April's Garden: There's Still Hope to Catch a Killer
FT. WAYNE, Ind.--Thirty years ago a little girl disappeared in Ft. Wayne, while walking to her friend's house. Her body was found by a jogger just a couple of days later. April Marie Tinsley's mother still has hope that police will find the person who killed her.
"They said she was a runaway"
"She was a real shy eight-year-old," said her mother Janet Tinsley, in an interview at the Ft. Wayne City-County Building, where she has become a familiar face in the past three decades. She talks with detectives who continue to search for a definitive answer on who killed her daughter.
April's story ill be part of a WIBC news special on Indiana cold cases.
It will air first on Memorial Day.
"I told her to come back about 4 o'clock. All of the sudden when 4 o'clock came, she didn't come back."
April went missing April 1, 1988, which was both April Fools and Good Friday. Her mom walked her up the block and waved her goodbye. When April was on the way to another friend's house, she was abducted.
Tinsley called police.
"They said she was a runaway, and I said, an eight-year-old? A runaway?"
April is found
A team of Ft. Wayne police officers and family members put out fliers and drove the city looking for April.
On April 4, her body was found by a jogger in a ditch in DeKalb County, near Spencerville. She'd been molested and suffocated. Tinsley was told by officers at her house. She had to ID her daughter at the morgue.
"They said say yes or no. And, when I seen it I didn't have to say yes or no. I was setting there just looking at it. I could tell who it was and that's the way she laid asleep," said Tinsley. "They asked me what can they do for me? Well, you can bring back my daughter."
Days crying, years getting updates
She spent days crying. She spent years getting updates from different sets of detectives as personnel changed through the years. Tinsley said the first detective kept her daughter's picture on his desk until he retired.
Police got thousands of tips and questioned several people, even detaining one man. They had to let him go and he was later acquitted on a separate child molestation charge.
In 1990, police believed they may have had a message from the man who killed April. "I kill April Marie Tisley (sic)" and "I kill again", were found written on a barn in St. Joseph Township. Another girl was murdered, just three weeks later. Her name was Sarah Jean Bowker.
"One guy they picked up, they had him in jail for a few days. They just couldn't get him on the murder part," said Tinsley. "A few days later they wanted to talk to him again and he died."
She learned to live to for catching the killer
Tinsley learned to be media savvy, she said. Her husband preferred to work in the background, while she dealt with TV, radio and newspapers. "America's Most Wanted" featured the case in 2009 and 2012. In 2015 a memorial was put up in the neighborhood just south of downtown Ft. Wayne, where April was taken.
It's called "April's Garden".
Tinsley said she recently talked to one of the detectives who are on the case.
Tips are still coming in
"He said the tips are coming in, but not they used to. I said, well at least if we get one a week or once a month, at least it's still out there."
Tinsley said she still has hope, after three decades.
"In a way, I've still got a little hope. Sometimes it gets dim. Real dim. And sometimes there's got to be some hope out there," said Tinsley. People who share that hope visited April's Garden for a balloon launch last month. Tinsley said about 20 of those weren't family or police.
PHOTOS: Chris Davis/Emmis