“I’ve been in shock over it”: Sons of murder victim react to suspect’s arrest 38 years later

Polk County

LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) – Two brothers, bonded by decades of grief, spent 38 years presenting law enforcement with the names of potential suspects who killed their mother.

In all that time, they never suspected the man arrested by police this month.

“I’ve been in shock over it because this was somebody I was supposed to trust,” said Tim Slaten.

Slaten, now an adult, was 12 years old when his mother, Linda Slaten, was sexually assaulted and killed in their Lakeland apartment on N. Brunnell Parkway on Sept. 4, 1981.

“I saw the crime scene. It’s still burnt in my brain today. A lot of people didn’t see it, saw it in pictures. I saw first hand what he’d done. He’s a monster,” he said.

This month, police arrested Joseph Mills, 58, of Lakeland, using genetic genealogy to link him to the crime scene.

Joseph Clinton Mills
Courtesy of Lakeland Police Department

He was Tim Slaten’s youth football coach and drove Slaten home the night before his mother was found dead.

“This monster took her away from us. I want him to burn in hell forever,” said Jeff Slaten, Tim Slaten’s brother.

“I just want to take him fishing and I don’t fish,” said Tim Slaten.

The arrest required decades of classic investigative work and constantly improving technology.

Detectives turned to genetic genealogy, cross-referencing DNA on file with online ancestry databases to try and crack the case, working with a genetic DNA analysis company called Parabon Nanolabs.

“These are public databases that other people such as themselves have entered their DNA profiles and have opted in to allow law enforcement to search against,” said Donna Wallace, Chief of Forensic Services at Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Results came back in mid-2019 pointing to Mills as the likely killer. He was living in Lakeland and new DNA collected from his garbage matched that from Slaten’s rape kit, according to court documents.

Fingerprints taken when Mills was arrested in 1984 in an unrelated case also matched prints from the scene, police said.

Mills is now in jail, facing charges of first-degree murder and perjury.

“It’s been 38 years. But we got it closed for you,” said Lakeland Police Assistant Chief Mike Link to the Slaten brothers. “We never gave up on you. We never forgot about your mother. Always kept her in the back of our minds, always worked on the case for 38 years.”

The press conference announcing the arrest and detailing the genetic genealogy capabilities that lead detectives to their suspect was attended by several retired detectives who worked on the case, including Bradley Grice.

He worked on the case for 16 years before retiring in 2015.

“I’m glad that I’m still alive to see this because I was concerned that I might not ever get to see this,” he said.

Over the years, Grice got samples from potential suspects, sometimes traveling as far as Oklahoma and Texas.

Most of his work involved eliminating suspects.

Mills was questioned by detectives in the days following the murder.

“Mr. Mills was just a phone call from a detective originally. ‘Hey did you drop Tim off?’ ‘Yep.’ That kinda stuff, real generic. He was never on their radar so he certainly wasn’t on mine,” said Grice.

Grice grew close to the Slaten brothers, one of them named their son after him.

He informed the brothers that Mills was being arrested for murder.

“To be able to talk to them and just get their reaction from it, and so forth, very emotional for me and certainly them,” said Grice.

Jeff and Tim Slaten know one nightmare is behind them but now, a new chapter begins.

“It’s another rollercoaster gonna start,” said Tim Slaten.

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