Crime History, Feb. 26, 1980: Jim Jones cult defectors found dead inside Berkley home

Jeannie and Al Mills

Jeannie and Al Mills

On this day, Feb. 26, in 1980, Jeannie Mills, an early defector from the cult founded by Jim Jones, was murdered along with her husband and daughter in Berkley, Calif.

Mills and her family had sought police protection because they had received death threats for turning their backs on Jones’ Peoples Temple organization. They left the group in 1975 after Jones beat a daughter 70 times with a paddle for a minor infraction. 

In 1978, Jones led more than 900 followers, including 303 children, to their deaths in a mass murder-suicide in Jonestown, Gayana. Those that did not to kill themselves by drinking cyanide-laced punch, were shot to death or forcibly poisoned.

An audiotape of the suicide captured Jones telling surviving followers to take revenge on the Mills family, “The people in San Francisco will not take our death in vain.”

Mills, and her husband Al, had started an organization to help people defect from the religious cults, and in 1979, she wrote a book about her experiences called “Six Years with God.”

In 1980, the couple and their daughter Daphene, 15, were found shot dead in their home. All three had been shot in the head with a .22-caliber weapon.

Their teenage son, Edward Mills, 17, told investigators that he was unaware of the killings. Investigators found gunpowder residue on his hands but lacked sufficient evidence to prosecute, so they released him.

Berkley police reopened the case in 2001, using new technology to examine forensic evidence collected from the crime scene. Two years later, police issued a warrant for Edward Mills in connection to the killings.

In 2005, U.S. Customs officials arrested Mills after returning from Japan. But he was released several days later after prosecutors decided there wasn’t enough evidence to pursue the case against Mills.

The case remains unsolved.

— Scott McCabe



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