One of Lakeland’s most infamous cold cases is will hit primetime as CBS investigates the murder of Linda Slaten.
CBS’s “48 Hours” will broadcast “The Betrayal of Linda Slaten” at 10 p.m. Saturday on CBS and will also stream on Paramount+. Contributor Jim Axelrod reports on how detectives and a DNA genealogist were able to solve the murder.
Slaten’s two sons, Jeff and Tim, started a public campaign to find their mother’s killer after the case went cold. They have spoken with The Ledger multiple times over the years, never suspecting the person responsible was someone who’s photo Tim Slaten had hanging on the wall — his former football coach Joseph Mills.
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On Sept. 4, 1981, Lakeland resident Linda Slaten, then 31, was murdered inside her North Brunner Parkway apartment – raped then strangled with a metal coat hanger.
Slaten’s sister, Judy, was first to notice something was amiss. She came by the apartment for coffee that morning and noticed the screen to Slaten’s bedroom window has been popped out.
Lakeland Police detective Edgar Pickett arrived at the murder scene and recalled for The Ledger how a racist remark made at the scene caused him to investigate it differently, feeling others were watching him.
Despite DNA evidence, the case went cold. Slaten’s murder became one of 22 unsolved cases at Lakeland Police Department by May 2005. The department hired additional employees for its violent crimes unit freeing up Detective Brad Grice to work exclusively on cold cases. Grice told The Ledger that Slaten’s case became his priority.
In 2006, the Slaten brothers added $8,000 to the existing $2,000 reward already offered by Crime Stoppers looking for information that would lead to their mother’s killer.
Though the Lakeland Police Department has a list of 35 unsolved homicides and cold cases by March 2015, Jeff and Tim Slaten hold out hope their mother’s killer will be found.
Grice, who worked on the case for over a decade, retired and handed it over to Detectives Scott Kercher and Russ Hurley. The two detectives retrieved preserved DNA evidence from storage in February 2016 hoping to solve the case.
In November 2018, the police department received a call from Florida Department of Law Enforcement in Orlando asking if they wanted to send over the DNA evidence in Slaten’s murder for further testing.
More than 38 years later, Lakeland police arrested Mills, now 58, on Dec. 12, 2019, to charge him with the murder of Linda Slaten. New DNA technology offered by Parabon Nanolabs had matched Mills’ DNA from a June genetic genealogy report.
In February 2022, Mills, 61, pled guilty to four charges including sexual assault and first-degree murder of Linda Slaten. Mills was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
A sneak preview of CBS’s 48 Hour piece to air Saturday can be watched online at www.cbsnews.com/video/sneak-peek-the-betrayal-of-linda-slaten.
Sara-Megan Walsh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 863-802-7545. Follow on Twitter @SaraWalshFl.
This article originally appeared on The Ledger: Lakeland cold case to be featured on CBS’s ’48 Hours’