Arrest made in 1988 slaying of April Tinsley

Staff Writer

Decatur Daily Democrat

    It's been 30 years since Northeast Indiana was gripped by the unfathomable disappearance, sexual assault and murder of 8-year-old April Tinsley.        For the first time in the case that has spanned two centuries, an arrest was made Sunday and it appears the long search for justice may be over.
    Allen County prosecutors announced the arrest of John D. Miller, 59, of Grabill, in the girl's death. He is charged with murder, child molesting and criminal confinement.
    It was April 1, 1988, when little April left her family's Fort Wayne home on West Williams Street to go to a friend's house. She never returned, sparking a widespread search for the little girl. Her body was found three days later in a ditch on a county road in DeKalb County.
    She had been sexually assaulted and strangled.
    Details of the case — including taunting messages to investigators —have been public knowledge for several years. However, police were at a loss until recently despite DNA evidence. Investigators compared DNA taken from April's clothes and samples collected from used condoms recovered July 6 from outside Miller's home, as well as samples collected in 2004 from locations in Fort Wayne and Grabill, according to court documents.
    In 1990, police found the message, "I kill 8 year old April M Tinsley did you find her other shoe haha I will kill agin" scrawled on a barn on Schwartz Road.
    Then, in 2004, police were called to an address in Fort Wayne and two addresses in Grabill, where used condoms and notes were found that claimed the person who left them had killed young April.
    A DNA profile was established with those condoms and notes.
    Investigators looked to genealogy databases to narrow the search for the alleged killer, according to the probable cause affidavit. The search method was recently used by investigators in California to locate alleged Golden State Killer Joseph James DeAngelo in April.
    It's not clear how detectives Brian Martin of the Fort Wayne Police Department and Clint Hetrick of the Indiana State Police used DNA information in the Tinsley case, but the affidavit says they worked with “highly trained genealogist” CeCe Moore, a genetic genealogist who has commented on the California case in news articles and is famous for her work on the PBS show “Finding Your Roots.”
    The break investigators have been waiting decades for came July 9, when Martin reported in court documents he had been informed by the Indiana State Police laboratory DNA samples taken from condoms in the trash at Miller's mobile home in Grabill were consistent with the DNA profile recovered in 2004, which also matches the DNA recovered in Tinsley's underwear in 1988.
    After arriving at Miller's home in Grabill Sunday, Martin  reportedly asked Miller "if he had any idea why the police wanted to talk to him,” according to the affidavit. “John Miller then looked at detectives and said 'April Tinsley.'"
    Miller reportedly admitted kidnapping, killing and sexually assaulting the girl at his Main Street home in Grabill, according to court recoreds, and told police he dumped the girl's body early April 2 and later drove by the site.
    When he didn't see the story on the news, Miller said he threw one of April's shoes he found still in his car in the ditch. Detectives found the shoe near her body, according to the affidavit.
    The April Tinsley case has been featured twice on the long running show, “America's Most Wanted,” which is no longer on the air. “On the Case with Paula Zahn,” a true crime program on Investigation Discovery, profiled the case Sunday night.
    The case left a hole in the heart of Indiana residents, and marked the beginning of change in the freedom Hoosier children had known to that point. Gone were the days of children playing by themselves, walking to a friend's house or meeting at the park. The world shifted for Hoosier families in April of 1988.
    April's family left Fort Wayne in 1991 but returned five years ago.
    Miller does not appear to have a serious criminal record. Online court records reveal three traffic-related offenses dating back to 1994. He is scheduled to appear in Allen Superior Court today.
    The prosecutor's office said a news conference is scheduled for Tuesday morning.