April Tinsley was abducted, raped, and murdered on April 1, 1988. On that faithful day, the young girl from Fort Wayne, Indiana, came from school and wanted to play with her friends.
April, born on March 18, 1980, forgot her umbrella at her friend's house and went back for it. That would be the last time anyone who cared for April Tinsley would ever see her.
What followed was every parent's nightmare. The girl's body was found days later, but catching the killer proved to be way more complicated.
Discovery Of April Tinsley's Body
April's mom, Janet, soon realized that her daughter was missing. Cops and volunteers gathered, but the massive search on Friday, the day April vanished, brought nothing.
The girl disappeared in broad daylight, around 3 pm. The only clue reported was that she talked to someone in a blue pickup.
A jogger discovered the body of April Tinsley three days later, 20 miles away in southern DeKalb county. Though she was fully clothed, the autopsy revealed that the 8-year-old girl suffered a horrible death. She was raped, and her underwear was inside out.
April Tinsley was suffocated to death. The police assumed she was tortured while held captive.
The killer left a bag with a sex toy and his DNA near and on April's tiny body. Yet, the only thing the police could work with was a sketch of a white man in his mid-30s. He was the one who kidnapped the girl and led her to her horrific death.
However, and at one point, around 600 men were suspects.
The sadistic killer escaped, but he couldn't keep quiet.
The Chilling Letters
Two years after April Tinsley's untimely death, in May 1990, someone left a message on the barn saying:
"I kill 8 year old April Marie Tinsley I will kill again... Haha."
Then, the case went cold, and it stayed that way for the following 14 years.
In 2004, April Tinsley's murderer left several messages to remind people of the violent crime. Three out of four notes were attached to children's bicycles.
The handwriting from the notes matched the writing on the barn. It was the same person.
The letters were in plastic baggies, some contained photos of the killer's naked lower part of the body and condoms. Each note showed the depraved and sadistic nature of the killer.
One, attached to a girl's bike, said:
"Hi honey... I been watching you....I am the same person that kidnapped an rape an kill april tinsley, ... You are my next victim....if you don't report this to police an if I don't see this in the paper tomorrow or on the local news...I will blow up your house."
The DNA from the condoms matched the DNA found on April Tinsely's body.
Catching The Killer
April Tinsley's family moved to Kentucky after the tragedy but returned to Fort Wayne in 2014.
On the 30th anniversary of their daughter's death, the family visited the April's Garden. April's parents were still actively looking for the killer, and as Janet Tinsley explained, she was the face, as her husband was working behind the scenes.
The shattered parents have a son, who was only two when his older sister was brutally killed. He only learned about her destiny when he was 9.
Thanks to genetic genealogy, the hunt for the Fairfield Elementary School first-grader killer was revived.
The new sketch from 2015 was followed by another in 2016. However, the DNA samples left gave the police a clear answer. It came down to two brothers.
With additional comparisons, the police were ready to arrest April's killer. They went to the home of John Miller, and when he was asked if he knew why they were there, he responded, "April Tinsley."
No Death Penalty For The Killer Of April Tinsley
John D. Miller was sentenced to 80 years in prison, in December 2018, over 30 years after torturing and killing a young girl.
The Tinsley family wanted the death penalty. The only reason Miller was spared was his age. The death row inmates wait for decades to be executed, and since he was 59 at the time of sentencing, the judge decided to keep him locked up for good.
Miller, who lived in Grabill, Indiana, was described by his neighbors as a secluded individual with a bad temper.
April's mom stated after the trial, her girl did not truly get justice, but she saw it as a start. The heartbroken mom said that her baby would never be forgotten, and the family would continue to fight for the death penalty.
John D. Miller is doing time in New Castle Correctional Facility in Indiana. His earliest release would be on July 2058, when he would be 99 years old.
Who Is John Miller?
Detectives Martin and Hetrick were the ones who got the confession from April Tinsley's killer, John Miller.
Naturally, with the nature of the crime, the detectives had to go through other cold cases. The detectives confirmed no matches between Miller and other similar crimes in the area.
Hetrick explained how the monster stayed hidden in plain sight:
"He was a very private person, awkward, kept to himself. He worked the midnight shift. He went from work to home and did the same thing every day. I think that is the reason he stayed under the radar for 30 years."
Miller worked at Walmart before he was arrested. Those who knew him were shocked because his behavior did not change before or after raping and killing April Tinsley.
The detectives were confused that no one recognized the handwriting. They also explained that the killer knew what he was doing despite not being educated or socially accepted.
Miller's coworkers were shocked, but only because they knew so little about the murderer.
Even those who knew him for decades knew very little. A former coworker only recalled that he had a cat.
One neighbor recalled:
"He'd walk up and down the street to the softball diamond and sit and watch the kids play."
The only thing that was well known was the hunched walk, the speech impediment, the rage.
April Tinsley's Family
Janet Tinsley wrote a letter to the killer stating:
"You kidnapped her, you sexually assaulted her, and threw her little body out like it was trash. I will never forgive and I will never forget what you took from us, I will remember this forever until the day I die."
The family continues to remember their cheerful girl and honor all the children who lost their lives due to violence.
At April's annual memorial event, Janet said:
"It will be April's day, but we'll have it for all children who died violent deaths."
Reliving the death of a child is painful beyond belief. However, the highlight in April's story is that her torturer was finally caught, and he won't be able to hurt any other child.
Thanks to advances in technology and science, many cold cases are getting closures. It is not much, but it has to be better than not knowing.