UPDATED: Grabill man arrested on murder, other charges in 30-year-old April Tinsley murder case
Editor’s note: This story has been updated Sunday evening to correct information about another case solved using DNA and genealogy. The News-Sentinel regrets the error.
The genetic genealogy researcher most noted for her work on adoption cases helped law enforcement officials develop a suspect and make today’s arrest in the April 1988 murder of then 8-year-old April Marie Tinsley of Fort Wayne.
A probable cause affidavit filed today in the case against John D. Miller, 59, of Grabill, said DNA profiling and genealogy expert CeCe Moore’s research using a public genealogy database led them to Miller, who was arrested today on preliminary charges of murder, child molesting and confinement for Tinsley’s death.
The Allen County Prosecutor’s office announced Miller’s arrest about 12:45 p.m. today.
Miller will have an initial hearing on the charges Monday morning in the Allen Superior Court in the Bud Meeks Justice Center, 715 S. Calhoun St., the announcement said. If probable cause is found for the charges, the prosecutor’s office will have 72 hours to file formal charges against Miller.
The investigation of the case also is continuing by the Fort Wayne Police Department and the Indiana State Police, with assistance from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Allen County Sheriff’s Department and the prosecutor’s offices in Allen and DeKalb counties, the prosecutor’s office announcement said.
Tinsley was reported missing about 3 p.m. April 1, 1988, by her mother, a probable cause affidavit filed in the case said. The family lived in the 300 block of West Williams Street.
On April 4, 1988, Indiana State Police and the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Department were called to a report of a young girl’s body found in a ditch in the 5000 block of DeKalb County Road 68 near Spencerville. What appeared to be one of her shoes was found about 1,000 feet west of the body, the probable cause affidavit said.
April’s parents, Janet and Michael Tinsley, identified the body later that day as their daughter.
An autopsy revealed April had died from asphyxiation and likely has been sexually assaulted, the affidavit said. The forensic exam also found DNA from an unknown male person in the girl’s underwear, the affidavit said.
The prosecutor’s office said it won’t release any more factual information about the case, based on the Indiana Rules of Professional Conduct for attorneys, the announcement said. However, court dates in the case will be released as they are set.
The prosecutor’s office also will hold a press conference on the case at 11 a.m. Tuesday in the Police Operations Center in the Rousseau Centre at Main and Calhoun streets. Check News-Sentinel.com early Tuesday afternoon for details.
THE DNA CONNECTION
The probable cause affidavit contains the following allegations and explains how DNA research led police to Miller:
On May 21, 1990, police were called to a barn at Schwartz Road and Indiana 37, where writing had been seen on the barn that appeared to show the suspected killer taking credit for killing Tinsley. The note said, “I kill 8 year old April M. Tinsley did you find her other shoe haha I will kill again.”
In 2004, police were sent to three locations — the 1600 block of Benham Drive in Fort Wayne, Witmer and Roth roads in Grabill, and the 12900 block of Indiana Street in Grabill — where they recovered a used condom at each location. Along with the condoms, police found notes saying the person who left the condoms had raped and killed Tinsley.
Investigators developed a DNA profile from the condoms, and “it was determined to be consistent with the profile developed from the underwear of April M. Tinsley.”
On May 11 of this year, Fort Wayne Police Det. Brian Martin arranged for genetic DNA testing and analysis to be done on the evidence from the possible Tinsley murder suspect.
On July 2, the testing company reportedly narrowed the DNA recovered from the suspect in the Tinsley murder to two surviving brothers, including Miller. The connection was made using open public genealogy database research by noted genealogist CeCe Moore.
In May, Moore’s research led to the arrest of a man in Washington State in connection with 1987 double murder there, news reports said. A researcher’s use of the same genealogy database recently also led police in California to arrest a man for a string of killings attributed to the Golden State Killer.
Fort Wayne Police and Indiana State Police detectives then put John D. Miller under surveillance at his mobile home in the 13700 block of Main Street in Grabill, where he was the only occupant.
On July 6, police secretly collected trash from Miller’s residence to see if they could find any items that contained his DNA. The findings included three used condoms, which police sent to the Indiana State Police Laboratory for DNA testing.
On July 9, police received news from the Indiana State Police lab that the DNA profile extracted from the condoms in Miller’s trash matched the DNA profiles of the condoms found in 2004 and the DNA found in Tinsley’s underwear.
Earlier today, Fort Wayne Police Det. Brian Martin and Indiana State Police Det. Clint Hetrick approached Miller at his home and asked him to come to the Fort Wayne Police Department to talk with detectives.
When police asked him if he knew why they wanted to talk with him, Miller reportedly said, “April Tinsley.”
During the interview with police, Miller at first said, “I can’t,” when asked to explain what happened to Tinsley.
He then allegedly confessed to her abduction and murder, saying he took her from Hoagland Avenue in Fort Wayne to his mobile home in Grabill, where he sexually assaulted her and then choked her to death so she wouldn’t report him to police.
After Tinsley was dead, Miller told police he sexually assaulted her body again. Early the morning of April 2, 1988, he put her body in his car and drove to DeKalb County Road 68 near Spencerville, where he dumped the body in a ditch along the road.
The next day, after he saw no news reports about the case, Miller said he drove by the site where he had dumped the body. He also had found one of her shoes in his car, and he threw that out the car window along the ditch as he drove by.
TV REPORT ON THE CASE
Janet Tinsley of Fort Wayne has posted on her Facebook page that the 1988 abduction and murder of her daughter, April Marie Tinsley, will be the subject of the program “On the Case with Paula Zahn” at 10 p.m. today on the Investigation Discovery Channel cable TV network.