Girl Who Solved Her Own Murder: April Millsap

April-Millsap-photo

Name:  April Millsap
Age: 14 years old
Location: Armada, Michigan
Status: Solved

April-Millsap-photo

 

Background information

April Millsap was born on January 2nd, 2000, she lived with her mother Jennifer Millsap, and step-father David Lichtenfelt, in a town named Armada in Michigan, it was a small village, which was a farming community that had a population of around 2000 people.

She was described as a quiet shy girl, who was sweet, caring, and generous with everyone she knew. April’s mother said she had a heart of gold and was always there for others. 

april-millsap

April was a normal teenager, she had a nice group of friends, a boyfriend who she was with for about a year and a half. Her mother said if she wasn’t out with her friends or at school, she would always be on her computer playing games.

April Millsap was in the school band and she was very talented in writing, when she was younger she wrote many short stories, however, her dream job was to become a vet in the future or at least something to do with animals, as she adored them.

April was very into her fitness and health, she would always make sure she got her daily steps done. She had a dog named Penny who she loved and would take out for daily walks, they would go on hikes this fit into her fitness lifestyle as it helped achieve her daily steps. 

 

dog-penny

Disappearance

July 24th, 2014, was a nice warm summers day, April went out to take Penny for a walk around 5:30 pm. Jennifer said April knew not to stay out after it got dark and wouldn’t stay out for too long. However, on this day, it was getting dark but April hadn’t arrived home yet, which made her mother Jennifer feel worried so she decided to text April to see how she was and where she was.

As time went on Jennifer had not received a reply to her message to April, which she found weird because April would always answer her phone. Jennifer decided to try and call April but it went straight to voicemail. this made her extremely worried, as she kept trying to call April’s phone but it would just go to voicemail.

Jennifer instantly knew something was wrong and called the police around 9 pm. It had been 3-4 hours since she had seen April.

The police came to the house to take a report and get more information but Jennifer was struggling to speak, she was crying and hyperventilating. It had gotten so bad that one of the police officers had to take her phone from her when she was speaking to David, April’s step-father, who was at work at the time, to inform him what was happening.

David left work immediately, while police continued to question Jennifer, asking about what April’s plans were that day, what she was wearing, where she would normally go on walks, as well as other general questions about April’s life to give them any ideas of where she could be.

Jennifer mentioned April’s boyfriend Austin so police got in contact with him to see if he had seen her or heard from her.  Austin told police he hadn’t heard from April in a few hours but the time he did was kind of concerning. April had texted her boyfriend saying “I almost got kidnapped omfg” at 6:28 pm.

The Search/Finding

A few police officers stayed with Jennifer as they continued to question her and support her, while the other officers went back to the station to work on the case.

The police received a 911 call from a man who had discovered April Millsap’s body:

“I’m fairly certain we just found a body along the mountain bike trail,” said the caller.

Operator:  “You don’t believe she’s breathing?”

“I don’t think so,” the caller said.

The man who made this call was riding his bike with his wife on one of April’s favorite hiking trails when a black dog who still had its lead on but was without its owner, approached him. The dog seemed panicked and would go up to him and then as if the dog was trying to lead him into the wooded area. The mand followed the dog into the wooded area, which was just off the trails, and the dog ran right up to a dead body that was laying on the ground in a drainage ditch, and this dog just laid next to the body and began whimpering. This dog was Penny.

April was identified at the crime scene, due to the clothes found at the scene.  Her head was covered in blood and was found partially undressed, her shorts and underwear had been pulled down to her ankles and her blouse seemed to have been ripped open and pulled down to her waist.

In April’s autopsy, there was no sign of sexual assault, there were no stab wounds or gunshot wounds, it was believed she was beaten to death during a failed attempt to rape her. She had footprints on her chest and neck, suggesting that her killer had stomped on her when she was already dead. She sustained 48 separate injuries, this was clearly a lot of anger in this killing.  Her official cause of death was blunt forced trauma to the head causing a bleed in her brain, along with asphyxiation by compression of the neck.

The FBI was brought I’m as well as detectives from Detroit, this was because Armada was a small village that only had 2 full-time officers, while 10 were part-time due to it being such a safe place and crime was low.

Detectives spoke to everyone that was walking on that trail on July 24th, asking if they had seen anything or had seen April. One person said they had seen something suspicious. This person said that they had seen 2 older white males jumping into a beaten-up old white van. Police campaigned everywhere to track down these 2 white males, however when they found these men they were ruled out as suspects.

Police received thousands of tips, so they decided to come up with a theorized version of events, based on crime scene evidence, and texts. Police believe April Willsap was walking Penny on the trail when an older man spotted her and approached her to try to talk/flirt with her. They believe April ignored him and tried to walk away, this is when she texted her boyfriend. She continued to walk when the man approached her again but this time he was angry because she had denied his advances. They believe April continued to ignore him and this is when he snapped and hit her over the head and then dragged her into the wooded area, where he continued to beat her and eventually murdered her.

Police believe April was attacked between 6:30 pm-6:45 pm. They also have the GPS information of the text they got from the mobile phone network.

park-trail

 

Police used this GPS information that placed April on this trail at a particular time to reach out to people who were walking along the same area around the same time.

One individual came forward to say he had seen a young girl he believed to be April and a much older man on a blue motorbike. Detectives used this information to put on the news asking if anyone had seen a blue motorbike in the park that day.

