Child-killer taunted investigators for 30 years; DNA ends the mystery of who did it

News
This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

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 preliminarily charged with murder, child molesting and criminal confinement of a victim under 14, according to Allen County Court’s website.

In court on Monday, Miller was given no bond and his next hearing was scheduled for July 19, 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 (sic),” 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 (sic),” the messages said. “you are my next vitem (sic).”

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.

By Eric Levenson and Amanda Watts, CNN

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Trademark and Copyright 2021 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

About FOX 2 News

FOX 2 and KPLR 11 in St. Louis cover the news in Missouri and Illinois. There are over 68 hours of live news and local programming on-air each week. Our website and live video streams operate 24/7. Download our apps for alerts and follow us on social media for updates in your feed.

President Harry Truman said: “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” That spirit is alive and well at Fox 2. Our teamwork is on display each and every day.

Our news slogan is: “Coverage You Can Count On.” We quite frankly are too busy to worry about who gets the credit. Our main concern is serving the viewer.

We go where the stories take us. Whether it be Washington, D.C when a Belleville man opened fire during a congressional baseball game practice or to Puerto Rico where local Ameren crews restored power after more than 5 months in the dark.

Coverage You Can Count On means “Waking up your Day” with our top-rated morning show. From 4:00 am-10:00 am we are leading the way with breaking news. But our early morning crew also knows how to have some fun! Our strong commitment to the communities we serve is highlighted with our Friday neighborhood shows.

Our investigative unit consists of three reporters. Elliott Davis focuses on government waste, Chris Hayes is our investigative reporter, and Mike Colombo is our consumer reporter. They work in unison with the news department by sharing resources and ideas.

We continue to cover breaking news aggressively and relied on our seasoned journalists to make a difference with the stories we covered. The shooting of Arnold Police Officer Ryan O’Connor is just one example of that. Jasmine Huda was the only reporter who had exclusive access to the O’Connor family during his amazing rehabilitation in Colorado.

Last, but certainly not least, FOX 2 and KPLR 11 are committed to covering local politics. We host debates among candidates and have the most extensive presidential election coverage. Our commitment to politics isn’t just during an election year. We produce two political shows that air every weekend.

Popular

Latest News

More News