One of the most fascinating things happening in the crime-solving world right now is the use of genealogy databases, like Ancestry and 23 And Me, to solve cold cases.
Most recently, and maybe most famously, we saw it this year when the Golden State Killer was finally apprehended after 40+ years undetected.
Privacy and ethics debates aside, I actually think it’s brilliant to be looking for matches this way if it gets more wastes of fucking oxygen off the street.
In the case I want to tell you about for this week’s instalment of TCT, the Fort Wayne Police Department ran testing on DNA evidence from a 1988 cold case using a genealogy database and came back with hits on two living brothers of the DNA source.
What are killers supposed to do? “Hey, family? Please don’t give your DNA over to 23 and Me. The police might find out I’m a serial killer they’ve been hunting for the last 30 or so years. Okay? Thanks, great talk.”
This is the Cold Case of April Tinsley.
As she walked home from a friend’s house after picking up her umbrella, during the morning of Good Friday, 1988, eight-year-old April Tinsley was abducted.
By 3 p.m., April mother’s, Janet Tinsley, had reported her daughter missing. A search was immediately undertaken by police, but for two days they came up mostly empty-handed. There was one witness who reported seeing a man, driving in a light blue pickup truck, pull April into the truck and drive away.
On the third day, a jogger discovered a young girl’s body in a ditch on DeKalb County Road 68 near Spencerville. Indiana State Police and the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Department arrived on the scene. They discovered one of the girl’s shoes about 1,000 feet west of the body, a probable cause affidavit states.
Janet and Michael Tinsley identified the body as April’s later that day and an autopsy was conducted.
The autopsy revealed April had died of asphyxiation and had been raped. During a forensic search, investigators learned that the killer – an unknown male person – had left behind his DNA in the girl’s underwear.
Despite the eyewitness account of the man in the truck, and the DNA left behind, there were no arrests, and the case started to cool off.
On May 21, 1990, two years later, police were called out to a barn on Schwartz Road and Indiana 37, where words had been scrawled out on a barn door and appeared to show the killer taking credit for the killing on Tinsley. The note read, “I kill 8-year-old April Marie Tinsley I will kill again HaHa.”
Still, the note didn’t provide any new leads.
Then, in the Spring of 2004, 16 years after April’s death, police were dispatched to four different locations around Fort Wayne based on a tip that the killer had left notes inside mailboxes and on the handlebars of little girl’s bicycles. At each location, the police found a ziplock bag containing handwritten notes on yellow lined paper, used condoms and Polaroid photos that partially showed a man’s body, and him masturbating.
One note, with similar writing style, bad grammar and poor spelling like the note found on the barn door 14 years earlier, read: “Hi Honey I been watching you I am the same person that kidnapped and rape and kill [April Tinsley] you are my next victim if you don’t report this to police an I don’t see this in the paper [tomorrow] or on the local news or I [will] blow [indecipherable].”
The DNA profile was developed based on the samples found in the used condoms and investigators announced, “it was determined to be consistent with the profile developed from the underwear of April M. Tinsley.” Despite this new taunting from the killer, no arrests were made.
In April, family and friends marked the 30 year anniversary of Tinsley’s death with a balloon launch. Members of the FWPD attended, assuring everyone that they remained committed to solving the cold case.
In May 2018, Detective Brian Martin, with the Fort Wayne Police Department, made good on that assurance and arranged for DNA testing and analysis to be done at Parabon NanoLabs using the evidence samples in storage. On July 2, 2018, the lab company was able to narrow down the DNA sample to two living brothers. The connection was made using open public genealogy database research by noted genealogist CeCe Moore. Moore’s research has also led to the arrest of a man in Washington State for a 1987 double murder. And a researcher’s use of the same database is also responsible for leading the police to arrest a man for a string of killings attributed to the Golden State Killer.
In this case, the match let investigators zero in their investigation to one of the brothers, John D. Miller, 59. Fort Wayne Police and Indiana State Police put Miller under surveillance at his mobile home in the 13700 block of Main Street in Grabill.
On July 6, police secretly collected trash from Miller’s residence, specifically looking for any items that would contain his DNA. In the pile of trash, investigators found three used condoms. The condoms were sent to the Indiana State Police Laboratory for DNA testing. And within three days, they had received word from the testing lab that the DNA profile extracted from the condoms in Miller’s trash matched the DNA profiles on the condoms found in 2004, and to the DNA found in Tinsley’s underwear.
Yesterday, on July 15, Detectives Brian Martin and Clint Hetrick approached Miller at his home, requesting that he go down to the police department to talk. The detectives then reportedly asked, “Do you have any idea why we want to talk to you?” To which Miller replied, “April Tinsley.”
During his interview with police, Miller at first said, “I can’t,” when asked to explain what exactly happened with April Tinsley. But after some time and though, he loosened up and confessed to Tinsley’s abduction and murder.
He said he took her while she was walking along Hoagland Avenue, and brought her back to his mobile home where he raped her and the choked her to death so that she wouldn’t be able to report him to police. He told police, “it took ten minutes for her to die.” After Tinsley was dead, Miller told police he raped her body again and in the morning, he put her body in his car and drove to DeKalb County Road 68 where he dumped her body into a ditch.
The next day, when he saw no reports about the case in the news, Miller said he drove by her body to make sure it was still there. It was at this time he found one of her shoes in his car, so he threw it out the window as he drove by.
The following news release was sent to local media around 1 p.m. on Sunday:
This morning, July 15, 2018, agents of the Fort Wayne Police Department and the Indiana State Police arrested John D. Miller, M/W, DOB: 7/7/1959 of Grabill, Indiana, in connection with the homicide of April Tinsley, which occurred in April 1988. Miller has been preliminarily charged with Murder, Child Molesting, and Confinement. He will make his first Court appearance tomorrow in the Allen Superior Court at the Bud Meeks Justice Center for an Initial Hearing. If probable cause is found, the State of Indiana will be given 72 hours to file formal charges.
The Probable Cause Affidavit is included with this press release. No further factual information will be released pursuant to the Indiana Rules of Professional Conduct for attorneys. Additional information regarding court dates will be released by this office as events unfold.
The investigation is ongoing by the Fort Wayne Police Department and the Indiana State Police, with assistance from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Sheriff’s Department of Allen County; as well as the Offices of the Prosecuting Attorney in Allen and in Dekalb County.
A press conference will be held Tuesday, July 17th at 11a.m. in the Omni Room on the 2nd floor of Police Operations Center of the Rousseau Center, One Main Street, Fort Wayne, Indiana. No additional information will be released until the press conference.
Miller was taken to Allen County Jail, where he is being held on suspicion of murder, child molesting and confinement. He was slated to make his first court appearance yesterday.
On the very same day, Miller was arrested, ID Discover Channel aired a special on April’s, then unsolved, case.
You can read the indictment against John D. Miller here.
I get the feeling, based on the notes and taunts Miller would randomly leave over the years, as well as his easy confession, that he wanted to be caught.
I’m against the death penalty in principle, but I would support it if there was a reworking of the law that the death penalty can be applied when hard evidence and a confession are present. In this case, I would not be against John D. Miller being taken off the earth. He’s a waste of perfectly good oxygen.
Until next time, Booknerds…