what, if anything, I just know they are not here and we haven't seen them," she says laughing sadly, "They going to have to show me a dead body before I believe that they are gone."
'The Disappearance of the Millbrook Twins' premieres on Oxygen on November 23 at 7 pm PST.
Note: This interview was conducted ahead of the Oxygen special