'The Genetic Detective': CeCe Moore cracks cold-case murder of April Tinsley, 8, using DNA and genealogy
8-year-old April Marie Tinsley had been walking around in the Fort Wayne neighborhood in 1988 when she was abducted, raped, and strangled to death
In the latest episode of 'The Genetic Detective', CeCe Moore helps the Fort Wayne Police Department crack a 30-year-old cold case. In 1988, April, Marie Tinsley, 8, was abducted, raped and murdered in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Her case rose to national prominence, becoming one of Indiana's highest-profile cases and went unsolved until 2018, when Moore stepped in with her genetic genealogy expertise.
Moore likes to say that her work is mostly family-oriented, in that, she uses her knowledge and skills in genetic genealogy to help families. Prior to solving cold cases and helping families of the victims receive the answers that they deserved, she helped many adoptees who came to her in search of their birth parents. Tinsley's cold case was one that had haunted the city of Fort Wayne for decades and officials had been using up their all their free time into looking for the suspect. However, their investigation always hit a dead end.
The murder of April Tinsley
8-year-old April Marie Tinsley had been walking around her neighborhood in 1988 when she was abducted, raped and strangled to death. Her body had been found some 20 miles away from where she had reportedly been kidnapped, three days later, in a ditch alongside the road by a jogger who had been passing by. While her body was fully-clothed, her pants had been on backward and one of her shoes had been missing - which was later found on the other side of the road. Forensics administered a rape kit on her body and retrieved semen as DNA evidence, however, they were unable to create a DNA profile at the time because the sample was rather small. DNA technology was still in its infancy at the time and required a large sample in order to get positive results. Instead, they preserved the DNA, for future investigations.
Despite an extensive investigation, including interviews with convicted sex offenders, the police were unable to find any potential leads hinting at a killer. In 1990, two years after Tinsley was killed, the police found a message etched on the door of a barn located not far from where her body had been discovered. "I kill 8 year old April Marie Tisley I will kill agin [sic]", the message read as if taunting the police and the public that were still actively looking out for potential suspects related to the murder case. However, it didn't stop there. In 2004, 14 years after the message on the barn door, a series of notes were found at numerous residences in the Fort Wayne area, some left on bicycles of young girls. "Hi Honey I Been watching you I am the same person that kinapped an Rape an kill Aproil Tinsely," the messages said. "You are my next vitem." The creepy taunts were left alongside used condoms and pictures of the killer's body, and when the condoms were tested for DNA they were found to be a match to the samples collected from Tinsley's underwear in 1988.
CeCe Moore's investigation
Moore was assigned the Tinsley case in 2018. 30 years' worth of investigation had garnered them no new information and so police officers from Fort Wayne PD assigned to the case had approached Virginia-based Parabon Labs, which specializes in genetic genealogy. They hoped that Moore's expertise in genetics could help them find their killer. While genetic genealogy is usually used to find distant relatives, it takes manual research and family tree building to find immediate relatives. Parabon's geneticists genotyped the DNA they received from the Fort Wayne PD officers and uploaded the DNA profile that they created onto GED Match, a genealogy website that helps find relatives that share DNA with the suspect. The database provided them with several matches, comprising first, second, third, even fourth cousins, and handed the details over to Moore.
Moore got to work, determining the relations between the matches and trying to find a common ancestor so she's could conjure a family tree, and narrow it down to a potential victim. Only, it ended up being more complicated than she thought. The suspect's genealogy traced back to the 1800s and left her with four genetic networks, which she had to research thoroughly in order to rule out. So she dug for marriage records, obituaries, social security numbers and even local library archival documents to find details that would fit their killer's description. There was a lot of pressure on Moore, simply because she had made finding Tinsley's case a personal mission. Tinsley's distraught mother deserved answers and Moore was determined to give them to her. Finally, Moore had managed to narrow down the four genetic networks to a single one, RD Miller and PJ Green. The couple had been married in 1961 and had three sons, one of whom had passed away prior to the notes appearing in 2004. So he was effectively ruled out and Moore believed that one of the two living brothers was the killer they had been looking for.
As soon as Moore had informed them of the potential suspects, the officers at Fort Wayne PD had immediately gotten to work and began investigating the Miller brothers. However, one out of the two brothers stood out like a sore thumb, simply because he had a record. In 2002, and 2003, John D Miller had been reported for lewd behavior towards women and girls. The police immediately zeroed in on him, found out where he lived and went to retrieve DNA so they could confirm their suspicions. Miller worked at a local Walmart and lived in a trailer in Fort Wayne. They first scoured for evidence in his garbage and were lucky enough to find a used condom, which upon testing matched the existing DNA evidence from the original crime scene.
Miller was called in for questioning in July 2018 and cracked under pressure admitting to his crime. A video recording from the day that the police approached Miller showed him being questioned in relation to the case. When asked why the authorities had called him in for interrogation, he replied with "the April Tinsley Case", and went visibly pale at the officer's words when he was informed of being suspected. He confessed to abducting Tinsley at knifepoint (he used a letter opener to get her in his car), raping her and choking her to death when she told him she wanted to go back to her mother. He also said he had engaged in necrophilia with her corpse. Miller was arrested immediately and imprisoned at the Allan County jail. During his court proceedings, he was sentenced to 80 years in prison - 50 years for murder and 30 years for child molestation.
'The Genetic Detective' airs Tuesdays at 10 pm ET on ABC.