A popular crime documentary series has dug deeper into the heartbreaking true story of a mother of two who was raped and strangled to death in her own house by a man her son praised as a hero.
Linda Slaten, 31, was discovered dead in her Lakeland, Florida, apartment in 1981, with a wire coat hanger wound around her neck.
Her two boys, who were sleeping in the house at the time of the mu*rder, had to wait nearly four decades for answers after the case went cold.
But they were astounded to learn that their trusted football coach, Joseph Clinton Mills, whose photo had hung on the wall for years, had been responsible for their mother’s horrific death.
Following an episode of 48 Hours that probed The Betrayal of Linda Slaten, FEMAIL has revealed the frightening details surrounding the case.
According to the 48 Hours episode, the horrible narrative began on September 4, 1981, when Linda’s younger sister, Judy Butler, walked to the family’s apartment to ask if the mother of two wanted to have coffee together.
There was no response, but when Judy began to walk back to her own house, which was only three houses down, she discovered Linda’s bedroom window’s screen was missing.
She peered inside and was shocked to see her sister’s lifeless body laying across the bed, saying, ‘At first, I thought maybe she was asleep, and then I just started screaming.’
When police came, they discovered Linda with her dress pulled down from the top and up from the bottom, and a wire coat hanger around her neck.
Her pants and shoes were found on the rug, and detectives claimed she was bleeding from her vagina.
Detectives, who described the scene as ‘brutal, wicked, and terrible,’ admitted that there were no evidence of struggle in the room, but the window was not closed and the screen had been removed.
Her children, Jeffrey, then 15, and Timothy, then 12, who were sleeping at the time of the incident, were escorted out of the house.
However, Timothy caught a peek of the terrifying scene.
‘I saw the entire crime scene,’ he said, fighting back tears. My mother’s bloodied body was wrapped in a coat hanger around her neck. I can still see it.’
‘I [would have] died that night attempting to save my mum, but I didn’t hear anything, and it’s very hard to live with that,’ Jeffrey added.
Linda’s family of three had only moved into the Lakeland flat two weeks before her death.
Her body was sent to Lakeland General Hospital, where medical personnel performed an autopsy and a sexual assault kit.
Authorities were also able to extract a palm print from Linda’s bedroom window, through which the assailant had gotten in.
Linda’s ex-husband, Frank Slaten, as well as her boyfriend at the time, and even 15-year-old Jeffrey, became persons of interest due to their history of abuse towards her.
However, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement was unable to identify the perpetrator, and the case finally became cold due to a lack of new leads.
‘It’s been tough for me my whole life not knowing who it is,’ Jeffrey added. I was friends with him while being terrified of him… ‘We are continually looking over our shoulders.’
Both boys sought to move on with their lives after moving in with their grandparents, and Timothy continued to show remarkable promise as a football player with the support of coach Joseph Clinton Mills.
The then-20-year-old, known as Joe to most, was believed to be quite helpful and continued to offer Timothy lifts to practise – a practise that had begun long before Linda’s death.
Timothy even proudly put a photograph of his teammates and coach on his bedroom wall, taken one month after the mur*der.
However, over four decades passed before the inquiry was reopened in November 2018 when detectives contemplated employing genetic genealogy.
Genetic genealogy compares unknown DNA to public genealogy databases populated by relatives who willingly submit their DNA.
After analysing the DNA of the unnamed suspects, Parabon NanoLabs analysts informed authorities that the most likely suspect was, in fact, Coach Joe, who was 58 at the time.
‘Joseph should be strongly evaluated because genetic connections to both sides of his family tree were discovered, and he was residing in close proximity to the location of the crime in 1981,’ according to the report.
Authorities checked Mills trash in the summer of 2019 and discovered DNA samples that matched those contained in Linda’s sexual assault kit.
They were also able to match Mills’ fingerprints from 1984, when he was convicted of grand theft for forging a will, to those found on Linda’s window ledge.
When Mills was first interviewed in 1981, which was conducted over the phone, he told authorities that he saw the victim briefly when he drove Timothy home from football practice that evening.
Mills, a Lakeland Volunteers football coach, said Linda approached his car to thank him for bringing her kid home.
He informed police he had departed and hadn’t returned to his flat that night, so authorities opted not to pursue him any further.
Mills modified his account during an interview after his arrest in December 2019 and in light of additional evidence.
According to prosecution filings, Mills told police that after he dropped Timothy off that night, Linda ‘offered an open invitation to come to her apartment for a “good time.”
He reportedly told authorities that he returned to Linda’s house in the early hours of September 4 and entered through an unsecured bedroom window, stating that ‘Linda asked him to engage in “wild” sex.’
‘When Mills entered Linda Slaten’s bedroom, Linda already had a wire hanger around her neck as she lay on the bed,’ she said.
‘Mills alleged that while engaging in sexual intercourse with Linda Slaten, he tightened the wire hanger around her neck tighter and tighter until she lost consciousness,’ ABC News reported.
Mills allegedly informed cops that he escaped through the window before Linda’s body was discovered.
Authorities disputed Mills’ assertion that the encounter was consensual, claiming that there was evidence of a foreign object being used in the sexual assault and that Linda had cuts consistent with a struggle to remove the wire from her neck.
Mills eventually pleaded guilty to first-degree mu*rder and sexual battery, and he was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of release.
‘I’ve been carrying the ki*ller’s image in my house this whole time and never had a clue,’ Jeffrey said of the conclusion. He’s a heartless monster, to be sure.’