The Journal Gazette
Saturday, July 14, 2018 1:00 am

Show to feature open '88 slaying

Police say they're still working case

MATTHEW LEBLANC | The Journal Gazette

The true crime show “On the Case with Paula Zahn” will on Sunday detail the 1988 kidnapping and slaying of an 8-year-old Fort Wayne girl, and investigators hope it's the key to finally solving the case. 

“I've heard that so many times,” Janet Tinsley said. “I'm hoping.”

Tinsley's daughter April left the family's home on the city's south side on April 1, 1988, and never returned. The girl's body was found by a jogger three days later in a DeKalb County ditch.

She had been sexually assaulted and suffocated.

The aged case hasn't been forgotten by investigators or local residents. Neither has it been forgotten by national media, which have featured the case on shows including the defunct “America's Most Wanted.” 

April's murder will again be featured at 10 p.m. on “Investigation Discovery.” It will be at least the third time the case has been examined on national television.

Executive producer Larry Israel said the circumstances of the case made it a perfect choice for the show's season premiere. 

“Any time you're dealing with a crime against a child, it impacts us in a greater way,” he said. “There is something about someone that would prey upon a child – it makes your stomach flip-flop.

“We hope that any attention (the show) can bring to this can bring resolution to the family.”

Police continue to look over evidence and follow up on tips from the case, but little information has surfaced to lead investigators to the girl's killer. Hundreds of names have been added to suspect lists kept by police, but the case has not moved forward.

Deputy Police Chief Garry Hamilton said the case remains open and exposure from national media outlets and news magazine programs like Zahn's can help.

“We'll keep plugging at it and, hopefully, we can get this thing resolved,” he said.

“It sends a message to the family that we care. The investigation is always ongoing. To the suspect, it lets them know that we're not giving up.”

The show will provide an overview of the case and is not expected to include new details. It will feature interviews with family members, local reporters and investigators.

Tinsley was interviewed by Zahn, a veteran broadcast journalist and former CNN anchor, in January in New York.

“I can't wait for it to come on,” Tinsley said of the broadcast.

Details of the case read like an outline of a parent's worst nightmare.

April left her home on Good Friday to go to a friend's house, and witnesses later said they saw a man forcing a girl into a beat-up blue pickup that was making a lot of noise. An autopsy showed the girl was killed at least a day before the jogger found her along DeKalb County Road 68.

Handwritten notes on yellow lined paper began appearing in mailboxes and on seats of bicycles in Allen County in 2004. The messages claimed to be written by April's killer.

Investigators have released sketches based on DNA collected in the case to show what the suspect might look like – a white man, 45 to 55 years old, with a light complexion, according to a sketch released in 2015.

April's murder was featured on “America's Most Wanted” in 2009 and 2012. True crime bloggers and social media websites continue to recount details.

Hamilton said police continue to follow leads and credits Tinsley for working to provide publicity for the case.

“She has never given up,” he said. “She has never lost the faith.”

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