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Should Law Enforcement Be Following Up On The Leads Uncovered In 'Disappearance of the Millbrook Twins’?
A prison informant claims he knows what happened to Jeannette and Dannette Millbrook. Are officials investigating this lead?
Dannette and Jeannette Millbrook, a pair of 15-year-old African American twins, vanished off the street near their home in Augusta, Georgia on March 18, 1990. Despite being one of the few cases of missing twins in American history, their disappearance gained little media attention and many question whether it was properly investigated. For decades, their family pleaded for help, but the case went cold.
The Richmond County Sheriff’s Office decided the twins were runaways back in the early 1990s, despite their mother’s protestations they wouldn’t have left on their own volition.
The case was reopened in 2013 after newly-elected sheriff Richard Roundtree took the helm, and a 2017 podcast, The Fall Line, brought more attention to the missing girls.
Most recently, former Federal Prosecutor Laura Coates and former Homicide Detective Page Reynolds took a fresh look at the case for Oxygen’s “Disappearance of the Millbrook Twins.”
During their investigation, they came across a startling piece of possible evidence. The makers of the “Fall Line” told them that they received a letter from a man named Ernest Vaughns who stated that he knew what happened to the twins.
Brooke Hargrove, one of the podcasters, said that she didn’t want to bungle the investigation, so she passed on the letters to the Richmond County Sheriff’s Department and followed up with them.
“I called begging for them to look. This family has been waiting for answers, months are passing, and that was two years ago. And nothing has been done,” Hargrove told Coates and Reynolds.
Coates and Reynolds reached out to Vaughns himself, who is currently serving life at Dodge State Prison in Georgia for murder. Vaughns killed one man in 1996 and the twins’ dad John Millbrook helped him get rid of that body, according to court documents. Then, three weeks later Vaughns murdered another man for supposedly knowing too much about the first murder, according to court documents.
In a phone call, Vaughns claimed he spent time at John Millbrook’s home in the early 1990s when he was a 12-year-old drug dealer. He said that Millbrook had a substance abuse problem and allowed drug dealers to use his place as a drug dealing operation. Vaughns claimed that one of the twins got intoxicated while the two were at their dad’s home and that some of the men — he said there was eight to nine present— at the apartment took advantage of her. The other twin "saw this and she see how it was going down and nobody was saying nothing, and she said something,” Vaughns said.
While he didn’t specify which twin was which, Dannette was known to be protective of her sister Jeannette, who was more shy.
Vaughns said he watched one of the men hit the outspoken twin. She fell back and her head hit a table and it busted open, according to his account. Then, Vaughns said he heard one of the twins screaming and some of the people present told him and others to leave. He said he was told to come back inside when “things got quiet.”
“I don’t think them girls alive,” Vaughns said, adding that he believes their bodies could be at Merry Brothers Brickyard in Augusta. He gave a few street names of people involved that night.
This information was passed on to the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office and they recognized the street names as criminals from the 1990s.
“These are names when I started my career early on and I worked street level in narcotics unit and these were common names of individuals we arrested in several occasions.” Sheriff Richard Roundtree told Coates and Reynolds. “What blows me away is these are names you can’t make up.”
Authorities confirmed to producers on “The Disappearance of the Millbrook Twins” that one of the men named by Vaughns is currently in prison for an unrelated murder, and that the other was paralyzed in a police shooting in 1992.
As a result of the information provided by Coates and Reynolds, the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office assigned new investigators to the case and sent them to interview Vaughns at Dodge State Prison in Georgia.
“This is something I guarantee we will have extreme follow up on,” Sheriff Roundtree told Coates and Reynolds. “You guys have given us more in the little time we’ve spent together than they’ve had in 30 years.”
After interviewing Vaughns, investigators told producers that while parts of Vaughns’ account seemed credible, the facts he presented about the twins were not and investigators believed that Vaughns could be describing a different crime. Producers say authorities told them they will not be pursuing the lead from Vaughns any further.
Why do they think Vaughns is describing a different crime? According to producers, because of his description of one of the men he says was involved.
Show producers told Oxygen.com that Vaughns said one of the men allegedly involved was in a wheelchair at the time of the alleged murders in 1990. But that man wasn’t paralyzed in the police shoot out until 1992.
“Ernest Vaughns could be lying about parts of the story, but there’s no question that he was part of the criminal element in August at the time the twins went missing. It’s entirely reasonable to believe that he may know what truly happened,” said David Karabinas, an executive producer on the show. “Just because he may be lying about parts, doesn’t mean at its core what he’s saying isn’t true, and certainly worth exhausting every lead associated with it.”
Producers also pointed out that it seemed reasonable that Vaughns, who was 12 at the time, could misremember a detail about someone who would have been in a wheelchair for most of Vaughns’ adult life, and they thought this minor discrepancy shouldn’t derail the investigation.
Producers spoke to investigators on Sept. 26 and said they would not be following up with anyone else. Producers believe one of the men Vaughns claims was involved died on Sept. 29.
Coates and Reynolds spoke to Shanta Strugis, a sister of the twins, about the investigation. She’s been fighting for justice for her sisters for nearly 30 years.
Sturgis said that she’s reached out to April Kettels, Vaughns’ daughter, and asked her to ask him again if he’s telling the truth about what happened to Jeannette and Dannette. According to Sturgis’s account from Kettels, Vaughns not only said that he was telling the truth, but claimed the investigators pressured him to say his early account was a lie.
When Coates and Reynolds later went back to Sheriff Roundtree and asked him if investigators were putting pressure on Vaughns to recant, he denied Vaughns’ accounts.
“I think that’s preposterous to even repeat,” Roundtree said. “That does not even sound believable. That actually is offensive to law enforcement everywhere.”
Sturgis said she’s again having trouble getting law enforcement to call her back and look into any leads. Coates and Reynolds are frustrated at the response from the Sheriff’s Office.
“I’m more frustrated today than when I started the investigation because what I see, in many ways, is history repeating itself,” Coates said. “In both contexts it leaves the family searching for answers.”