In 2014, a teenager’s leisurely walk through a trail in Armada, Michigan, turned out to be fatal. April Millsap was walking her dog when she was attacked and murdered by someone. But despite no physical evidence, the authorities were able to garner a conviction. The first episode of Investigation Discovery’s ‘Caught in the Net’ as well as Hulu’s ‘How I Caught My Killer: You Can See The Panic’ delves into how digital forensics was instrumental in catching April’s killer. So, let’s find out what happened then, shall we?
How Did April Millsap Die?
April Dawn Millsap was a 14-year-old living with her family in Armada. The teenager had just finished middle school in the area and was supposed to start high school in the Fall of 2014. Her mother, Jennifer, said that her daughter loved animals and enjoyed spending time with their pet dog. At around 6 pm on July 24, 2014, April left home to take her dog on a walk at the Macomb Orchard Trail in the area.
However, when April didn’t come back a few hours later, Jennifer grew anxious. She couldn’t reach her daughter despite calling and texting her multiple times, driving her to eventually approach the police. Sometime after 8 pm, a couple of joggers found April’s body in the woods off the trail, partially naked. There were shoe prints on her cheek and neck, indicating that she was stomped upon. An autopsy confirmed that April suffered blunt force trauma to the head and had been asphyxiated via neck compression.
Who Killed April Millsap?
As the investigation into April’s homicide took off, the case was featured in the local news, giving way to many tips. Witnesses remembered seeing the teen in the area of the trail and had mentioned a man on a motorcycle in her vicinity. As per the show, another witness claimed to have seen a man acting suspiciously in the woods where she was found. Soon, a composite sketch of this man was made public. Apart from this viable lead, the authorities still had to look for April’s phone; it wasn’t at the crime scene.
The cell phone was eventually located in a rural residential area and became the evidence that would break the case. At around 6:28 pm on July 24, April had texted her boyfriend, Austin, about maybe almost getting kidnapped. This was around when witnesses saw her with the man on the motorcycle. The authorities believed that she was attacked not too long after texting Austin, and it was likely that the stranger with the bike was the killer.
As per the show, a day after April’s body was found, patrolling police officers located a bike that matched the description from before parked at a home. It belonged to 32-year-old James VanCallis Jr. Upon questioning, James stated he passed through Armada on July 24 to visit his brother at around 6 pm before returning home about two hours later. Yet, surveillance footage from a gas station in Armada had footage that appeared to be of James on his motorbike before the murder. Furthermore, phone records showed he was near the trail around the time of the murder.
James also matched the composite sketch. So, the police set about building a case against him. At the time, April had a fitness app on her phone that tracked her walk on the trail. It clearly showed that her pace increased moments after she texted Austin, and it moved to where the body was found. Later, the phone traveled through the town at high speed, as if carried on a vehicle, before ending up miles away, where it was eventually located. The authorities believed James took the phone with him, traveled on his motorcycle, and dumped it elsewhere.
Furthermore, security footage from a house in Armada captured a man on a motorcycle around the same time the phone seemed to be traveling from the area following the murder. The authorities believed that April rebuffed James’ sexual advances, possibly angering him. He then attacked the teenager with a helmet, dragged her into the woods, and stomped on her. After all, there was evidence of a failed attempt to rape the teen. Plus, his internet history in the months leading up to the fateful day showed he’d looked up things like how to attract young girls, “how to make a girl fall in love with you,” “what girls really want,” and “why does this girl ignore me.”
Where is James VanCallis Now?
During James VanCallis’ trial in early 2016, his former girlfriend Krystal Stadler testified that he said, “I messed up. I need you to stand by me.” She further added that James was cleaning the shoes he wore on the day of the murder — they were never found — before explaining she had also found hair and grass in his hoodie. Despite no physical evidence connecting James to the murder, he was found guilty thanks to the cell phone evidence.
In February 2016, then 34, James VanCallis Jr. was convicted on the charges of first-degree murder, felony murder, kidnapping, and assault with intent to commit sexual penetration. More than a month later, he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Therefore, today, prison records indicate that James remains incarcerated at the Chippewa Correctional Facility in Kinross, Michigan, where he’s expected to remain for the rest of his natural life.