Eight-Year-Old Girl Found Murdered at West Coast Artist Colony

There were roughly 50 children living at the colony.

Madyson Middleton, an eight-year-old girl who was murdered at her home at the Tannery Arts Center, and the growing memorial set up in her honor. Photo: courtesy KSBW.
Madyson Middleton, an eight-year-old girl who was murdered at her home at the Tannery Arts Center, and the growing memorial set up in her honor. Photo: courtesy KSBW.

The body of a missing eight-year-old girl was found Monday at the Tannery Arts Center in Santa Cruz, California, and a teenage boy is believed to be the killer.

Madyson Middleton lived at the arts center with her mother Laura Jordan, an artist. She was last seen alive on security footage from the center’s parking lot timestamped around 5:05 p.m. on Sunday evening, according to a story in the New York Times.

The police are reporting that Middleton was killed by an acquaintance, her 15-year-old neighbor Adrian Jerry “A.J.” Gonzales, who invited her into his family’s apartment, only to sexually assault and kill her.

Middleton’s body was recovered in a recycling bin downstairs in the building by the police on Monday evening at 7:55 p.m.

The Tannery Arts Center. Photo: Shmuel Thaler, courtesy the Santa Cruz Sentinel.

The Tannery Arts Center.
Photo: Shmuel Thaler, courtesy the Santa Cruz Sentinel.

The center was formerly home to the Salz Tannery, which was photographed by Ansel Adams. The outfit shuttered in 2001 after 145 years of operation. It reopened in 2009 as affordable artist housing, and now offers 26 studio spaces.

About 350 people live and work at the Tannery, and construction is underway on a 200-seat performing arts complex. “It’s a community of like-minded people,” resident Sam Amico, who runs a printmaking gallery at the center, told the San Jose Mercury News about his home.

Gonzales was one of the oldest of the roughly 50 children living at the center, and would often entertain the younger kids with much-practiced yo-yo tricks.

Fifteen-year-old A.J. Gonzalez, who is believed to have killed Madyson Middleton, practicing Yo-Yo tricks. Photo via: the Santa Cruz Sentinel.

Fifteen-year-old A.J. Gonzalez, who is believed to have killed Madyson Middleton, practicing Yo-Yo tricks.
Photo via: the Santa Cruz Sentinel.

Authorities have not explained how Gonzales was identified as a suspect, but security footage showed him checking the recycling bin on several occasions during the police’s search. After interrogating him for several hours, police felt there was enough evidence to charge him with Middleton’s death.

“It appears she was lured to the suspect’s apartment willingly,” said Santa Cruz police chief Kevin Vogel in a statement. “It’s my belief she was killed before we ever got the phone call Sunday night.” Middleton was reported missing at 6:08 p.m. that night.

A school photo of Madyson Middleton, an eight-year-old girl who was murdered at her home at the Tannery Arts Center, and FBI investigators. Photo: Connor Radnovich, courtesy the San Francisco Chronicle.

A school photo of Madyson Middleton, an eight-year-old girl who was murdered at her home at the Tannery Arts Center, and FBI investigators.
Photo: Connor Radnovich, courtesy the San Francisco Chronicle.

During the hunt for Middleton, Gonzales reportedly grew increasingly nervous. “He kept asking for updates,” his friend, Settoro Garcia, told the New York Times. “I was like: ‘Dude, why do you keep asking me? You’re the only one asking me.'”

“Our hearts and our thoughts and our prayers go out to those close to Madyson who have been devastated by the loss of this very precious life,” said Santa Cruz mayor Don Lane at a press conference. “Today is a day to honor Madyson and to offer our support.”


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