The April Marie Tinsley case: a timeline of the Fort Wayne girl’s 1988 kidnapping and killing

April Marie Tinsley (Courtesy photo)
Using Snapshot DNA Phenotyping and a forensic artist, a composite profile of April Marie Tinsley's suspected killer was released in 2016 by the Fort Wayne Police Department. This rendering allowed the artist to humanize features and use age progression in an attempt to accurately depict the suspect. (Photo courtesy of the Fort Wayne Police Department)

• April 1, 1988: 8-year-old April Marie Tinsley, of the 300 block of West Williams Street, disappears around 4 p.m. after telling a friend in the 300 block of West Suttenfield Street she was going to pick up her umbrella at another girl’s house. The Fairfield Elementary School first-grader never makes it to her friend’s house in the 2300 block of East Hoagland Avenue.

• April 4, 1988: A police task force of 25 Fort Wayne Police officers joins a 50-member civilian search party in the hunt for Tinsley. A neighborhood girl reports she saw Tinsley being forced into a beat-up blue pickup by a white man in his 30s, but the massive search fails to produce any solid clues. At 3:30 p.m., a DeKalb County jogger discovers Tinsley’s body lying near the bottom of a ditch north of DeKalb County Road 68, between County roads 47 and 51 west of Spencerville. The girl appeared to have been killed elsewhere and dumped in the ditch. An autopsy indicated Tinsley had been sexually molested and suffocated. She had been dead for nearly two days when her body was discovered.

RELATED STORY: 30 years later: Where is April Marie Tinsley’s killer?

• April 5, 1988: A motorist reports having seen a blue truck stopped early Sunday in the middle of DeKalb County Road 68. A reward fund is started by two local radio stations. Two funds – for the Tinsley family and for Tinsley’s burial – are established.

• April 6, 1988: Police intensify their search for a light blue, battered pickup — the only solid lead they have in Tinsley’s abduction and slaying. They exchange information with officials in Columbus, Ohio, exploring a possible connection between Tinsley’s abduction and the disappearance of a 9-year-old Columbus girl March 31.

• April 7, 1988: Police release a composite drawing of a man witnesses saw with Tinsley in the 2300 block of Hoagland Avenue between 3 and 4 p.m. April 1. The man — described as in his 30s and weighing 150 pounds — was driving a battered blue pickup. The sketch sparks a flood of calls.

• April 8, 1988: 150 mourners gather at Faith United Methodist Church for Tinsley’s memorial service.

• April 11, 1988: Police announce that a 34-year-old man is sought for questioning in Tinsley’s slaying after more than 140 people call Crime Stoppers to report the man’s resemblance to the composite. Also, callers reported that the man had talked to friends about having knowledge of Tinsley’s death, and that a blue pickup had been parked outside his home several times. After interrogating the man for eight hours, Fort Wayne police charge him in a different case — the molestation of an 11-year-old girl in a West Butler Street apartment in October 1987. Police take blood and hair samples from him and several other men questioned in the case to compare with hair and fluid samples removed from Tinsley’s body. He is held at the Allen County Jail on $10,000 bond. Fort Wayne Police take over coordination of the investigation, which also includes Indiana State Police and DeKalb County investigators.

• April 20, 1988: About 25 volunteers, mostly neighbors of the Tinsley family, form a group called APRIL (Associated Parents Regional Independent League, which later becomes Abduction Prevention Reconnaissance and Information League), to organize searches for missing children.

• April 26, 1988: Hair and blood samples from five men questioned in the Tinsley slaying are sent with samples from Tinsley’s body to a private lab in Germantown, Md., for DNA typing.

• May 5, 1988: Police investigate devil worship as a motive for Tinsley’s slaying after questioning several men rumored to be involved in the occult.

• May 24, 1988: The 34-year-old man is released from jail after being acquitted of the unrelated October 1987 child molesting charge. Police say he passes two polygraph examinations in questioning about Tinsley. He is never charged in the Tinsley case.

• Aug. 9, 1988: Officials announce that hair and blood samples sent to a DNA lab April 26 fail to exclude or include as suspects any of the men questioned in the case.

• Oct. 5, 1988: Investigation of Tinsley’s death stalls after none of her possible attackers’ DNA can be recovered from her body.

• July 7, 1990: Police study a message written on a St. Joseph Township barn. The misspelled message reads, “I kill April Marie Tisley” and “I kill again.” They were told about the message’s existence in May, about three weeks before the similar slaying of 7-year-old Sarah Jean Bowker of Fort Wayne, whose body was found June 14, 1990, just south of the apartment complex she lived in off Coldwater Road. Near the barn, police find the implement used to write the message, but won’t say what it was.

• Aug. 7, 1991: The FBI devise behavioral profiles of possible suspects in both Tinsley’s and Bowker’s deaths. Analysis of evidence leads the FBI to believe that Tinsley and Bowker probably were killed by different people, and that more than one person probably was involved in Tinsley’s death. It says the perpetrators in both cases probably were sex offenders with sexual dysfunction and minimal social skills, who had problems in their personal lives that caused great stress that led to the killings.

• June 24, 2005: Members of the Tinsley family hold a news conference at the Allen County Courthouse to remind people of the unsolved homicide and issue a plea for clues that might provide a break in the case.

• Sept. 18, 2006: Police ask the public for help in recognizing handwriting of notes left at the homes of other 8-year-old girls in 2004 claiming he killed April. The FBI recently confirmed that they believe the handwriting is by the same person.

• April 11, 2009: “America’s Most Wanted” airs the Tinsley case in hopes of getting tips in the case.

• May 4, 2009: The FBI and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children established a 24-hour “Dial-A-Profile” local phone line at 1-260-439-8232.

• August 2010: The Indiana Department of Correction, with the Indiana State Police and the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, release a second edition of the Indiana Cold Case Homicides Playing Cards, which are sold in state prisons. Tinsley is on the 9 of hearts.

• Aug. 25, 2012: “America’s Most Wanted” revisits Tinsley’s killing. It features comments from Fort Wayne Police Department crime scene technician Chris Miehls, retired FWPD detective Dan Camp and former FBI profiler Jennifer Eakin, who are working or who have worked on the case. Earlier in the week, Miehls had said 513 suspects had been narrowed down to 81. Of those 81, 12 had refused to let their DNA be tested. Several of those had refused twice.

• April 2015: Jim Obergfell, a member of the Hoagland Masterson Neighborhood Association, agrees to create a small memorial for Tinsley at the southwest corner of Hoagland and Masterson avenues. It’s called April’s Garden.

• May 2016: Fort Wayne Police release a new composite profile of a suspect in Tinsley’s killing using a forensic DNA analysis called Snapshot. Snapshot uses DNA to predict the physical appearance and ancestry of a DNA source.

• Wednesday: Tinsley’s parents mark the 30th anniversary of her death with a balloon launch at April’s Garden.

-Lisa M. Esquivel Long of News-Sentinel.com contributed to this report


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