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The Journal Gazette

  • Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette April 1 marked the 30th anniversary of the slaying of 8-year-old April Tinsley.

  • Gevers

Sunday, July 22, 2018 1:00 am

April's memory still lives on for many

Journal Gazette

Joyce Elliott recalls the children's choir at Faith United Methodist Church including a motley crew of neighborhood kids. April Tinsley was one of them.

Elliott, who recruited April, cannot recall the girl's singing abilities specifically, only that it was a battle to get the children to sing on pitch.

“She was enthusiastic, I'll tell you that,” the now 86-year-old said last week in a telephone interview. Her husband, John Elliott, was also on the call. He was the reverend who presided over the funeral service for 8-year-old April.

Even after 30 years, Joyce Elliott remembers April as a sprightly, happy and carefree girl whose 1988 murder captured national attention again last week when authorities charged John D. Miller in her death.

“To me, she was a bright light,” Joyce Elliott said.

The Elliotts' service to Faith United Methodist Church ended in 1988.

Choir members had a difficult time dealing with April's slaying.

“April's death shook them to their roots, and quite understandably,” Joyce Elliott said.

Interacting with April's family, who didn't attend the church, was meaningful for John Elliott, now 88. He helped them with issues of faith and religion, he said. He spoke about April, life after death and God.

Joyce Elliott, who placed a cross necklace on April before the funeral, wished more people attended the service. When the organist didn't arrive in time, she stepped in.

“I did the best I could,” Joyce Elliott said, noting she was more experienced with the piano and harp.

The couple accompanied April's body to her grave in Greenlawn Memorial Park.

They now live in Franklin and were happy to learn of April's Garden, a lasting memorial developed a few years ago at Hoagland and Masterson avenues. They hope her parents feel closure with last week's arrest.

“I think justice will be served,” Joyce Elliott said.

– Ashley Sloboda

'Good little girls' made impression

Kindergarten teacher Lynn McIntyre was excited when her class roster showed April Tinsley would be in her morning class at Fairfield Elementary School. That's because it represented a career first.

McIntyre taught the girl's mother, Janet Tinsley, about 20 years before at Rudisill Elementary School during her second year of teaching. April's kindergarten year was the first time McIntyre taught the child of a former student, she said in a phone interview Friday.

The now-retired Fort Wayne Community Schools educator remembers both Tinsleys as “good little girls” who listened, did what they were supposed to do and didn't get into trouble.

When April was slain, McIntyre and others visited her family's home and brought gifts. April's awards hung on the walls. McIntyre described the honors as anything April would have received at school, such as commendations for good behavior.

“I always knew she was a loved little girl,” McIntyre said.

April's slaying happened during spring break and “really affected” teachers who knew her, McIntyre said. She doesn't remember grief counseling being offered.

Fairfield doesn't have any memorial dedicated to April, FWCS spokeswoman Krista Stockman wrote in an email.

“I'm not sure if they once did or not,” she said.

McIntyre spoke to her 8-year-old granddaughter about April this spring, around the anniversary of the crime. She warned her granddaughter of “all the things parents and grandparents would say,” such as to never get in a vehicle with a stranger, she said.

“It's a terrible, terrible thing that happened,” McIntyre said.

It's upsetting to see April's photograph beside the picture of her accused killer, McIntyre said, but she is glad there has been an arrest.

“It's a long time to wait,” she said.

– Ashley Sloboda

Attorney: DNA advances 'amazing'

When April Tinsley was abducted and killed 30 years ago, Allen County prosecutors feared even worse was to come.

“There was a real concern that the individual could strike again. (There was) such a real concern because a little girl being abducted like that doesn't happen very often, fortunately,” Robert Gevers II, a local criminal attorney said last week. Gevers was working at the prosecutor's office in 1988 and was the Allen County prosecutor from 1995 to 2002.

At the time of Tinsley's death, it was almost unthinkable that DNA could be the powerful tool it became, linking Tinsley's alleged killer, John D. Miller, to evidence collected at the scene.

“I remember conversations in the office with Steve Sims – the prosecutor at the time – and others (saying) you've got to make certain that the little girl and the body is processed and that the DNA would be so key if someone left any trace evidence behind,” Gevers said

“It's just amazing now that DNA has become so commonplace.”

Gevers said he has had his own DNA test and was able to link to a second cousin.

The trail to Tinsley's killer was frustrating even if, over time, there were leads, Gevers said.

“There would be times when someone would call and say, hey, take a look at whomever. It was never ever anything that became solid. Never anything you could really grasp and say, 'Hey, we're on our way.'”

 – Jamie Duffy

Detective's long wait finally ends

Emotions were high when now-retired Fort Wayne police detective Dan Camp led the investigation into the abduction and murder of April Tinsley.

The investigation that began when the girl disappeared from her home in 1988 consumed much of his life. 

If the result of that work was frustration because it didn't lead to an arrest, then an embrace between Camp and Allen County Prosecutor Karen Richards last week symbolized relief.

The two shared a hug after a news conference Richards called to thank investigators including Camp for their work that led to the arrest of John D. Miller in April's death.

“This is a wonderful day,” Camp said Tuesday, as he wrapped his arms around Richards.

Miller confessed to police he kidnapped April, sexually assaulted her at his home in Grabill and dumped her body in a ditch in DeKalb County in 1988, according to court documents.

He was arrested Sunday at his Grabill home.

“I was just elated,” Camp said. “It's just wonderful to find him after all this time.” 

 – Matthew LeBlanc

April's Garden built in 2015

The vacant lot on the southwest corner of Masterson and Hoagland avenues had become a small field of weeds.

Tommy Goings saw through the weeds and envisioned a memorial.

Goings, 54, was the driving force behind the creation in 2015 of April's Garden, a memorial to the 8-year-old who disappeared from nearby West Williams Street in 1988 and was sexually assaulted and slain.

When the Hoagland-Masterson Neighborhood Association sought input for what to do with the unused land, Goings was there to say something should be erected to honor the life of April Tinsley.

He's reluctant to take credit, but several people who have visited the memorial since John D. Miller, 59, was arrested last week in the girl's killing said the spot with flowers, a bench and engraved bricks wouldn't be there without Goings.

The memorial is a place where neighbors can honor and remember one of their own, Goings said.

He grew up in the neighborhood, where people stick together and look out for one another.

“It's something that I took to heart,” Goings said. “This is embedded in my heart.” 

 – Matthew LeBlanc