Solved 30 Years Later: April Tinsley

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Background

April Marie Tinsley was born March 18th, 1980 in Fort Wayne, Indiana to parents Janet and Michael Tinsley.  She was described as a very sweet girl and well-liked in school, her mum said she was a fun, loving person, she was just the perfect daughter Janet always wanted. Everyone adored April,  Janet also said April was shy but when she would go out to play with her friends, she would be out for hours.

Disappearance

On April 1st, 1988, April Tinsley was in first grade, she had gotten out of school early that day and went home, had lunch with her mum when she asked if she can go over to a friend’s house to play.

April’s mum Janet told her to call her as soon as she arrives at the friend’s house. When April arrived at her friend Nicole’s house she called her mum to let her know she had arrived, her mother reminded April to be home between 3:30 pm and 4 pm.

When 4 pm came April had not come home, so Janet waited around a little then decided to call Nicole’s mum and she told Janet that Nicole and April were playing in a playground and left a little after 3 pm.

On their way home, April realized she had forgotten her umbrella at Nicole’s house, Nicole was going to another friend’s house so they parted ways, and April made her way alone back to Nicole’s house. However, Nicole’s mum says April never made it to her house to get her umbrella.

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Janet and Michael as well as friends and neighbors went out to search around the area for April, they were unable to find her so they called the police. Janet called the Fort Wayne police around 6 pm.

When police arrived at Janet’s house she gave them a photo of April and told them April was wearing a blue turtle neck sweater, a pink and red jacket, light blue pants with 3 hearts on the left leg, and pink shoes.

The Search

Police went out to search for April, they searched a 20 block area from where she was last seen. However, they were unable to find her and police assumed she had been abducted.

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On April 4th, a police task force of 25 officers joined up with a search party of 50 people who searched the whole area. Then around 3:30 pm, a man was on a jog when he saw a body on the side of the road, in a ditch around 40ft from the road. Unfortunately, this was April’s body.

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Investigation

Based on the physical evidence police believed April was suffocated, she was found fully clothed except for one of her shoes was missing. The autopsy results confirmed she had been sexually assaulted.

Investigators believed the suspect was someone who lived in Fort Wayne and the individual wanted her body to be found.

Officers searched the surrounding area where April’s body was found and found the missing shoe which was around 800 feet away on the opposite side of the road, as well as a sex toy in a shopping bag.

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On April 5th, a motorist came forward to say he had seen a blue pickup near the crime scene.

On April 8th, 1988, 150 people attended April Tinsley’s memorial service, at the Faith United Methodist Church. After the ceremony, a woman called the police to tell them she had seen a little blonde girl walking on the side of the road, she had hearts on her pants and she was walking where April-Tinsley-killer-sketchApril was last seen. She went on to say that when April tried to cross the street a blue pickup truck pulled up next to her. The witness said that April did not seem scared or as if she didn’t know the person. When the truck left April was gone as well.

The witness described the driver as a white male with sandy blonde wavy hair and 150lbs. Police released a composite sketch of the individual the witness described.

After the sketch was released police started receiving tips from the public. Many of the leads given to police named a man named Moose. Moose was a local gang member and a witness was able to pick his photo out of a lineup. Sources say he did not own a blue pickup truck but he did have access to one.

Others said Moose was going up to children at the park, saying inappropriate stuff and scaring them. A witness also told police Moose had heard him saying there were 2 kids playing in the playground and that he wished to grab one of them and sexually assault them.

People from the community were saying the gang he was in was some type of satanic cult and April’s murder was some sort of satanic ritual. However, police had no evidence to suggest this was true nor did they have any evidence to suggest he was the one who murdered April as his DNA did not match the semen found in the used condom.

2 years later on May 21st, 1990, a man called the police to say that someone had written a message on his barn which said “I kill 8-year-old April Marie Tinsley did you find her other shoe haha and I will kill agin”. This barn was 10 miles from where April’s body was found

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Unfortunately, nothing came from this finding, and the case went cold, until 15 years later on March 25th, 2004, a young girl who was the same age as April when she was taken, found a note. The note was on yellow paper, in a zip lock bag, the note said “Hi Honey I been watching you I am the same person that kidnapped an raped an kill April Tinsley here is a present you are my next victim.”

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A used condom was left inside the bag with the note. Two other notes were found with the same message. Not long after, a fourth letter turned up including nude photos of himself.

The DNA investigators had was placed into the National Database, but no matches were found.

With no new leads, police ended up publishing some of the letters to the public in hopes of someone recognizing the writing or spelling errors. One tip, in particular, came in from a man accusing his father of being April’s killer. He lived close to where April lived and where she was taken and he had a history of child molestation, he also had a polaroid which he used to take pictures of disturbing things. The caller also said his father would write “hi honey” and “haha” and he owned a blue pickup truck.

A few days after April’s murder, he had painted his blue pickup truck another color, which police found interesting so they brought him in for questioning. When asked if he knew April he said no but his daughter use to play with her so he knew of her. He had also told police he was working the day April was taken and killed, which they found odd because he knew what he was doing on that exact day 15 years ago.

With this information, police went to his workplace where they found out he was not actually working on that day as well as on April 4th which was when April’s body was found and likely put there.

When police searched his house they found a yellow-lined paper notebook that looked similar to the one notes were written on. Additionally, they also found the polaroid camera.

Police believed they had the killer until they tested his DNA with the DNA found at the crime scene and the letters but it did not match.

On June 24th, 2005, had a press conference about the updates in the case and to remind people April’s case was still unsolved.

Phenotyping was a new technology that uses a DNA sample from a crime scene and creates a digital sketch of what the person would look like. A company named Parabon Nanolabs used the DNA from April’s crime scene and created a sketch.

The results came back saying the male was British or German, with brown hair, green/hazel eyes, and has very fair skin. Investigators believed the man was in his 30s around the time of the crime. The sketch was redone to see what he would look like now in his 50s. Unfortunately, nothing came out of the sketches.

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With the development in DNA technology and genealogy police were able to find April’s killer. In 2018, John D Miller, who was 59, was charged with April Tinsley’s murder.

If someone in your family has taken one of the DNA Ancestry tests, it can be traced back to you. This is how the Golden State Killer was found. They used distant cousins to build a family tree backward, then looked for descendants and narrowed the search to 2 brothers. They went to John D Miller’s house and took some things from his trash and made a match to the DNA from April’s crime scene.

Officers went to John D Miller’s house and asked him if he knew what this was about and he replied April Tinsley. He confessed to April’s murder and was sentenced to 80 years in total, 50 years for murder, and 30 years for child molestation.

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Resources and Further Information

On the Case with Paula Zahn Season 17 Episode 1 – “Notes from a Killer”

https://edition.cnn.com/2018/07/16/us/cold-case-april-tinsley-dna-trnd/index.html

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