After a few weeks, they had finally found April’s phone which was around a mile or two away from where she was murdered. When investigators turned the phone on, they saw that April had a fitness tracker app that was on at the time of her murder.

This particular fitness tracker app logs your route, your pace, and the time. This allowed police to have an exact time frame and movements of April and her phone. Detectives used this information and compared the timeline they had made through the text message she had sent to her boyfriend. They were able to see that when she sent that message to her boyfriend, her pace was quicker, she had started walking faster and she had moved in the opposite direction, this made officers believe that she was heading back home.

It was clear to officers that she was trying to get away from this man, but he continued to follow her. This was until her route froze and she doesn’t go any further. However, for a few minutes, her phone is just moving around in the same spot.  This made police believe when a struggle had started and April was fighting back at her attacker, this was until the tracker picks up movement again. The phone begins to move from the scene where April Millsap’s body was found, but at a rate of 20 miles per hour, perhaps from a motorbike.

This information made detectives look into the suspect that was on a blue motorbike seen at the park. FBI agents and officers positioned themselves at every single entry/exit of Armada village. No one was able to go into or out of the village without speaking to the police.

They asked everyone the same question which was do you know someone who owns a blue motorbike. Eventually, a woman told police her neighboured owned a blue and white motorbike. The woman told police she hadn’t seen the motorbike in a couple of weeks, which she found unusual because her neighbor always used that motorbike to go everywhere, but around the time of the murder, she didn’t see him with it anymore.

Police asked her who her neighbors were and she said it was a father and son who were both named James VanCallis. Police began looking into these two men, James VanCallis was 66 years old and he had a son named James VanCallis who had a girlfriend and son.

VanCallis-image

Police looked at both men’s criminal histories. 32-year-old James VanCallis had a couple of different records for breaking and entering, general misconduct, and drugs. While 66-year-old James VanCallis had a more concerning record, he was a registered sex offender, he was a repeat offender of criminal sexual misconduct with children many of who were under the age of 13.

This was extremely concerning to the police so they immediately raided the VanCallis home.

VanCallis-home

During the search, police found marijuana in the home so they were able to arrest both men on drug charges. While both men were in custody, police took their DNA which was tested against the crime scene and April’s body but no matches were found to either men.

Meanwhile, other officers were questioning neighbors and found out 32-year-old James VanCallis owned the blue motorbike and none of them had seen it the last couple of weeks since the murder.

During the search of the home, they were not able to find the motorbike however they did find a helmet and other biking gear.

66-year-old James VanCallis was realized on bond for the drug charges, while police still had who they believed was their suspect was 32-year-old James VanCallis in custody.

Police continued their searches of the home, specifically looking for a particular pair of shoes due to the crime scene evidence they had of the footprints from April’s body.  The print was from a pair of Nike Jordans, however, police were unable to find a pair at the VanCallis home. Instead, they found a potential link to the trainers on James Vancallis’s phone.

Whilst searching his phone, police found a video that briefing showed him wearing a pair of Nike Jordans. They were also able to find on his phone’s history many searches of younger girls.

32-year-old James VanCallis was charged with first-degree murder, murder during another felony, and assault with the intent to rape.

james-vancallis-trial

VanCallis’s defense argued that police had it out for James even though there was no link or evidence between April Millsap and James VanCallis.

During the trial, prosecutors came to say they believed the item used to attack April was a motorcycle helmet.

helmet-trial

James’s defense argued that there were no tire tracks around the scene nor did investigators find Nike Jordans in his home. Prosecutors then brought James’s girlfriend Crystal to the stand as a witness. She told the court, the night of April Millsap’s murder, she came down around 3 am, to find James cleaning his shoes and helmet with hand sanitizer.

Crystal told the court James had come home around 9 pm and everything was fine and the two of them went to bed, but then when she had woken up at 3 am he had gone back out again and found him back home cleaning his trainers and helmet.

It was never revealed what James was doing while he was out during the evening.  She also said that the first time police had come to speak to James he told her he really messed up this time and that he needed her to stick by him as well as telling her if anyone asks I was wearing K Swiss trainers that night, even though she remembered him wearing Jordans.

Witnesses also came to the stand to say they had seen April with James on the trail that day. Witnesses said they had seen James approach April as well as seeing April looking nervous walking a few feet in front of James who looked angry. Other witnesses said they saw James walking out of the wooded area alone, looking nervous.

All witnesses that came forward were able to describe the man seen with April and a composite sketch was made.

composite-sketch

Crystal told the court James wouldn’t tell her what happened so she went into his backpack he always carried around and found a hoodie that had grass and mud all over it as well as clumps of long hair. The color of the hair was a match to April Millsap’s hair.

At the end of the trial in 2016, it took the jury very little time to deliver their verdict. James VanCallis was found guilty of all of his charges and was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

As James was walking out of the courtroom after receiving his verdict, his mother shouted James we love you. To this day the VanCallis family believes James is innocent and was framed by the police.

Contact Information

https://app.kaseware.us/public/#msp/ac09c643-7263-40e0-b931-777cc550b78e

https://www.facebook.com/justiceforaprilmillsap/

You can donate to the memorial garden that has been set up in April Millsap’s name as well as volunteer. https://aprilmillsapmemorialgarden.weebly.com/store/c1/Featured_Products.html

Further information

April’s family has set up a memorial garden in memory of April. https://aprilmillsapmemorialgarden.weebly.com/

memorial-garden-april-millsap

memorial-garden

 watch the trail (all videos can be found on this YouTube page): 

Day 1:

 

 

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