Murder of April Tinsley
April Marie Tinsley
|Born||March 18, 1980|
|Died||April 1, 1988 (aged 8)|
Fort Wayne, Indiana
|Cause of death||Asphyxiation|
|Body discovered||April 4, 1988. Spencerville, Indiana|
|Resting place||Greenlawn Memorial Park, Fort Wayne, Allen County, Indiana|
|Known for||Victim of child murder|
April Marie Tinsley (March 18, 1980 – April 1, 1988) was an 8 year old girl from Fort Wayne, Indiana, who was kidnapped, raped, and murdered in 1988. Her murderer 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.
Via forensic genealogy, the Fort Wayne Police Department identified April's murderer as John Miller in July 2018. On December 21, Miller was convicted and sentenced to 80 years in prison on the charges of child molestation (rape) and murder.
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. An episode of The Genetic Detective (S01 E04 "The Deadly Playdate" 6/16/2020) featured how CeCe Moore of Parabon NanoLabs used genetic genealogy to find two brothers, one of whom must be the killer. The Fort Wayne Police Department then followed the brothers until they were able to collect their discarded DNA, which proved that John Dale Miller was the murderer.
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 retrieve 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 raped 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 raped 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 Rapid Deployment (CARD) to help them solve the murder.
On May 21, 1990, police found a message on a St. Joseph Township barn reading "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.
John D. Miller
|Born||July 7, 1959|
|Occupation||Former Walmart employee|
|Conviction(s)||Murder, child molestation|
|Criminal penalty||80 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, 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 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 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." During an interview at the police station, 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 raped Tinsley and strangled her with his bare hands. 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. Miller's earliest possible release date is scheduled for July 15, 2058, when he would be 99 years old.
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". On July 28, 2018, a memorial walk starting at this garden was held in honor of April.
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. 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.
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.
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- Sentencing moved up for man who pleaded guilty in death of April Tinsley | FOX59
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- 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.
- 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.
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- "Fort Wayne crimes spur creation of task force". The Times of Northwest Indiana. Associated Press. April 15, 1991. Retrieved August 7, 2018.
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- Isom, Andrea (May 2, 2016). "New forensic DNA analysis produces image of cold-case killer at large". Crime Watch Daily. Retrieved August 7, 2018.
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- Kurtz, Dave (April 15, 2009). "'Most Wanted' pulls in tips on Tinsley murder". KPC Media Group. Retrieved August 7, 2018.
- Haag, Matthew (July 16, 2018). "Decades After Killing of April Tinsley, 8, DNA Leads to Suspect". The New York Times. Retrieved August 7, 2018.
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- Burbrink, Jacob (July 18, 2018). "Suspect arrested, charged with murder of April Tinsley". WPTA. Retrieved September 25, 2019.
- "How a genealogist helped police crack an infamous 30-year-old cold case". CBS News. July 17, 2018. Retrieved August 25, 2018.
- Kobin, Billy (July 17, 2018). "Here's what we know about the April Tinsley cold-case murder". The Indianapolis Star. Retrieved August 7, 2018.
- Kay, Kaitor (July 18, 2018). "Who Is John Miller?". WANE-TV. Retrieved August 7, 2018.
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- 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.
- LeBlanc, Matthew (January 18, 2019). "April's killer moved to New Castle prison". The Journal Gazette. Retrieved January 22, 2019.
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- "People gather for candlelight vigil at site of April Tinsley memorial". WTHR. July 29, 2018. Retrieved August 7, 2018.
- 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.
- 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
- Ammeson, Jane S. (2007). Murders That Made Headlines: Crimes of Indiana. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. ISBN 978-0-253-03126-6.
- Jeffers, H. Paul (1991). Profiles In Evil: Chilling Case Histories From the Files of the FBI's Violent Crime Unit. London: Warner Books. ISBN 978-0-7088-5449-5.
- Newton, Michael (2009). The Encyclopedia of Unsolved Crimes. New York: Facts on File. p. 123. ISBN 978-0-8160-7818-9.
- Thompson, Emily G. (2018). Unsolved Child Murders: Eighteen American Cases, 1956–1998. North Carolina: McFarland & Company Inc. ISBN 978-1-4766-7000-3.
- "The Deadly Playdate". The Genetic Detective (Season 1, Episode 4). ABC Television.
- "I Will Kill Again". Predator at Large (Season 1, Episode 6). TV Maze.
- On the Case with Paula Zahn, an Investigation Discovery documentary series.
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