April Tinsley Case: Man Tied to 8-Year-Old's 1988 Murder Through Genealogy Website, DNA Technology: Cops

April Tinsley was abducted on April 1, 1988, as she walked to a friend’s house, just two blocks away from her Fort Wayne, Indiana, home.

An Indiana man with no criminal record was arrested in the 1988 sexual assault and murder of 8-year-old April Tinsley, after DNA technology tied him to the gruesome killing, police said.

On April 1, 1988, April Tinsley was abducted as she walked to a friend’s house, just two blocks from her Fort Wayne home. 

A witness later said they saw a little girl matching the first-grader’s description being forced into a blue truck by a white man in his 30s. 

“You’re sitting there looking out the window and trying to think, 'Where is she? Who’s got her?'" Tinsley’s mother, Janet Tinsley, told Crime Watch Daily in 2016.

April’s body was discovered by a jogger three days later in a water-filled ditch in a rural field. The blond-haired little girl had been sexually assaulted and asphyxiated, officials said. 

One of her shoes was found 1,000 feet from her body, and a sex toy in a shopping bag was recovered nearby. DNA evidence was recovered in April’s underwear, but a match was never found. 

Two years later, the community would be reminded of the little girl’s grisly death, as a note taunting police was scrawled onto the wall of a nearby barn. 

“I kill 8 year old April Marie Tisley (sic),” read the note, which was discovered on May 21, 1990. “Did you find her other shoe haha I will kill agin (sic).”

The case went cold again until 2004, when the alleged killer left several other notes — and DNA evidence — at homes around the Fort Wayne area. 

Three messages were left on young girls’ bicycles, while a fourth was placed in a mailbox, authorities said. Three of the messages were inside plastic bags containing used condoms with the same DNA profile found in April’s underwear and Polaroid pictures of a man’s naked lower body. 

"Hi honey," one note read, according to a photo released of the message by the FBI. “I been watching you I am the same person that kidnapped an [sic] rape an (sic) kill Aproil (sic) Tinsely.”

The note threatened that the child would be next and her house would “blow up” if she didn’t report the message to police as well as have it publicized in the media.

The case went cold yet again. 

But finally, after 30 years of searching for answers, investigators experienced a significant break in the case.

The Fort Wayne Police Department submitted the suspect’s DNA to Parabon NanoLabs, and this month the firm’s genealogist CeCe Moore was able use public genealogy databases to narrow down the suspects to two brothers in the Fort Wayne area.

Detectives pulled trash from outside the trailer of 59-year-old John Miller, according to a probable cause affidavit filed by Fort Wayne police. Three used condoms that Miller allegedly discarded and were found among the pulled trash matched the genetic profile found on April and in the condoms left with the notes in 2004, police said.

On Sunday, detectives approached Miller outside his home and asked him to come to the police station to talk. It was there that Miller was advised of his rights and asked if he knew why investigators wanted to speak with him. 

“April Tinsley,” he allegedly replied, according to the affidavit. 

When asked to explain what happened to April, Miller allegedly replied “I can’t,” but then went on to admit he abducted the little girl and brought her back to his trailer, according to police. 

He allegedly admitted to raping her and then strangling her to keep her from going to the police. It took 10 minutes to kill April, Miller allegedly said. 

After she had died, he sodomized her body, and then dumped her in the ditch the following night, Miller allegedly said. 

Police said Miller told them he drove by the place he left April the next day when he did not see anything about her body begin found on the news. As he drove past, he threw April’s shoe out of his car, he allegedly told police. 

Miller is being held on preliminary charges of murder, child molestation and criminal confinement. He appeared in court early Monday, where a judge granted Allen County Prosecutor Karen Richards 72 hours to file formal charges.

Friends and family of April were also in the courtroom, as Miller said he understood the charges he faces, according to WANE-TV.

Miller has no previous criminal record, other than one speeding citation and two citations for failing to stop, the television station reported.