The production crew and host of the TV show “America’s Most Wanted” were in Fort Wayne on Monday, taping an episode to air Friday that revisits the April Marie Tinsley killing.
Tinsley, an 8-year-old Fort Wayne girl, was abducted, raped and suffocated in 1988. Her body was dumped in a DeKalb County ditch, where a jogger found it days after the girl’s Good Friday disappearance.
In the ensuing years, police have allowed bits and pieces of evidence to trickle out to the public, and investigators shared new information Monday.
A sex toy was found about 20 or 25 feet from Tinsley’s body the day she was discovered.
“It’s so unique or different,” said Chris Meihls, a crime scene technician with Fort Wayne police who taped a segment with “America’s Most Wanted.” “It might be someone who collected these things.”
Investigators found the sex toy in a box inside a plastic Sears bag.
Dubbed a “Ben Wab Squirmy,” the sex toy is 6 to 8 inches long with a girth of about 3 to 4 inches. It has a hand crank and appears darker in the photo than it was originally because of DNA and fingerprint testing.
Investigators said they found no DNA on the sex toy and there is no evidence it was used on Tinsley, but they believe it did belong to the girl’s killer.
“Someone may recognize it,” Meihls said.
Information about the sex toy was kept secret because investigators felt they could use it to easily prosecute someone who would know of its existence at the crime scene.
For many years, police were quiet about the fact that only one of Tinsley’s shoes was found at the crime scene – something her killer would brag about later.
Meihls was part of a panel that filmed a short scene Monday for “America’s Most Wanted” with host John Walsh, whose son was kidnapped and killed 31 years ago.
Former FBI profiler Jennifer Eakin and retired Fort Wayne police Detective John Camp – who was the first detective on the Tinsley case – were also part of the panel.
“America’s Most Wanted” focused on Tinsley twice in 2009 and is doing so again partly because Walsh said the case has disturbed him for several years.
Other information previously released about the case:
•Someone scrawled writing on a barn in 1990 indicating that he was Tinsley’s killer. This included a reference to her one shoe.
•In 2004, notes left on young girls’ bicycles and in a mailbox in northeast Fort Wayne and northeast Allen County contained the same writing and similar messages. Police revealed information about the notes in 2006.
•In 2009, investigators said whoever left those notes also left used condoms containing DNA that matches DNA found with Tinsley’s body.
•At the same time, police also discussed a Polaroid photo left with one the 2004 notes showing the legs and thighs of a man masturbating on a bed with a paisley bed spread. Police, who released only a portion of the photo with the bedspread, not the man’s legs, believe the man could now be in his late 40s or even 50s or 60s with a medium build. He’s white and about 185 to 190 pounds.
•While only a theory, Camp believes there is strong evidence that two men abducted Tinsley.
The notes and condoms are signs that police are dealing with someone who wants recognition for killing Tinsley, according to Eakin, who now is a forensic case manager with the Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
They are also signs that Tinsley’s killer tends to write when stimulated – maybe after an argument with a boss or family member – and that he possibly stalked the girls who found the notes in 2004, Eakin said.
“He was probably creating evidence while in a car watching these little girls,” Eakin said of the condoms.
In recent years, the case was practically reinvestigated from the ground up by several different agencies, according to Detective Cpl. John Zagelmeier of the Allen County Sheriff’s Department.
Fort Wayne police, the Allen County Sheriff’s Department, Indiana State Police and the FBI were among the agencies that brought in old witnesses and also sifted through new tips.
“It wasn’t because anything was done wrong, it was just to see if we missed anything,” Zagelmeier said.
81 suspects remain
Out of hundreds of tips that have come in the past few years, police came up with a list of more than 500 suspects.
That list has since been whittled down to 81 people who have not been eliminated from suspicion. According to Meihls, 12 of those suspects have flatly refused to give DNA samples to police.
“A couple of them we’ve visited twice,” Meihls said.
Some of those suspects are sex offenders who were convicted of their crimes before law mandated that people convicted of felonies give DNA to law enforcement.
Investigators stress that any DNA given voluntarily will only be tested against what was found with Tinsley’s body and not be put in a database or tested in connection with any other crime.
It’s something even investigators know is a hard sell.
“I’m sure that’s just what they’re thinking,” Zagelmeier said.
May still be in area
Investigators still believe it’s likely Tinsley’s suspected killer is in the area and, more importantly, still alive.
They were able to track the Polaroid film he used to snap a picture of himself to a batch made in 2003 and stored in a New Jersey warehouse until the fall of 2004.
But since leaving notes and the Polaroid, he’s been silent.
“Eight years later, where’s he at?” Meihls said.
Anyone with information about who may have killed Tinsley is asked to call 1-866-60A-PRIL or 1-866-602-7745. People can also email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also, people can call “America’s Most Wanted” at 1-800-CRIME-TV or report a tip through the show’s website at www.amw.com. Those tips can remain anonymous.
The episode featuring Tinsley is scheduled to air at 9 p.m. Friday on Lifetime.