Season of Justice: April Tinsley


Cassidy Gladieux

Featured image courtesy of FBI

April Tinsley was just 8 years old when she was raped and murdered near her home in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

On April 1, 1988, April was walking home from a friend’s house just three blocks away from her own. Hours went by, and April still had not returned home. April’s mother contacted the police, and they began an immediate search. Witnesses reported seeing April crying while being forced into a blue pickup truck. It was clear that she was abducted.

Image courtesy of WikiMedia Commons

Three days later, 20 miles away in southern DeKalb county, a jogger called police after finding a body facedown in a ditch. April was suffocated to death, and although she was found with clothes on, her underwear was on inside out. Due to the state her body was found in, authorities assumed that she was held captive and tortured for the days leading up to her untimely death. 

Based on the witness accounts, a composite sketch of the killer was created and released to the public. Due to an influx of tips coming into the police department, they decided to question Everett Shull. He was interrogated for 8 hours and gave blood and hair samples along with four other possible suspects. Shull was charged for molesting his girlfriend’s 11-year-old daughter but never for the murder of April Tinsley. 

In August of 1988, authorities reported that the blood and hair samples taken failed to exclude or include the men as suspects. In an interview by Crime Junkie, Janet Tinsley believes even if Everett didn’t commit the crime, he knows who did. 

Two years passed, and April’s killer had still not been found. The case was given new life when a message was scrawled on a barn door 20 miles from where April’s body was found. Taunting the police, the alleged killer wrote “I kill 8 year old April Marie Tinsley. I will kill again.” 

Unfortunately, no new evidence came from this, and it would be 14 more years until the killer left another clue.

In 2004, 16 years after April’s death, a series of notes were left at the homes or on the bikes of little girls in the Fort Wayne area according to Fort Wayne’s NBC. These threatening letters included used condoms and nude photographs of a man from the waist down. In the letter was an admission to killing April as well as a threat that if the letter was not released to the public, he would kill again. DNA from the condoms matched that found on April’s body. 

As technology advanced, so did April’s case. In 2015, a new sketch was created of the killer to show what he might look like. In 2018, a new law was passed that required those arrested for a felony crime in Indiana to submit a DNA sample that is compared to other profiles in the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS). This DNA is what led police to a suspect in April’s case. 

Parabon NanoLabs, a genetic genealogy unit, was able to narrow the killer down to two brothers, and after further DNA comparison, they arrested John Miller at his home near Fort Wayne. When police showed up to Miller’s home, he was asked if he knew why they were there to which he responded, “April Tinsley.” 

John Miller was sentenced to 80 years in prison. The judge was reluctant to order the death penalty due to Miller’s age, he would likely be dead already by the time he was sentenced to be killed. 

Police refused to comment on whether Miller was a suspect in the 2017 Delphi murders of 13 year-old Abigail Williams and 14-year-old Liberty German. Their case still remains unsolved. 

WPTA21 reported that in the courtroom, Tinsley’s mother said Miller had ripped her family apart. “You took her life, we want yours,” she said. She believed the 80-year sentence was far less than what the family went through because of him.