Murder of April Tinsley

April Marie Tinsley (March 18, 1980[2] – April 1, 1988) was an eight-year-old girl from Fort Wayne, Indiana, United States, who was kidnapped, raped, and murdered in 1988. Her killer left several anonymous messages and notes in the Fort Wayne area between 1990 and 2004, openly boasting about April's murder and threatening to kill again.

April Marie Tinsley
Photograph of April Tinsley
BornMarch 18, 1980
DiedApril 1, 1988 (aged 8)
Fort Wayne, Indiana, U.S.
Cause of deathAsphyxiation[1]
Body discoveredApril 4, 1988 Spencerville, Indiana, U.S.
Resting placeGreenlawn Memorial Park, Fort Wayne, Allen County, Indiana, U.S.
41°03′45″N 85°13′45″W / 41.06250°N 85.22917°W / 41.06250; -85.22917
Known forVictim of child murder

Via forensic genealogy, the Fort Wayne Police Department (FWPD) identified April's murderer as John Miller in July 2018. On December 21,[3] Miller pleaded guilty and was sentenced to eighty years in prison on the charges of child molestation (rape) and murder.[4]

April's case was investigated by the FWPD and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and was covered in the television series America's Most Wanted, Crime Watch Daily and The Genetic Detective, and on the cable network Investigation Discovery.[5]

Kidnapping and murder edit

April Tinsley was a member of the children's choir at the Faith United Methodist Church,[6] and a second-grader attending Fairfield Elementary School.[2] On April 1, 1988, Good Friday, she was playing with two of her friends, and they were moving between houses.[7] Tinsley went back to retrieve her umbrella[7] and then disappeared around 3:00 pm.[8]

John Miller, who later pleaded guilty to murdering Tinsley, said he had planned to kidnap a child, but he had not seen April before abducting her. He said that he asked her to get into his car, and he took her to his trailer where he raped and killed her. At night, he took her body to a ditch.[9]

Tinsley's mother reported her daughter missing to the police when she did not arrive home for dinner that night.[10] The initial search for Tinsley included 250 Fort Wayne police officers and 50 volunteers.[11]: 125  A witness later reported seeing a white man in his 30s forcing a girl believed to be Tinsley into his blue pickup truck.[12]

A jogger found Tinsley's body on April 4, 1988, in a ditch just west of Spencerville, Indiana.[13] Near the site, investigators found one of Tinsley's shoes and a sex toy in a shopping bag.[10] A motorist later reported seeing a blue pickup truck near this site.[11]: 126  Tinsley's autopsy report suggested she had been raped and then strangled to death.[8] The report determined that she had been dead for about one or two days before she was discovered and that she had been placed in the ditch four hours before this discovery.[11]: 125–6 

Two local radio stations established a reward fund on April 5, 1988. Additional funds were established for Tinsley's burial and her family.[14] Tinsley's memorial service was held on April 8, 1988, at the Faith United Methodist Church,[14] and she was buried in the Greenlawn Memorial Park.[2]

Investigations edit

The early police investigation led authorities to a 34-year-old suspect, who was charged with child molestation in a separate case but was acquitted of those charges the next month.[11]: 126  Ninety members of the Fort Wayne community formed the volunteer group APRIL (Associated Parents Regional Independent League, or later Abduction Prevention Reconnaissance and Information League) on April 20, 1988, to help police solve cases involving missing children.[14][11]: 127 

On June 24, 2005, the Tinsley family held a press conference at the Allen County Courthouse asking for leads in the case.[14] In June 2009, Indiana authorities asked the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) task force Child Abduction Rapid Deployment (CARD) to help them solve the murder.[7]

Map of Allen County, Indiana, depicting locations of Tinsley's abduction, her body discovery, and the notes left by her murderer between 1990 and 2004
The message discovered in St. Joseph Township in May 1990 referencing Tinsley's death

On May 21, 1990,[12] police found a message on a St. Joseph Township[14] barn reading, "I kill 8 year old April M Tinsley," and "did you find the other shoe haha I will kill again."[10] The message was written with crayons that were found near the barn.[15] Investigators initially believed it could be connected to the murder of 7-year-old Sarah Jean Bowker, whose body was found on June 14, 1990, in Fort Wayne.[14] Local and state police formed a homicide team in April 1991 to investigate Tinsley and Bowker's cases.[16] On August 7, 1991, the FBI's Behavioral Science Unit determined that, although Tinsley and Bowker's cases were similar, they were ultimately unrelated.[14][17]

