Murder of April Tinsley
|Murder of April Tinsley|
Photograph of April Tinsley
|Location||Fort Wayne, Indiana|
|Date||April 1, 1988|
|Victims||April Marie Tinsley|
|Perpetrator||John D. Miller|
|Convicted||John D. Miller|
|Convictions||Murder, child molestation|
April Marie Tinsley (March 18, 1980 – April 1, 1988) was a child from Fort Wayne, Indiana, who was kidnapped, sexually assaulted, and murdered by John D. Miller. Her case was investigated by the Fort Wayne Police Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation and was covered in the television series America's Most Wanted, Crime Watch Daily, and on Investigation Discovery. Police stated that Tinsley's murderer left threatening messages and notes in the Fort Wayne area in 1990 and 2004. In 2018, DNA evidence led to a suspect, who was arrested, and, on December 21, 2018, was sentenced to 80 years in prison on the charges of child molestation and murder.
Kidnapping and murder
Tinsley was a member of the children's choir at the Faith United Methodist Church, and a first-grader attending Fairfield Elementary School. On April 1, 1988, a Good Friday, she was playing with two of her friends and they were moving between houses. Tinsley went back to get her umbrella and then disappeared around 3:00 pm.
John Miller, who later pleaded guilty to murdering Tinsley, said he had premeditated kidnapping a child, but he had not seen her before abducting her. He said that he asked her to get into his car and he took her to his trailer where he sexually assaulted and killed her. At night, he took her body to a ditch.
Tinsley's mother reported her daughter missing to the police when she did not arrive home for dinner that night. The initial search for Tinsley included 250 Fort Wayne police officers and 50 volunteers.:125 A witness later reported seeing a white man in his 30s forcing a girl believed to be Tinsley into his blue pickup truck.
A jogger found Tinsley's body on April 4, 1988, in a ditch just west of Spencerville, Indiana. Near the site, investigators found one of Tinsley's shoes, and a sex toy in a shopping bag. A motorist later reported seeing a blue pickup truck near this site.:126 Tinsley's autopsy report suggested she had been sexually assaulted and then strangled to death. 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.: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. Tinsley's memorial service was held on April 8, 1988, at the Faith United Methodist Church, and she was buried in the Greenlawn Memorial Park.
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.: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.:127 On June 24, 2005, the Tinsley family held a press conference at the Allen County Courthouse asking for leads in the case. In June 2009, Indiana authorities asked the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) task force Child Abduction Response Deployment (CARD) to help them solve the murder.
On May 21, 1990, police found a message on a St. Joseph Township barn saying "I kill 8 year old April M Tinsley," and "did you find the other shoe haha I will kill again." The message was written with crayons which were found near the barn. 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. Local and state police formed a homicide team in April 1991 to investigate Tinsley and Bowker's cases. On August 7, 1991, the FBI's Behavioral Science Unit determined that, although Tinsley and Bowker's cases were similar, they were ultimately unrelated.
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. Three of these notes were left on girls' bicycles, and another one was left in a mailbox. Three notes were placed in plastic bags, along with used condoms and Polaroid pictures of a man's lower body. 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] The DNA from the condoms matched the police's DNA profile of the suspect, leading investigators to believe the incidents were connected.
In April 2009, the television program America's Most Wanted ran a segment on Tinsley's case and asked for tips. The investigative series Crime Watch Daily covered the murder in an episode which aired in 2016. Tinsley's case was featured in an episode of On the Case with Paula Zahn which aired on July 15, 2018, just hours after an arrest was made in the case. 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.
Police profile of the suspect
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. 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.
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." 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.:129
In June 2015, the Virginia-based company Parabon released a "Snapshot" composite sketch of the suspect based on information from his DNA. Police released an updated version of this sketch in early May 2016.
In May 2018, a Fort Wayne Police Department detective sent a sample of the suspect's DNA to the forensics company Parabon Nanolabs, which used the genealogy website GEDmatch to identify the suspect's relatives. On July 2, 2018, the genealogist CeCe Moore narrowed down the list of suspects to two brothers, including 59-year-old John D. Miller (born. 07/07/1959) of Grabill, Indiana, whose neighbors described him as secluded and often angry. The police found used condoms in Miller's trash, and collected DNA that matched the suspect's DNA.
Detectives approached Miller at his house on July 15, 2018, and asked him to come to talk with them at the police office. 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". During an interview at the police office, he confessed to the murder, saying he abducted Tinsley, raped her, choked her to death in his trailer, sodomized her body, and dumped it.
Officials charged him with murder, child molestation, and confinement, and he pleaded not guilty in a court hearing on July 19, 2018. On December 7, 2018, Miller changed his plea to guilty, saying he molested Tinsley and strangled her with his bare hands. His trial was initially scheduled for February 11, 2019, but the date was moved to December 31 and then again to December 21. He was sentenced to 80 years in prison: 50 years for murder and 30 years for child molestation. 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. His Earliest Possible Release Date is 07/15/2058.
In late April 2015, construction started on a memorial garden called "April's Garden" in the Hoagland–Masterson neighborhood of Fort Wayne. April Tinsley's mother held a balloon launch at April's Garden on April 4, 2018, in remembrance of Tinsley and other child victims of violence.
On July 28, 2018, a memorial walk starting at April's Garden was held in honor of April. The next day, a pink magnolia tree and a bench were installed at Fairfield Elementary School in memory of Tinsley, followed by a candlelight vigil.
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