The mother of a young Fitchburg woman who has been missing for about a week said Rock County investigators told her the human remains found in a backyard fire pit near Evansville might be that of her daughter.
Officials from the Rock County Sheriff’s Office told Alice Larrue that a 29-year-old man took out an ad on Craigslist for “partying” and her daughter, Aprina Paul, 18, responded.
He picked her up, and “this is where they ended up finding these remains,” she said.
Larrue said she didn’t know if her daughter went to the Rock County home voluntarily.
She said she didn’t know 29-year-old Nathan C. Middleton, who was interviewed by police in connection to the case, and is being held at the Rock County Jail on a probation violation.
He had not yet been arrested as of late Sunday, said Rock County Sheriff Bob Spoden. Further forensic analysis will be necessary to determine the identity of the remains found in the fire pit, police said.
“We received notification late Saturday night from the crime lab that the bone fragments that we sent up to be analyzed were in fact human, and from further examination, they were from a female,” he said.
The sheriff’s office received information Friday from the Fitchburg Police Department regarding Paul, who they said may have died at 12016 W. Highway 14, just east of Evansville.
Middleton, who lives at that home, is “a little bit more than” a person of interest, Spoden said.
Investigators finished processing the scene Sunday afternoon and found more remains that will need to be examined, Spoden said on his way back from the scene.
“Our hope is that we can try to identify a process where we will be able to make a positive identification on who the victim was that was found,” he said.
Spoden said he was unsure how long the fire was burning in the fire pit. “We do know, from talking to the neighbors and doing some initial interviews, that it was throughout the week that there was a fire going.”
Paul was last seen Oct. 27 at 10 p.m. Fitchburg Police said she was seen getting into a vehicle with an unknown man at her residence on King James Way in Fitchburg.
Her brother, Adonius Paul, 16, didn’t want to talk with a reporter Sunday after the family was briefed by detectives from the Rock County Sheriff’s office about what they found and about the crime lab results. “I’m not doing real well,” he said.
Larrue said Aprina, who graduated from Madison West High School earlier this year, loved her three younger brothers and her job working with children at Madison School & Community Recreation’s after-school program at Leopold Elementary School.
Her daughter “was a very bright, beautiful, smart girl, with a whole bright future ahead of her,” Larrue said.
She said that she’s seen “stuff like this happen before” in the movies and on the news. “This just sounds so out of character. I just can’t believe it.”
On Saturday, a neighbor told the State Journal that Middleton moved into the house Oct. 15, along with his girlfriend and their baby. Middleton’s stepfather had previously rented the home for about seven years, said the neighbor, who did not want to be identified.
According to court records, Middleton was found guilty of bail jumping, endangering safety and use of a dangerous weapon in Dane County in 2003 when he had a Brooklyn address.
He was found guilty of burglary in 2005 in Washburn County. That same year he was convicted in Dane County on two counts of burglary while armed with a dangerous weapon. Eight other counts were dismissed.
After securing the scene, Spoden said the sheriff’s office is going to keep the scene active “at least for the next two days,” and “will begin a process not only of identifying the female that we found, but also begin interviewing individuals that we think can help us determine exactly how this individual ended up here, at this location, and what were the facts as far as what led to (her) demise.”
Spoden said his department is still in the early stages of the investigation, but “we are confident that we are on the right path as far as trying to make a determination of what happened.”
It is hard to determine the cause of death because the body had been in the fire pit for so long, he said.
Spoden said he couldn’t comment on how Middleton knew Paul or what brought her to the house.
Detectives and deputies from the Sheriff’s Office along with the Rock County Coroner’s Office conducted an extensive search at the home for evidence that would corroborate the information provided by the Fitchburg Police Department, the sheriff’s office said.
Items that have been seized are being sent for forensic evaluation, police said.
“It was a fairly large scene that we were processing, so it’s very time-consuming,” Spoden said Sunday. “We were happy that we were able to wrap it up this afternoon.”
The sheriff’s office is not ruling out homicide, but the case is currently being investigated as a “suspicious death,” he said.