Who were Al and Jeannie Mills?

Al and Jeannie Mills – then known as Elmer and Deanna Mertle – joined Peoples Temple in 1969, and eventually rose to positions of responsibility within the church, with Deanna serving as head of the Temple’s publications office and Elmer as the official photographer.

In 1974, the Mills took their family and left the church, and soon 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.

In the immediate aftermath of the deaths in Jonestown, the Human Freedom Center offered itself as the stateside contact for survivors who had no place else to go.  Jeannie Mills especially resumed her activism in the 15 months following Jonestown. She spoke before numerous college classes and public meetings. She wrote a book, Six Years with God: Life Inside Reverend Jim Jones’s Peoples Temple.

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. Following a cold case investigation, Eddie was arrested 25 years later, in December 2005, but was released within days when the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office declined to file charges, citing a lack of evidence.

A more detailed account appears here.

Originally posted on May 25th, 2020.

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