During the Memorial Day weekend in 2004, four notes were found in the Fort Wayne area that are believed to have been written by Tinsley's murderer.[18] Three of these notes were left on girls' bicycles, and another one was left in a mailbox.[15] Three notes were placed in plastic bags, along with used condoms and Polaroid pictures of a man's lower body.[10] One of these notes read, "Hi honey... I been watching you....I am the same person that kidnapped an rape an kill april tinsley, ... You are my next victim....if you don't report this to police an if I don't see this in the paper tomorrow or on the local news...I will blow up your house." [sic][19] The DNA from the condoms matched the police's DNA profile of the suspect, leading investigators to believe the incidents were connected.[20]

In April 2009, the television program America's Most Wanted ran a segment on Tinsley's case and asked for tips.[21] The investigative series Crime Watch Daily covered the murder in an episode that aired in 2016.[10][19] Tinsley's case was featured in an episode of On the Case with Paula Zahn that aired on July 15, 2018, just hours after an arrest was made in the case.[15][22] On October 26, 2018, the Indiana State Police honored three Fort Wayne investigators for helping authorities identify John D. Miller as a suspect in the Tinsley case.[23]

Police profile of the suspect edit

Soon after the murder, police released a composite sketch of the suspect based on the account of a person who said they saw Tinsley's kidnapper.[19] On April 26, 1988, police sent DNA samples of Tinsley and five suspects to a private lab in Germantown, Maryland, for profiling, giving inconclusive results.[14]

The FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit created a profile of the suspect in 2009, describing him as a "Preferential Child Sex Offender", meaning "he has a long-term and persistent sexual desire for children."[24] The profile described the murderer as a white male, then in his 40s through 50s, living or working in northeast Fort Wayne/Allen County with a low to medium income.[11]: 129 

In June 2015, the Virginia-based company Parabon released a "Snapshot" composite sketch of the suspect based on information from his DNA.[25] Police released an updated version of this sketch in early May 2016.[26][19]

Perpetrator edit

John D. Miller
Born (1959-07-07) July 7, 1959 (age 64)[27]
OccupationFormer Walmart employee
Conviction(s)Murder, child molestation
Criminal penalty80 years in prison

In May 2018, a Fort Wayne Police Department detective sent a sample of the suspect's DNA to the forensics company Parabon Nanolabs,[22] which used the genealogy website GEDmatch to identify the suspect's relatives.[28] On July 2, 2018, the genealogist CeCe Moore narrowed down the list of suspects to two brothers, including 59-year-old John D. Miller of Grabill, Indiana,[29][12] whose neighbors described him as secluded and often angry.[30] The police found used condoms in Miller's trash, and collected DNA that matched the suspect's DNA.[29]

Detectives approached Miller at his house on July 15, 2018, and asked him to come to talk with them at the police station. After advising him of his rights, investigators asked him if he knew why they wanted to talk to him. According to police, he replied, "April Tinsley."[12] During an interview at the police station, he confessed to the murder, saying he abducted Tinsley, raped her and choked her to death in his trailer.[31]

Officials charged him with murder, child molestation, and confinement, and he pleaded not guilty in a court hearing on July 19, 2018.[32] On December 7, 2018, Miller changed his plea to guilty, saying he raped Tinsley and strangled her with his bare hands.[33] He was sentenced to 80 years in prison: 50 years for murder and 30 years for child molestation.[34]

After sentencing, he was housed at the Indiana Department of Correction Reception Diagnostic Center in Plainfield. On January 16, 2019, he was moved to the New Castle Correctional Facility.[35] Miller's earliest possible release date is scheduled for July 15, 2058,[36] when he would be 99 years old.

