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COLD CASE BREAKTHROUGH: Indiana man arrested in 1988 rape, murder of 8-year-old girl after DNA is found to be a match

GRABRILL, IN (The Indianapolis Star) — Thirty years after the murder of 8-year-old April Tinsley, police arrested a man in connection to her death on the same day the cold case was to be examined during a prime-time crime documentary.

John D. Miller, 59, of Grabill, was arrested at his home Sunday morning by members of the Fort Wayne Police Department and the Indiana State Police, according to court documents.

According to the FBI, the investigation began April 1, 1988, when April was abducted from her Fort Wayne neighborhood while walking from a friend’s house. Three days later, a jogger discovered April’s body about 20 miles to the north in a ditch along a country road in DeKalb County.

Officials also found one of April’s shoes about 1,000 feet from the body. Police said April had been raped. The killer left his DNA, but authorities couldn’t find a match.

The case saw new life in 1990, when her killer scrawled a message on a barn door: “I kill 8-year-old April Marie Tinsley. I will kill again.”

In 2004, 16 years after April’s death, the killer left threatening notes, photos and used condoms on three girl’s bicycles and in a mailbox in the Fort Wayne area. The pictures showed a man’s nude lower body. DNA in the condoms matched that found on April’s body.

“Hi honey. I been watching you,” one note released by the FBI read. “I am the same person that kidnapped, raped and killed April Tinsely. You are my next victim.”

Court documents reveal a break in the case in May of 2018. That is when a detective arranged for DNA testing and analysis to be done on the suspect’s evidence sample at Parabon NanoLabs.

On July 2, the lab was able to narrow the DNA sample to two brothers, one being Miller. Investigators then began conducting surveillance on Miller.

On July 6, police searched Miller’s trash in an attempt to find items bearing the suspect’s DNA, according to court documents. In the trash, they found three used condoms.

On July 9, investigators learned that the DNA from the used condoms found in Miller’s trash matched the DNA from the condoms found in 2004, and the DNA found on the victim.

On Sunday morning, police explained to Miller that they had connected his DNA to the 1988 slaying. When asked to explain what happened to Tinsley, Miller looked at police and said “I can’t,” according to court documents.

Miller then admitted to abducting April from Hoagland Avenue in Fort Wayne on April 1, 1988, taking her to his trailer, sexually assaulting her and killing her, court documents said.

Miller told police that he choked the victim so that she wouldn’t tell police what happened, and that it took 10 minutes for the little girl to die. He then told police that he drove April’s body to Spencerville the next morning and dumped her in a ditch.

Miller was taken to the Allen County Jail, where he is being held on suspicion of murder, child molesting and confinement. He is slated to make his first court appearance Monday.

IndyStar reporter Vic Ryckaert contributed to this story.

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