KERRY HUBARTT: Let’s hope that wounds can continue to heal with arrest
The story of the arrest of 59-year-old John D. Miller in the abduction and murder of 8-year-old April Tinsley 30 years ago has not only been the hot topic of conversation throughout Allen County and Indiana this week, it has received national and international exposure in the media.
Miller, of Grabill, confessed to local law enforcement that he abducted April from a street near her home in Fort Wayne on April 1, 1988, drove her to his mobile home on Main Street in Grabill where he was arrested Sunday, sexually assaulted her, strangled her to death, assaulted her corpse then dumped her in a DeKalb County ditch.
A conviction in the case promises closure and healing to the Tinsley family and friends after three decades of hope. But there are many more families still waiting for relief from their grief over unsolved cases in which their own children were abducted and murdered.
“Unsolved Child Murders, Eighteen American Cases, 1956-1998,” by Emily G. Thompson (Exposition Books, Nov. 3, 2017), says unsolved child murders occur almost daily in this country. She writes that “of nearly 52,000 juvenile homicides between 1980 and 2008, more than 20 percent remain open.”
Her book points out that 74 percent of victims are dead within three hours of their abduction, so time is of the essence in finding missing children; 80 percent of abductions occur within a quarter mile of families’ homes; 69 percent of abduction murders are sexually motivated, and most such child murderers commit their crimes to fulfill sexual fantasies then kill their victims to keep from being identified or found out.
With details and evidence from the FBI, police, court records and interviews with victims’ families, Thompson’s book documents 18 unsolved cases.
One of those was April Tinsley’s murder.
Online, Wikipedia has a long list of cases from pre-20th century through the present decade, both solved and unsolved. Tinsley’s case is not on that list, nor are other Fort Wayne child murders, such as 7-year-old Sarah Bowker in 1990 among several that have stunned the Summit City through the years.
One other recent unsolved Indiana case on the list, however, is the double-murder of Abigail Williams, 13, and Liberty German, 14, on Feb. 14 last year in Delphi.
And one more on the list from the Chicago area has been designated as the oldest cold case child murder in the country to go to trial, the case of 7-year-old Maria Ridulph.
Maria and a friend, Kathy, had gone out to play in the evening snow flurries in Sycamore, Ill., on Dec. 3, 1957, when they encountered a young man who called himself “Johnny” and offered to give them piggyback rides. When Kathy ran back to her house to get her mittens, she returned to find both Maria and the man gone.
The skeletal remains of Maria’s body were found the following April when a couple was mushroom hunting near Woodbine, Ill., 100 miles away. Maria had been stabbed multiple times in the throat.
Jack McCullough, aka John Tessier, was convicted of her murder in September 2012. But in March 2016, the DeKalb County state’s attorney announced that a post-conviction review of evidence showed McCullough could not have been present at the place and time of Maria’s abduction, so he was released from prison on April 15, 2016. The charges against him were dismissed on April 22, 2016, and McCullough was formally declared innocent of the crime by the DeKalb County Circuit Court on April 12 last year.
Now that the case has returned to unsolved status, that family has resumed the pain of not knowing who committed the horrible crime which, according to author Thompson, is often more painful than the crime itself — an open wound that never heals.
Let’s hope that’s not the case for the Tinsleys.
Kerry Hubartt is the former editor of The News-Sentinel.