BERKELEY — A surviving member of a Berkeley family some believed were murdered in 1980 because they defected from the People’s Temple cult has been arrested on suspicion of killing his parents and sister.
U.S. Customs detained Edward Michael Mills, 43, earlier this week on three counts of murder as he arrived at San Francisco International Airport from Japan, where he had been living. Police said they reopened the case two years ago and now have “new forensic evidence and subsequent interviews” to link Mills to the crime.
Al Mills, 51, his wife, Jeannie Mills, 40, and their daughter, Daphene Mills, 16, were shot in the head inside their home at 2731 Woolsey St. the evening of Feb. 26, 1980. The mother of Jeannie Mills, Mary Gustafson, 75, discovered the bodies and called police.
Edward Mills, 17 years old at the time, was not harmed. He told police he was watching television in another part of the tiny house and because he had been smoking marijuana heard nothing, according to published news accounts of the crime.
Edward Mills was later arrested on suspicion of murder, and tests revealed that a small amount of gunpowder residue was detected on his hands, according to news accounts. But themurder weapon was never found, and there was never enough evidence to charge Edward Mills with the crime.
Mills received $247,000 — nearly half his parent’s estate — following their death. Four sisters and a brother each inherited about $53,000.
At the time, Mills adamantly denied being involved in the triple killing.
The Berkeley couple had been under police protection because of threats made after they defected from the Rev. Jim Jones’ People’s Temple, an independent Pentecostal church founded in 1955. They left the People’s Temple after one of their daughters was beaten during a church service, and they later became two of the Temple’s most outspoken critics.
After leaving the People’s Temple, the Mills founded the Human Freedom Center to assist defectors from various cults.
They sought police protection following the Jonestown, Guyana, mass murder-suicide of 900 Temple followers in 1978 because they feared they were being sought by “hit squads” organized to kill them, according to news accounts of the slayings.
Berkeley police declined to release exactly what “forensic evidence or subsequent interviews” led them to issue a probable cause warrant for Edward Mills’ arrest. But according to one source, police re-interviewed several surviving members of the Mills family and asked them to hand over evidence linking Edward Mills to the crime.
Edward Mills was transported to the Berkeley city jail late Tuesday and booked on three counts of homicide without bail, police said. The Alameda County District Attorney’s Office is expected to review the case as early as today, said Officer Joe Okies, a police spokesman.