Who murdered Al and Jeannie Mills?

The short answer is, no one knows.

Al and Jeannie Mills – who were known as Elmer and Deanna Mertle during their years in Peoples Temple – left the church in 1974 and became two of its most vocal critics. They founded the Human Freedom Center as a refuge for other Temple defectors and were active in the Concerned Relatives organization which was founded to focus media, political, and government pressure on Jim Jones. Because of their defections and their high-profile campaigns against him, Jones often lashed out at the Mills, calling them traitors and threatening retribution against them.

Three members of the Mills family – Al, Jeannie, and their daughter Daphene – were shot in their home in February 1980, more than a year after the deaths in Jonestown. Their murders raised the fear that Temple “hit squads” – ex-members who would supposedly avenge the deaths in the Jonestown community against its perceived enemies – had become active. Those rumors dissipated when the police turned their attention to 17-year-old Eddie Mills, a son who was in the house at the time of the shootings but who was left unharmed.

Other theories about the motive of the killings emerged – it was a drug deal gone bad; there were, in fact, former Temple members involved, but they were looking for Tim Stoen who had lived with the Mills for a short time; and, one conspiracy theory holds, once the FBI agents completed their interviews with the Mills’, as they had two days earlier, they killed the couple rather than let the family’s story leak – but none of them ever found traction.

The initial investigation was eventually shelved, until 2005, when the police re-interviewed several surviving members of the Mills family, asking them to turn over any evidence they may have of Eddie’s involvement. Family members answered police questions, but – since they maintain their belief in Eddie’s innocence – felt  there is no evidence to turn over to officials. The reason for the renewed “cold case” investigation was unknown, since apparently no new evidence was uncovered, nor have advances in forensics technology assisted in reviewing existing evidence.

Nevertheless, on December 3, 2005, Eddie was arrested at the San Francisco airport upon his return to the U.S. for the first time in several years. He spent several days in the Redwood City jail before being transferred to the East Bay. On December 8, the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office declined to file charges, citing a lack of evidence, and Eddie was released. He returned to Japan where he lives with his wife and two children.

For coverage of Eddie’s arrest, click here. For a story about the police officer who pursued the case – and who focused his attention on Eddie – click here. For a 2015 recapitulation of the Mills’ story, click here. For earlier news stories of the Mills’ 1980 murders, click here.

Originally posted on June 15th, 2013.

Last modified on August 2nd, 2016.
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