Police crack 30-year-old murder case

Eight-year-old April Tinsley was abducted and murdered in 1988. Thirty years later, police used a public genealogy database to find and arrest her alleged killer.

Posted: Jul 19, 2018 12:28 PM
Updated: Jul 19, 2018 12:40 PM

For three decades, the abduction, rape and murder of 8-year-old April Tinsley in April 1988 had frustrated Indiana investigators.

The mysterious killer's taunting messages admitting to the crime, scrawled on a barn door and on paper notes threatening to kill again, only added to the desire to solve the cold case. Still, no suspect could be found.

But thanks to advances in genealogy and DNA technology, the suspected killer was arrested and then confessed to the crime on Sunday -- more than 30 years after April's death.

John D. Miller, 59, was formally charged with murder and child molestation on Wednesday, according to court documents.

"Right now I'm numb," the girl's mother, Janet Tinsley, said Tuesday on CNN sister network HLN.

She had feared over the years that an arrest would never come.

"I can't believe it's finally here," she said.

In court on Monday, Miller was given no bond and his initial hearing was scheduled for Thursday, according to online court records. CNN was not able to reach his attorney.

Police connected him to the homicide by using DNA from the scene of the murder and from the taunting messages, and inputting them into a genealogical database. That led investigators to two men: Miller and his brother, according to a probable cause affidavit.

DNA from Miller's garbage matched DNA from the crime scene and from the taunts, and when police brought him in for questioning, he confessed to the disturbing killing, the affidavit states.

The cold case is one of several that have been solved in recent months because of advances in genealogy and DNA technology. In this case and in the Golden State Killer case, investigators had DNA evidence but could not match it to a specific person using state or national databases.

But the growth of genealogical companies, where people enter their own DNA profiles, has allowed investigators to connect suspect DNA to an extended family match. That has helped police to narrow down the list of suspects to a much smaller number and allow targeted investigations.

Death of April

On Good Friday in 1988, April Tinsley was abducted while walking in her neighborhood in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and then raped and murdered. Her body was found three days later about 20 miles away in a rural area, the FBI said.

Police launched a search but could not find a suspect. But two years later, a message scrawled in pencil or crayon appeared on a barn door not far from where her body was found, the FBI said.

"I kill 8 year old April Marie Tisley I will kill agin," the message said.

Fourteen years after that, four taunting notes were found at various Fort Wayne residences, including several on bicycles that young girls left in their yards, the FBI said.

"Hi Honey I Been watching you I am the same person that kinapped an Rape an kill Aproil Tinsely," the messages said. "you are my next vitem."

The disturbing notes were found inside baggies along with used condoms or Polaroid pictures of the killer's body, the FBI said. The DNA from those condoms was determined to be consistent with the profile developed from the underwear of Tinsley, the probable cause affidavit said.

But then the killer went silent. In 2009, the FBI joined in the search and called it "highly solvable," but no major breaks in the case came.

Arrest of Miller

In May 2018 -- just two weeks after police in California used genetic DNA testing analysis to arrest the Golden State Killer -- Fort Wayne Police detective Brian Martin arranged for genetic DNA testing in April Tinsley's case. Parabon Nanolabs, a DNA company based in Virginia, was contracted for the tests.

The testing was able to narrow down the suspects in the case to Miller and his brother on July 2, the affidavit says. Investigators then examined Miller's trash and found three used condoms that matched the DNA evidence from the suspected killer.

Once the match was established, authorities approached Miller at his residence in Grabill, Indiana. When asked why he thought police wanted to talk to him, Miller said "April Tinsley," the affidavit reads.

In the police interview, Miller admitted that he abducted April in 1988, raped her and then choked her to death, the affidavit says. He also admitted that he had sex with her deceased body and then dumped her body, the affidavit says.

Lafayette
Clear
48° wxIcon
Hi: 48° Lo: 30°
Feels Like: 42°
Kokomo
Clear
43° wxIcon
Hi: 44° Lo: 28°
Feels Like: 34°
Rensselaer
Clear
43° wxIcon
Hi: 44° Lo: 27°
Feels Like: 34°
Lafayette
Clear
48° wxIcon
Hi: 46° Lo: 28°
Feels Like: 42°
Danville
Clear
46° wxIcon
Hi: 46° Lo: 30°
Feels Like: 39°
Frankfort
Clear
45° wxIcon
Hi: 47° Lo: 29°
Feels Like: 36°
Frankfort
Clear
45° wxIcon
Hi: 45° Lo: 29°
Feels Like: 36°
Monticello
Clear
45° wxIcon
Hi: 48° Lo: 30°
Feels Like: 38°
Monticello
Clear
45° wxIcon
Hi: 47° Lo: 30°
Feels Like: 38°
Logansport
Clear
43° wxIcon
Hi: 44° Lo: 29°
Feels Like: 34°
Windy, But Warmer For Thursday
WLFI Radar
WLFI Temps
WLFI Planner

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 598313

Reported Deaths: 9529
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion826311317
Lake44778676
Allen32331543
Hamilton28818314
St. Joseph27014378
Elkhart24244343
Vanderburgh19012243
Tippecanoe17701128
Johnson14748289
Porter14574166
Hendricks14074244
Madison10768217
Vigo10584177
Clark10428136
Monroe9222109
Delaware8982134
LaPorte8925159
Howard8061141
Kosciusko796782
Warrick657997
Hancock653599
Bartholomew634097
Floyd6270108
Wayne6037159
Grant5893112
Dubois549477
Boone542267
Morgan526294
Henry500764
Marshall497784
Cass477062
Dearborn467645
Noble466157
Jackson419146
Shelby408180
Lawrence385777
Clinton368240
Gibson362659
DeKalb341364
Montgomery338953
Harrison335343
Knox331339
Miami315744
Steuben309844
Whitley299825
Adams297835
Wabash297747
Ripley294945
Putnam290347
Huntington287559
Jasper286234
White269839
Daviess264773
Jefferson255838
Decatur244382
Fayette243948
Greene237062
Posey235227
Wells232247
LaGrange226061
Clay219932
Scott219538
Randolph210445
Jennings195335
Sullivan190033
Spencer185819
Fountain180827
Washington180222
Starke173943
Jay164822
Owen161737
Fulton161430
Carroll154515
Orange153433
Rush152318
Perry149727
Vermillion146733
Franklin145533
Parke12988
Tipton129532
Pike114626
Blackford109522
Pulaski95637
Newton89921
Brown86533
Benton85410
Crawford7769
Martin71013
Warren6637
Switzerland6325
Union6166
Ohio4747
Unassigned0375

COVID-19 Important links and resources

As the spread of COVID-19, or as it's more commonly known as the coronavirus continues, this page will serve as your one-stop for the resources you need to stay informed and to keep you and your family safe. CLICK HERE

Closings related to the prevention of the COVID-19 can be found on our Closings page.

Community Events