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True Crime Profile: The Fitness App Investigator

“I almost got kidnapped OMFG” 14-year-old April Millsap texts her boyfriend on the evening of July 24th, 2014. Millsap had been walking her dog through a trail when a man on a motorcycle tried to pick her up. This was a bold move on his end for many reasons, one of which was the fact that this walking trail was a popular one located in the northern Macomb County village of Armada. Now if the story could simply end with the fact the 14-year-old was close to being kidnapped and managed to send a text about it, this story would be in my true crime profile. 

Moments after that text was sent, the teen was actually grabbed. She was attacked with a motorcycle helmet from behind. From there she was taken into the woods where she was promptly beaten and stomped to death. When Millsap was located around 8:30 PM of the same day and discovered to be murdered, the case seemed to be at the worst point it could be—no DNA on the scene at all. In fact, there was nothing to connect who had done this based on the crime scene. 

You’re now probably wondering how this case comes around with no DNA and no witnesses. This is the juicy part. Our phones track us most of the time, from our general data to our steps to what we are doing. From the strangely specific Instagram ads to perfect recommendations on YouTube, our phones seem to know us scarily well. However, in this case, Millsap’s phone and its tracking are what turned everything around. 

Millsap had a fitness app on her phone which was luckily recording her movements and tracking her whereabouts during the time of the murder. The app tracked her movements right up until the supposed time of the murder and showcases a sudden movement fleeing the crime scene after. This was a clear indication that her killer had left with her phone, a mistake on his end that would lead to the case closing in rapidly on him. It did not help that a strange man was reported around the trails just moments before the time of Millsap’s attack in which witnesses were able to provide a police sketch. This man had very little working in favor and while he did clean up the scene well, he fled with a phone tracking him and a possible sketch of him around. Investigators quickly made use of the information they had by overlapping the fitness app’s tracking with an overlay of google earth, easily creating a visible path the killer took. 

To make matters worse for him, there was camera footage of a motorcycle driving by a house close by that matched the time in which the phone was tracked going by it. This gave investigators an image of the vehicle, already closing the case much further. Before long, the information came together to identify a man who matched the profile of the killer––James VanCallis. 

VanCallis was quickly taken into custody and a case was built around him. One of the strongest pieces of evidence was that his motorcycle helmet matched the bruise on Millsap’s eye. The other piece of evidence came from VanCallis’ own ex-girlfriend who accounted that she saw him clean his shoes later that day and had human hair in his jacket pocket. While there is no physical evidence, the tracking of his motorcycle and the statement by his girlfriend framed a strong case against VanCallis.  

VanCallis’ defense team in court built a case around the fact that VanCallis’ DNA was not found on the crime scene. This, however, did not do much to protect him as he was convicted on charges of first-degree murder, kidnapping, and attempted criminal sexual conduct. As of now, he is still serving his sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. This case was truly driven by the GPS data a fitness app Millsap had taken––which is insane. Imagine your entire murder case being supported by an app tracking where you are and where your phone went.