September 4, 1981 was the day these people say their childhood ended. Jeff Slayton and his younger brother Tim are woken up by police officers in Lakeland, Florida and told that their mother has been murdered. The police chase the boys outside, but Tim, still in his pyjamas, catches a glimpse of his mother. She was raped and strangled.
Tim Slayton told CBS News principal investigator and senior national correspondent Jim Axelrod, “I saw the whole crime scene right there as a 12-year-old kid.” “You can’t see it,” says Axelrod. Tim, with tears in his eyes, says he “still sees” the image of his dead mother and knows he always will.
To this day, the Slayton brothers feel grief and guilt for not hearing anything. That night, for not coming to his mother’s rescue. Jeff Slayton says, “I would have died trying to save my mom that night.” “But I haven’t heard anything. And it’s very hard to be with him.”
“48 Hours” and Axelrod report the story of the brothers’ search for justice in “The Betrayal of Linda Slayton” Saturday, December 3 at 10:01/9:01c on CBS and streaming on Paramount+.
Soon after the murder, Jeff and Tim move in with their grandparents. In those first scary days the whole family slept in the same room. It was his grandfather who rarely slept. He stood guard with a gun throughout the night.
A few weeks later, the boys were back at school, and Tim was back playing his favorite sport, football. “Just trying to live life again,” he says. His teammates and coach, “Coach Joe,” were always supportive, always rooting for him. Coach Joe, 20 at the time, was a young man Tim looked up to. He often took Tim out and about to soccer practice—a routine that had begun well before the murder.
For years, Tim Slayton proudly hung his team football picture in his bedroom, just one month after the assassination. The photo was also a reminder, he says, of something his mother had taught him: to keep moving forward and never give up.
After the murder, Lakeland investigators collected a rape kit and removed a palm print from Linda Slayton’s bedroom window, where the killer had entered. Detectives had questioned several suspects such as Linda’s abusive ex-husband, Frank Slayton. Even his own son, Jeff, became a person of interest, telling Axelrod, “Lackland police, they were questioning me all the time.”
But no one was charged. Soon, the case went cold and remained so for nearly four decades. Jeff Slayton says, he thought he would surely take his last breath without knowing who had killed his mother.
But remarkable advances in DNA technology renew hope, and a carefully stored rape kit reveals an unlikely suspect, Joseph Clinton Mills – Coach Joe.
Now those car rides to exercise took on a whole new meaning. So does Tim’s team football photo, which sickens him today. Because standing directly behind Tim is the man he once trusted and admired, Coach Joe. He often asked Tim how things were going. Was there any news? Was there a new clue? Coach Joe was talking to a 12-year-old boy who was trying to keep tabs on a murder investigation through the son of a murdered woman when he knew exactly who did it.
“I’ve been photographing the killer in my house this whole time and I’ve never had a clue.” He’s a cold-hearted monster, that’s for sure,” says Jeff.