The Journal Gazette
Saturday, December 22, 2018 1:00 am

Relief expressed at case's end

MATTHEW LEBLANC | The Journal Gazette

The picture of April Tinsley sat on his desk for 30 years, a reminder of the murder case that for so long went unsolved.

“It'll come down today,” retired Fort Wayne police detective Gary Grant said Friday, after the 8-year-old girl's killer was sentenced to 80 years in prison.

Among the first investigators assigned to the case in 1988, Grant said it remained close to his heart. He said he had been asked about removing the picture but always refused.

Until the man responsible for April's death is in prison, he said, the picture stays.

Today, the photo is inside a safe. It's a fitting metaphor for the locking away of John D. Miller, 59, who was sentenced Friday in Allen Superior Court on charges of murder and child molesting.

April was taken from her neighborhood on the south side of Fort Wayne on April 1, 1988, and her body was found by a jogger three days later. She was dumped in a ditch in DeKalb County after being sexually assaulted and strangled.

Miller, of Grabill, was arrested in July after police used DNA and genealogy data to tie him to the crime. He pleaded guilty Dec. 7.

Grant and others who either worked on the case or remember it and its effects on Fort Wayne expressed relief it is solved and that the killer likely will never see the outside of a prison.

Most talked about closure for April's family and the city, where many for decades maintained hope the girl would get justice.

Dan Camp, another former Fort Wayne police detective who attended a sentencing hearing for Miller, said he wasn't sure that would ever happen.

“After a while, you think it's not going to come,” said Camp, who retired in 2005 and kept a picture of April in his wallet. “It finally did.”

Paul Helmke was mayor when April was killed. He said he remembers the fear and uncertainty many Fort Wayne residents felt.

“It was such a traumatic time for the community as a whole,” Helmke said. “You're upset that something like this could happen in this community. It was something you felt like was a stain on all of us, in a way, that this could happen in our community.

“It's something you don't forget. This is a good one to close the book on.”

Current Mayor Tom Henry was a member of the Fort Wayne City Council at the time of the slaying and said the case “affected our community deeply.” He said the arrest of Miller and the lengthy prison sentence should bring “a sigh of relief” to parents.

“Even though it didn't affect us directly, it did affect us as a community,” Henry said. “There was a lot of angst out there concerning this particular case.”

April attended Fairfield Elementary School, and Mark Hageman taught physical education there. The randomness of the crime surprised him, he said, and he lauded investigators for their work to catch the killer.

“I was just happy to see they finally solved the crime,” Hageman said. “It's nice to know justice was served in the end.”

April's family pushed prosecutors to seek the death penalty for Miller, whose lawyer said he suffers from heart problems and has trouble walking. Allen County Prosecutor Karen Richards sought a plea agreement that will keep him in prison for the rest of his life.

Richards said she likely would have sought the death penalty if the case had been solved years earlier, noting that some defendants live for decades on death row before they are executed.

Joyce Elliott had recruited April to the children's choir at Faith United Methodist Church, and her husband, John, presided over her funeral.

“I do not consider myself a vengeful person, but in this case, justice is finally and definitely being served, and I rejoice,” Joyce Elliott said this week.

Ashley Sloboda of The Journal Gazette contributed to this story.

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