BREAKING NEWS PG&E to turn off power to multiple counties starting midnight Full Story

A single mother was killed in 1981. Her son's youth football coach is now a suspect

Tim Slaten never lost hope that his mother's killer would be caught. But the last person he suspected of committing the crime was his youth football coach....

Posted: Dec 20, 2019 8:35 AM
Updated: Dec 20, 2019 12:45 PM

Tim Slaten never lost hope that his mother's killer would be caught. But the last person he suspected of committing the crime was his youth football coach.

Linda Slaten, 31, was strangled in her Lakeland, Florida, apartment in September 1981 while her children slept, Lakeland police said.

Nearly four decades later, authorities have zeroed in on a suspect: her son's former football coach, Joseph Clinton Mills, 58. Police interviewed Mills this month and arrested him last week. He is charged with first-degree murder, sexual battery and burglary with assault and battery.

Authorities used genetic genealogy to lead them to Mills, who occasionally took Slaten's youngest son home from football games and practices. Mills' arrest brought relief to Slaten's two sons, who looked over their shoulder in fear because they didn't know who could have killed their mother.

'He was the last person on my brain,' Tim Slaten told reporters on Thursday. 'We had all these other suspects for years.'

Mills is currently being held in Polk County Jail. His attorneys couldn't be reached for comment.

'I saw the crime scene'

Tim Slaten told police Mills, who was then a coach for Lakeland's volunteer football program, dropped him off at home the night before his mother was killed, according to an affidavit. Slaten, who was 12 and his 15-year-old brother Jeff, last saw their mother around midnight on September 4, the affidavit said.

Linda Slaten's partially-clothed body was found in her bed. A wire hanger was twisted around her neck, court papers said.

Authorities believed someone entered the apartment through an unsecured window where the screen had been removed, the affidavit said.

'I saw the crime scene. It's still burnt in my brain today,' Tim Slaten said.

Authorities couldn't match the DNA found on Linda Slaten's body to DNA in a law enforcement database.

Two days after the killing, Mills told police he had only met Linda Slaten once, the affidavit said.

He admitted to dropping Tim Slaten at home the night before his mother's body was found. She walked out to his car and thanked him for bringing her son home, Mills told police.

The search for a killer

Over the years, nearly two dozen detectives worked the case, Lakeland police Assistant Chief Mike Link said. Some tracked leads to Louisiana and North Carolina.

The Slaten brothers often stopped by Lakeland police department to get updates on the cold case. They got to know officers by name and became friends.

Jeff Slaten named his son after one detective 'because he really wanted to solve it pretty bad,' he said.

In 2014, Lakeland police started a cold case homicide team, Link said. Three years later, a detective began reviewing the case, Mink said.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement contacted Det. Tammy Hathcock in 2018 to ask if police were interested in submitting DNA from the crime scene to Parabon Nanolabs for additional testing, the affidavit said. The lab uses genetic genealogy to help find possible matches to DNA from crime scenes.

Test results pointed to Mills 'due to the fact genetic connections were found to both sides of his family tree' and he lived close to the crime scene, the affidavit said.

New DNA collected from Mills' trash matched the DNA on Linda Slaten's body, court papers said.

Fingerprints from Mills' unrelated arrest in 1984 matched finger prints taken from Slaten's window ledge, court papers said.

In an interview with detectives in early December, Mills said he didn't have a relationship with Slaten and had never been in her apartment, the affidavit said.

In an interview the following week, he told police Slaten had invited him to her home for a 'good time' after he dropped her son off on September 3, the affidavit said.

He returned the next morning and entered through an unlocked bedroom window and Slaten asked him to have 'wild' sex, he said.

Mills said 'Linda Slaten already had a wire hanger around her neck as she lay on the bed,' court papers said.

'Mills stated he twisted the wire hanger around her neck tighter and tighter,' during sex, the affidavit said. Slaten lost consciousness and never regained consciousness before he left through the window, Mills told police.

Mills said he learned about her death when detectives contacted him shortly after, court papers said.

A nightmare

Jeff Slaten said not knowing his mother's killer left him 'always scared to death I was friends with him.'

Tim Slaten said he 'trusted' the football coach he knew.

'I rode in the car with this guy -- months after the fact,' he said.

He and his brother said they were grateful to everyone who worked on the case.

'It's been a heck of a roller coaster and a ...' Tim Slaten said, pausing.

'Nightmare,' his brother said, finishing his sentence.

California Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 803660

Reported Deaths: 15516
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Los Angeles2657756488
Riverside581781189
San Bernardino53669922
Orange529041204
San Diego46001775
Kern31785361
Fresno28106382
Sacramento22026402
Alameda21028404
Santa Clara20882306
San Joaquin20194441
Stanislaus16452348
Contra Costa16327204
Tulare15897259
Ventura12617147
Imperial11781317
San Francisco1103899
San Mateo9785150
Monterey977270
Santa Barbara9003113
Merced8846140
Kings763177
Sonoma7320120
Marin6672117
Solano630963
Madera448165
Placer354244
San Luis Obispo351029
Butte280343
Yolo278955
Santa Cruz23199
Sutter169611
Napa166113
San Benito133111
Yuba11437
El Dorado10984
Mendocino89918
Shasta77717
Lassen7370
Glenn5743
Tehama5404
Lake53411
Nevada5317
Colusa5276
Humboldt5017
Calaveras31414
Amador29616
Tuolumne2274
Inyo18715
Mono1652
Siskiyou1650
Del Norte1391
Mariposa752
Plumas500
Modoc270
Trinity160
Sierra60
Alpine20
Unassigned00
Chico
Clear
79° wxIcon
Hi: 90° Lo: 68°
Feels Like: 79°
Oroville
Clear
76° wxIcon
Hi: 90° Lo: 68°
Feels Like: 76°
Paradise
Clear
79° wxIcon
Hi: 85° Lo: 64°
Feels Like: 79°
Chester
Clear
57° wxIcon
Hi: 75° Lo: 48°
Feels Like: 57°
Red Bluff
Clear
83° wxIcon
Hi: 91° Lo: 70°
Feels Like: 83°
Willows
Clear
79° wxIcon
Hi: 92° Lo: 71°
Feels Like: 79°
A RED FLAG WARNING will be in place Saturday night through Monday evening due to strong winds and dry weather predicted.
KHSL Severe
KHSL Radar
KHSL Temperatures

Community Events