30 years later in Fort Wayne: Where is April Marie Tinsley’s killer?
Every time the month of April rolls around, Janet Tinsley is in her “depression” mode. It will last until April 8, the day 30 years ago this year that a memorial service was held for her daughter, April Marie Tinsley.
“No one call. No one text. I’m not answering the door,” Janet Tinsley said Wednesday at a public balloon launch at April’s Garden, a memorial for her 8-year-old daughter on donated land at Hoagland and Masterson avenues. It’s just around the corner from where the Tinsley family – Janet, her husband, Michael, and their then-2-year-old son, Paul – were living when April was kidnapped, sexually molested and found suffocated days later in DeKalb County.
The image of Tinsley, with her shy-looking smile and blue eyes like a Kewpie Doll’s face with slightly tussled blond hair and wearing a pink-and-white striped blouse, has become familiar to many Fort Wayne residents over the years.
April is buried in Greenlawn Memorial Park. Her 38th birthday would have been March 18.
The Tinsley family eventually moved to Kentucky, but came back to Fort Wayne about four years ago. They keep in contact with police, who examine whatever leads come in.
Janet said she’s the face of the cause to remember her daughter while Michael, who stayed in the background Wednesday, normally handles things by computer. Son Paul was working and couldn’t be at the event. April had been a twin, but the boy, Patrick, died before his sister was born, Janet Tinsley said.
If her daughter’s killer is ever found, she wants a one-on-one with him, she said.
The Fairfield Elementary School first-grader was last seen alive April 1, 1988. She was close to home after running a simple daytime errand. What happened next has haunted the community in the decades since.
A girl told police she saw a man drag Tinsley into a blue pickup after she left a friend’s house to retrieve an umbrella at another girl’s house. She never arrived. A jogger discovered her body two days later, April 4, in a rain-filled ditch off a rural road in southern DeKalb County. She had been dead 24-48 hours.
Dan Camp, who retired from the Fort Wayne Police Department in 2005, worked the investigation. He hugged Janet Tinsley on Wednesday at the balloon launch and stood to the side amid other Fort Wayne Police and Allen County Prosecutor’s office employees.
“I never would have thought it would have gone this long” without being solved, Camp said.
The killer left behind his DNA, which was just a year before Indiana’s first DNA evidence case ended with the conviction of Frank Hopkins in Fort Wayne community activist Sharon Lapp’s murder in her Rudisill Boulevard home. Since then, the creation of an Indiana state law set up the Combined DNA Index System, a national computer database of DNA used by law enforcement to connect suspects to crimes.
Over the years, police have looked at suspects, some of whom have refused to give DNA samples.
Camp wishes he could just stick a syringe in some arms to take blood samples for DNA, but that requires probable cause. Because that’s lacking, investigators have the killer’s DNA to work with, which enabled Fort Wayne Police to release in 2016 an updated composite image of what he might look like.
However, he hasn’t shown up in connection with any other crimes. The June 1990 killing of 7-year-old Sarah Jean Bowker in Stone Pointe Village Apartments had many drawing links to Tinsley’s killing because an autopsy showed Bowker also had been sexually molested and suffocated. However, in 1995 the Bowker case was closed after the Allen County Prosecutor’s office decided there was enough circumstantial evidence against a man who had died the previous year. He was once a Bowker family friend.