The Lakeland Police Department said Joseph Clinton Mills, 58, has been arrested on charges he raped and killed Linda Patterson Slaten on Sept. 4, 1981, when she was 31.

LAKELAND — Detectives solved the 1981 murder of a woman by using advanced DNA testing to discover the suspect was the football coach of one of her sons, police said.


The Lakeland Police Department said Joseph Clinton Mills, 58, has been arrested on charges he raped and killed Linda Patterson Slaten on Sept. 4, 1981, when she was 31. Slaten was found strangled with a wire hanger around her neck and partially undressed. There didn't appear to be signs of struggle in the bedroom, but the window was not locked and the screen had been removed.


“He was my football coach and I trusted this man. He would take me to the games and brought me home afterwards,” Linda Slaten’s son, 50-year-old Tim Slaten, told reporters at a news conference.


Mills was a coach for the Lakeland Volunteers football program. The night before Slaten was found dead, he picked Tim up for football practice and dropped him off again in the evening. Mills continued to drive Tim to and from practice after his mom's death, Tim Slaten said Thursday.


Authorities could not match the DNA collected during Linda Slaten's autopsy to any law enforcement databases back in 1981.


The Tampa Bay Times reported that a Florida Department of Law Enforcement official asked Lakeland detectives in 2018 to submit DNA collected from the 1981 murder to Virginia-based Parabon Nanolabs. The company uses genealogy databases to look into the possible suspect’s familial line.


The company released a report in June supporting the case that Joseph Mills was a likely suspect, saying genetic connections were found to both sides of his family tree, the newspaper said.


Detectives started monitoring his home to collect DNA using cotton swabs, adhesive patches, colostomy bags and a plastic spoon. Authorities also found that fingerprints taken from Slaten's window were a match to Mills' prints taken after an unrelated arrest in 1984.


Mills initially said under oath that he hadn't been inside Slaten's apartment and had never had sex with her, The Ledger reported. But in a statement to detectives, he admitted he had crawled through her bedroom window, and had “wild” sex while twisting a wire hanger around her neck until she lost consciousness.


Jail records did not list an attorney for Mills.