It was Good Friday, 1988. April Tinsley was eight years old and living in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Her mum Janet let her walk by herself to her friend’s house, just two streets away.
Witnesses reported seeing a white man forcing a blonde girl into a pickup truck not far from April’s house.
The worst had happened. Three days later, someone jogging through a field saw a child’s body in a water-filled ditch. It was April. She had been sexually assaulted and strangled.
“She suffered, and we don’t know exactly how long she suffered,” Fort Wayne police detective Cary Young told Crime Watch Daily.
“It could have been three days of horror.”
One of April’s shoes was also found nearby. A sex toy was also discovered in a shopping bag.
A DNA sample was collected from April’s underwear, but no match was found.
Police investigated hundreds of suspects, but all were cleared.
Janet kept herself going by focusing on her younger child, two-year-old Paul.
“If it wasn’t for him, I’d be in my own padded room,” she told the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette.
Two years after April’s death, a message was carved into a barn not far from where her body had been dumped.
“I kill 8 year old April M Tinsley,” the message read. “[D]id you find the other shoe haha I will kill again.”
Fourteen years later, there were more messages. This time, they were written on lined yellow paper. Three were placed on bicycles belonging to young girls living in Fort Wayne. One was left in a letterbox.
Three of the messages were inside plastic bags which also contained used condoms and Polaroid photos of a man’s lower body.
“Hi honey,” one message read. “I been watching you I am the same person that kinapped an rape an kill Aproil Tinsely you are my next victim.” The message ordered the girl to make a report to the police, and said that if he didn’t see a news report about it, he would blow up her house.
It could have all been written off as a nasty prank, except that DNA samples taken from the messages matched the DNA found inside April’s underwear.
The killer seemed to be looking for attention – and taunting the police, who had been working the case for 16 years without success.
But no one was forgetting April. The case was featured twice on America’s Most Wanted, and also on Crime Watch Daily. Earlier this year, police said they were still receiving between five and eight tips about the case each week.
“It’s still at the forefront of our minds,” Detective Young said. “We’re still actively working on it.”
On the 30th anniversary of April’s disappearance, her mother Janet held a ceremony where she released balloons in her daughter’s memory. Standing by her side was Dan Camp, the retired police detective who had devoted years of his life to the case.
“We thought ain’t nobody really going to show up,” Janet told the Fort Wayne “But then all the sudden we see a lot of people. It made me pretty happy.”
In May this year, police submitted the DNA found in April’s underwear to the company Parabon NanoLabs. Public genealogy databases pointed Parabon to two brothers, one living in a trailer park near Fort Wayne. His name was John D. Miller.
Police took rubbish, including used condoms, from near Miller’s home, and did DNA testing.
Last Sunday, detectives brought Miller into the Fort Wayne police department. They asked him if he knew why he was there.
According to an affidavit, he simply said, “April Tinsley.”
Police say Miller confessed to raping April and then strangling her so that she wouldn’t report him to police.
Miller faces charges of murder, child molestation and criminal confinement.