On April 1st, 1988, eight year old April Marie Tinsley headed out of her home at 300 West Williams Street, in Fort Wayne, Indiana with the intention of playing with some friends in the neighborhood. It was Good Friday, she had just got out of school and was in high spirits as she said goodbye to her mother who had walked her out into the street.
While the kids were playing outside it began rain. April informed her companions that she was going to retrieve her umbrella, which she had left at another friend’s house just a couple of streets away. She never came back.
April was expected home for dinner at around 4pm; however she neglected to show up. Her mother began to worry when she couldn’t locate her child and quickly called the police to report her missing. Due to the vulnerable age of the missing girl, officers were dispatched immediately to search for her and were joined by members of the local community. There were reportedly at least 75 people involved in the search, however despite the large amount of investigators and volunteers; they were unable to locate April.
Three days had passed when her body was discovered in a ditch by a jogger. She was found in Spencerville at around 3pm on the 4th of April along the isolated DeKalb County Road 68- almost 20 miles from her home in Fort Wayne. Although she was dressed (minus one missing shoe), it was determined that she had been raped and suffocated, and according to autopsy results she had been dead for at least 24 hours. Disturbingly a sex toy was found not far from the crime scene and was eventually linked to the case.
On April 5th, a man driving along DeKalb County Road informed the police that he saw a man in a blue pickup truck stop near the crime scene and thought it suspicious. Apparently one witness, a local girl, had seen a man forcing April into a damaged blue pickup truck against her will. Considering the distance between Fort Wayne and Spencerville it’s plausible that the suspect transported her in a vehicle.
The information was revealed to locals who were told to keep an eye out for the vehicle and to report it if they saw a pick-up of a similar description.
Although the suspects DNA was found on the victim’s body, technology at the time was not advanced enough to link the evidence found at the scene to April’s killer. People had reported seeing a white male, estimated to be in his late twenties to mid-thirties, weighing around 150lbs and a composite sketch was created using the witness' descriptions. Posters were circulated in the immediate and surrounding areas, but the killer was not identified.
Many suspects were taken in for questioning and some were even arrested on cases relating to abusing children, but none of them were found to be April’s killer. Theories started to fly, cases with similar elements were compared, tales of satanic sacrifices and the occult were discussed, but there was no clear leads in who the actual perpetrator was.
Two years later a teenage boy contacted police after discovering some graffiti scrawled in large letters across the door of a barn. The barn was around 10 miles from the site of the crime scene and stood alone along a rural stretch of road.
Looking at the image it became apparent that the note was originally written faintly, in pencil. It seems it was then gone over in crayon, and eventually it was made to look bolder using a black marker pen.
What does this mean?
Was the note there long before it was discovered but simply went unnoticed?
Did the killer return to make his confession more easy to see from the roadside?
The note itself appeared to be a confession written by April’s killer and had many spelling errors littered throughout:
“I kill 8 yea pold april marie tisley I will kill again” it said. The words “Ha ha” are written to the right of the message. The message was confirmed to be linked to the crime, however it has never been officially confirmed how investigators know this information. It’s possible he would have left behind more DNA.
In 2004 more harassing and threatening notes with the same spelling errors and handwriting began to pop up around Fort Wayne.
A couple of the notes were found attached to children's bicycles.
"Hi honey, I been watching you, I am the same person that kinapped and rape little Aprail Tinsley, you are my next victom if you dont report this to police an I dont see this in the paper tommrow or on the local news or I will blow up yoy house. killing everyone but you you will be mine"
The above note was written in the same erratic handwriting with the same type of spelling errors as the note on the barn. The letter looks like a desperate plea for attention in an attempt to be acknowledged for the crime and ultimately get a kick out of disturbing and threatening the local community. Online sleuths speculate whether or not this is the suspects real way of writing or if he was just attempting to disguise his actual handwriting.
The next note was found the same year in a mailbox of a rural home. A young girl lived at the residence with her family, and we can assume the note was meant to threaten her safety and again taunt the community who likely lived in fear of letting their children out of sight. It seems as though the killer wanted the family to know that he had been watching their child. He was still free to stalk the children of Indiana.
“I am the same person our kanpped an rapean murder Apral tinsley you our next Ha Ha”
The suspect continued telling children that he had been watching by leaving notes and even began to include indecent Polaroid pictures of him masturbating and condoms containing his semen.
Criminal profilers described what they believed to be the characteristics of the killer, stating that the man likely lived and worked in the area, was white, would often hang out at places that appealed to kids (for example a park or an area where children are known to play etc.), owns (or had borrowed) a Polaroid camera and possibly owns a green pickup truck (not the same truck seen at the time of the murder, however.)
Janet Tinsley, April’s mother, has always said that if her daughter’s killer was ever caught, she’d make sure she would have a one on one conversation with him.
The case remained cold for decades until a suspect was recently arrested.
Investigators ran the carefully collected DNA from the 1988 crime scene through a public database which led them to two brothers. Officers sifted through the trash of one of the suspects and recovered used condoms which matched the DNA found on the victim.
A 59 year old man named John D. Miller from Grabill, Indiana has been arrested on preliminary charges of child molesting, murder, and criminal confinement. When questioned by police if he was aware of why he was being arrested the 59 year old suspect answered: “April Tinsley”. Documents state that Miller has confessed to the crime and explained to arresting officers what he did that day in April 1988. According to this article he described abducting the 8 year old girl, taking her to his trailer in Grabill and sexually assaulting her before murdering her. He allegedly claimed that he sexually assaulted the body before dumping it early the following morning in a ditch. Grabill is just a ten minute drive from the spot where Miller callously discarded the 8 year old's body. The location of his trailer is just five miles from the barn where it is suspected Miller scrawled his first handwritten confession in 1990. A recent article reveals that the words “Did you find her other shoe? Ha ha. I will kill again” was also written on the barn door confession.
Miller apparently confessed that he found one of Aprils shoe’s in his car and hurled it out of the window of a moving vehicle as he passed the crime scene the next morning. Could this be what the April 5th eyewitness saw the day after April's body was discovered?
Miller is currently being contained at the Allen County Jail