Aftermath edit

In April 2015, in the Hoagland–Masterson neighborhood of Fort Wayne, construction started on a memorial dedicated to April's memory called "April's Garden".[37] On July 28, 2018, a memorial walk starting at this garden was held in honor of April.[38]

April Tinsley's mother held a balloon launch at April's Garden on April 4, 2018. This service was in remembrance of her daughter and other child victims of violence.[39][40] The following day, at Fairfield Elementary School, a pink magnolia tree and a bench were formally dedicated to April's memory. This dedication was followed by a candlelight vigil.[41][42]

In May 2019, nine investigators who had worked to secure the arrest and conviction of April's murderer became recipients of the National Association of Police Organizations (NAPO) national policing award. This award was in recognition of their tireless, collaborative efforts conducted over the span of 30 years to see April's murderer brought to justice. These investigators were from the Indiana State Police, the FBI, the Allen County Sheriff's Department, and the Fort Wayne Police Department. NAPO heralded them as being among the most eminent and dedicated officers in America.[43]

See also edit

References edit

  1. ^ "Indians Mom Remains Hopeful for Justice in 1988 Murder Case". Associated Press. April 2, 2018. Retrieved June 20, 2019.
  2. ^ a b c Esquivel Long, Lisa M. (April 5, 2018). "30 years later in Fort Wayne: Where is April Marie Tinsley's killer?". The News-Sentinel. Retrieved August 7, 2018.
  3. ^ "Sentencing moved up for man who pleaded guilty in death of April Tinsley". Fox 59. December 12, 2018. Retrieved January 8, 2023.
  4. ^ "Cold case closed: Tinsley killer sentenced". Archived from the original on December 21, 2018.
  5. ^ "America's Most Wanted: America Fights Back April Tinsley Killer". Retrieved December 8, 2021.
  6. ^ "April's memory still lives on for many". The Journal Gazette. July 22, 2018. Retrieved August 7, 2018.
  7. ^ a b c Broughton, Ashley (June 3, 2009). "FBI joins hunt for killer who leaves taunting notes". CNN. Retrieved August 7, 2018.
  8. ^ a b Green, Rebecca (July 15, 2018). "Arrest Made In April Tinsley Homicide Case". WFYI. Retrieved August 7, 2018.
  9. ^ Ivanson, Alyssa (January 25, 2019). "Tinsley detectives reveal new details about case, suspect". WANE-TV. Retrieved January 26, 2019.
  10. ^ a b c d e Swenson, Kyle (July 16, 2018). "After 30 years, police say they've captured a child-killer who left a sickening trail of taunts". The Washington Post. Retrieved August 7, 2018.
  11. ^ a b c d e f Thompson, Emily G. (2017). "April Tinsley (1988)". Unsolved Child Murders: Eighteen American Cases, 1956–1998. Exposit Books. pp. 124–130. ISBN 978-1-4766-7000-3.
  12. ^ a b c d "April Tinsley Case: Man Tied to 8-Year-Old's 1988 Murder Through Genealogy Website, DNA Technology: Cops". Inside Edition. July 16, 2018. Retrieved August 7, 2018.
  13. ^ "Police arrest suspect in 1988 murder of 8-year-old girl". The Herald Republican. KPC Media Group. July 15, 2018. Retrieved August 7, 2018.
  14. ^ a b c d e f g h "The April Marie Tinsley case: a timeline of the Fort Wayne girl's 1988 kidnapping and killing". The News-Sentinel. April 5, 2018. Retrieved August 7, 2018.
  15. ^ a b c Ryckaert, Vic (July 13, 2018). "Indiana child killer who taunted police featured on Investigation Discovery". The Indianapolis Star. Retrieved August 7, 2018.
  16. ^ "Fort Wayne crimes spur creation of task force". The Times of Northwest Indiana. Associated Press. April 15, 1991. Retrieved August 7, 2018.
  17. ^ Newton, Michael (2009). The Encyclopedia of Unsolved Crimes. Infobase Publishing. p. 123. ISBN 978-1-4381-1914-4.
  18. ^ Hays, Holly V. (July 22, 2018). "Sick, twisted taunts haunted Fort Wayne until arrest was made in April Tinsley murder". The Indianapolis Star. Retrieved August 7, 2018.
