Searching for April Tinsley's Killer

In 1988 8-year-old April Tinsley was kidnapped, raped and murdered on Good Friday. Her murderer was never caught but over the last decade notes have been popping up in different places admitting to being her murderer and threatening to kill more little girls. The FBI has ramped up their investigation again and is looking for help from the public to finally caught this scumbag once and for all. From the FBI’s press archives:

On a beautiful spring morning in the farm country outside Fort Wayne, Indiana, one of our agents knocks on the front door of a well-kept home. In this quiet neighborhood nearly 20 years ago, an incredible clue appeared in a murder case–a message scrawled on a barn door by the murderer himself.

“I killed 8-year-old April Marie Tinsley,” it said. And there was also this: “I will kill again.”

A woman answers the door–she had been working in her garden–and our agent–part of a special FBI team working with Indiana law enforcement to help solve the 1988 abduction and murder–introduces himself, shows his badge, and asks for her help. Did she live here when the barn door message was discovered in 1990? Was there anyone in the neighborhood at the time who made her feel uncomfortable? Did she know anyone who still used a Polaroid camera?

This scene was being repeated in many Fort Wayne neighborhoods, as the cold case we have written about recently is getting a fresh look by Indiana law enforcement and our Child Abduction Rapid Deployment (CARD) Team.

Working with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, the Fort Wayne Police Department, the Allen County Sheriff’s Department, and the Indiana State Police, the CARD Team set up a command post in Fort Wayne earlier this month to manage about 75 agents, detectives, analysts, and command staff involved in the investigation and to track the leads–old and new.

One reason the Tinsley case is getting such close scrutiny after all these years is public safety: as recently as 2004, the killer left provocative, threatening notes around Fort Wayne taking credit for the murder.

The CARD Team was created to bring together a variety of experts in child abduction cases who could help local authorities on the ground. So about a dozen team members from all over the country arrived in Fort Wayne and got to work on the Tinsley case:

  • Agents with our Crimes Against Children Unit received packets–some with suspects’ criminal histories and last known addresses–with leads to investigate.
  • Members of our Behavioral Analysis Unit, who assess offenders’ personalities and possible motives, crafted a list of interview questions, and later issued a profile of the killer based on existing evidence.
  • Coordinators from our National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime and representatives from our Violent Criminal Apprehension Program were stationed at command post computer terminals, ready to supply investigators in the field with everything from license plate checks to satellite maps.

“Our approach with this case is that no lead is too small to work,” said Special Agent Robert E. King, one of the agents leading the CARD Team investigation.

The entire effort was a cooperative one. Our agents paired with local detectives–25 two-person teams worked day and night shifts–to re-canvass neighborhoods, conduct interviews, and ask for DNA samples from possible suspects. Investigators then entered their findings into our new crisis management system

So far, April Tinsley’s killer remains at large, but there is always another lead to pursue and another door to knock on.

We need your help. If you have any information about the Tinsley case, contact your local FBI office or the Fort Wayne Police Department.

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