My daughter, Liz, is now spending some time in the car. She left the retail advertising world about six months ago and is now the director of digital strategies for Clemson.
This has created one major change in her life. While at her old job she spent a lot of time flying; now she spends more time driving back and forth to work. It takes her about 40 minutes to get there, so she has time on her hands as she drives.
While I was at The Star, I found myself in the car often, as well. That’s when I discovered audiobooks. I have wiled away many an hour listening to my favorite authors – I’ll admit what I listen to most often could not be termed great literature, but it’s entertaining. (I did join a book club that forces me to listen to/read some better literature – well, some of the best sellers through the years, at least.)
And while I’ve tried to turn Liz on to audiobooks, she still prefers to read books in the “turn-the-page-yourself” form.
As a result, she’s taken a different approach. She listens to podcasts. I must admit that I had never listened to a single podcast in my life, until she started asking me questions.
You see, Liz has become a real fan of true crime podcasts. For those of you who know what I’m talking about, Liz’s favorites include "Serial," "The Shrink Next Door," "Dirty John," "Dr. Death," "The Fall Line" and her all-time favorite, "My Favorite Murder."
I still had not listened to any of these podcasts until she started asking questions.
You see, she recognized that I have lived during the time of many of the true crimes she’s hearing about for the first time.
I got a bit interested when she texted to ask if I’d ever heard of Jim Jones. She had not. She was shocked at the story of this cult leader who, in 1978, directed his followers in a mass murder/suicide. Nearly 1,000 followers died, including about 300 children. And many of them died by drinking poison-laced Kool-aid.
Liz was horrified at the details of Jones’ life and the eventual outcome of his evangelism.
For me, there was some small irony in her total unfamiliarity with Jones and his followers. The irony is that she has, more than once, used a phrase that I’m sure came out of the Jim Jones incident. For example, a diehard Carolina fan, Liz called me when she first interviewed for the job at Clemson, and she told me, “If I get this job, I will ‘drink the Kool-aid.’” She had no idea where the phrase originated.
The next podcast she called me about was a new review of the Natalie Wood case. Some may recall that actress Natalie Wood was married to Robert Wagner and was with him on their boat when she drowned in 1981. At the time, her death was deemed accidental. The renewed interest in the case – and resulting podcasts – came, in part, following a review of the case in 2012 that resulted in the local coroner instructing the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department to list the cause of death as “drowning and other undetermined factors.” Then in 2018 her then-husband Robert Wagner was named a “person of interest” in the renewed investigation.
But the case that really caught my interest was a podcast on the disappearance of the Millbrook twins of Augusta in 1990. I was surprised that I did not remember this case, although their names were vaguely familiar. Liz had been listening to a 2013 review of the case done by the folks at The Fall Line podcast.
I tried to find actual news stories from when the incident happened, but I couldn’t find anything. According to the little official information still in existence, 15-year-old Dannette and Jeannette Millbrook set out to visit family members and then stopped at a quick shop at the corner of 12th Street and Martin Luther King Boulevard on March 18, 1990. What happened from there is the mystery. They vanished. The family quickly became concerned and called the police, but they were told they’d have to wait 24 hours before the authorities would investigate. The details of the ensuing investigation are lost, because the original police file is missing. According to family, the girls had earlier told their mother that a man in a van was following them. (Serial killer Joseph Patrick Washington was apparently active in the Millbrooks’ neighborhood at the time, though the family was never told that. In 1995 Washington was sentenced to 17 consecutive life sentences for various abductions, sexual assaults and murders.)
The Millbrook case was closed in 1991, but no one can say exactly why. One officer reported the girls had been found but wouldn’t tell their mother where or how. Through the years the family has been told the girls had been placed in foster care, then they were told at some point the girls were old enough that there was no need to tell the family anything.
The Fall Line brought renewed interest and even help with a reward, but so far nothing has come of it. The podcast even brought in a possible Aiken County connection with a girl who was abducted in this area and found dead near Columbia – she was never identified.
The Augusta/Richmond County Sheriff has promised to reopen the Millbrook case. It will be interesting to see if anything comes of it.
When Liz was listening to this podcast, she texted me to ask if I knew anything about the case. I happened to be driving to Charleston and back that day, so it was several hours before I responded. As a result I got a second text that said, “You haven’t responded and now I’m nervous ...”
When I did finally reply, she texted, “Just when I didn’t hear back, my mind raced.” And she added, “I listen to too much true crime.”
Maybe so, my child, maybe so.