  19. ^ a b c d Isom, Andrea (May 2, 2016). "New forensic DNA analysis produces image of cold-case killer at large". Crime Watch Daily. Retrieved August 7, 2018.
  20. ^ Levenson, Eric; Watts, Amanda (July 17, 2018). "Child-killer taunted investigators for 30 years with disturbing notes. DNA ends the mystery of who did it, police say". CNN. Retrieved August 7, 2018.
  21. ^ Kurtz, Dave (April 15, 2009). "'Most Wanted' pulls in tips on Tinsley murder". KPC Media Group. Retrieved August 7, 2018.
  22. ^ a b Haag, Matthew (July 16, 2018). "Decades After Killing of April Tinsley, 8, DNA Leads to Suspect". The New York Times. Retrieved August 7, 2018.
  23. ^ "Fort Wayne investigators honored for work on Tinsley case". WANE-TV. October 27, 2018. Archived from the original on October 30, 2018. Retrieved October 30, 2018.
  24. ^ "Profile of a Killer". Federal Bureau of Investigation. May 19, 2009. Retrieved August 7, 2018.
  25. ^ Snow, Kate (June 30, 2015). "How DNA Technology Is Giving New Hope in Cold Cases". NBC News. Retrieved August 7, 2018.
  26. ^ "Police release updated profile of April Tinsley's suspected killer". The Journal Gazette. May 3, 2016. Archived from the original on August 7, 2018. Retrieved August 7, 2018.
  27. ^ Burbrink, Jacob (July 18, 2018). "Suspect arrested, charged with murder of April Tinsley". WPTA. Archived from the original on August 10, 2019. Retrieved September 25, 2019.
  28. ^ "How a genealogist helped police crack an infamous 30-year-old cold case". CBS News. July 17, 2018. Retrieved August 25, 2018.
  29. ^ a b Kobin, Billy (July 17, 2018). "Here's what we know about the April Tinsley cold-case murder". The Indianapolis Star. Retrieved August 7, 2018.
  30. ^ Kay, Kaitor (July 18, 2018). "Who Is John Miller?". WANE-TV. Retrieved August 7, 2018.
  31. ^ Tron, Gina (July 16, 2018). "DNA Leads To Arrest In Brutal 1988 Cold Case Murder Of 8-Year-Old Girl". Oxygen. Retrieved August 7, 2018.
  32. ^ McFarland, Susan (July 19, 2018). "Man accused in girl's 30-year-old murder pleads not guilty". UPI. Retrieved August 7, 2018.
  33. ^ "Guilty plea in the 1988 murder of 8-year-old Ft. Wayne girl". WTHR-TV. December 7, 2018. Archived from the original on December 7, 2018. Retrieved December 7, 2018.
  34. ^ Alesia, Mark; Ryckaert, Vic (December 21, 2018). "Man who killed 8-year-old in 1988 sentenced to 80 years in prison by Fort Wayne court". Indianapolis Star. Retrieved December 23, 2018.
  35. ^ LeBlanc, Matthew (January 18, 2019). "April's killer moved to New Castle prison". The Journal Gazette. Archived from the original on January 22, 2019. Retrieved January 22, 2019.
  36. ^ "Indiana Incarcerated Database Search". Retrieved January 8, 2023.
  37. ^ Warden, Steve (April 26, 2015). "Neighborhood starts work on April Tinsley's memorial". The Journal Gazette. Archived from the original on July 20, 2015. Retrieved August 7, 2018.
  38. ^ Solis, Ruben (July 29, 2018). "Memorial walk in honor of April Tinsley held two weeks after arrest in case". WANE-TV. Retrieved August 7, 2018.
  39. ^ Esquivel Long, Lisa M. (March 20, 2018). "Balloon launch to remember April Marie Tinsley, other child victims of violence in Fort Wayne". The News-Sentinel. Retrieved August 7, 2018.
  40. ^ "30 years later: Fort Wayne girl's killing remains unsolved". WANE-TV. April 5, 2018. Retrieved August 7, 2018.
  41. ^ "People gather for candlelight vigil at site of April Tinsley memorial". WTHR. July 29, 2018. Archived from the original on August 7, 2018. Retrieved August 7, 2018.
  42. ^ Esquivel Long, Lisa M. (July 24, 2018). "Memorial tree, bench planned for April Tinsley at Fairfield Elementary School". The News-Sentinel. Retrieved August 7, 2018.
  43. ^ Hays, Holly V. (May 13, 2019). "Indiana Officers Recognized with National Policing Award for Solving April Tinsley Case". Indianapolis Star. Retrieved June 26, 2019.

Cited works and further reading edit

Literature edit

Television edit

External links edit