Authorities still not sure if remains are those of Aprina Paul
TOWN OF PORTER—Stacy Wagner first noticed the fire burning in her neighbor's yard near Evansville on Monday afternoon.
From her front porch, which has a clear view of the yard and fire pit, Wagner watched it burn all week. Day and night, the flames stayed about the size you would expect from a campfire—never going out, or even smoldering, she said.
“It was going when we went to bed, it was going when we got up,” Wagner said.
The first sign something wasn't right came when sheriff's deputies showed up at the property Friday night. By Sunday it was clear that what Wagner watched wasn't an ordinary fire.
While investigating a tip that a missing Dane County teen might have died at the home at 12016 W. Highway 14 in the town of Porter, Rock County authorities recovered human bone fragments from the backyard fire pit, Sheriff Robert Spoden said.
As the third day of the investigation drew to a close, however, Spoden said investigators still knew little about the remains they found, other than that they came from a woman.
Spoden said they still don't know for sure if the remains are those of 18-year-old Aprina S. Paul, who was last seen in Fitchburg the day before Wagner noticed the fire in her neighbor's yard.
Paul's family told the Wisconsin State Journal she had responded to a Craigslist ad for “partying” last week.
Investigators also don't know how the remains got there—if the woman they found was the victim of homicide or died from other causes, Spoden said. The extent of damage to the bones has made that job difficult, he said.
“We're nowhere near making a determination on if this was a natural death, an accidental death or a homicide,” Spoden said.
Authorities hope they can get enough of a DNA sample from the bone fragments to identify the body, Spoden said.
“The nature of how that body was recovered—that it was burned—makes it difficult for just anybody to make a positive ID,” he said.
Detectives and deputies, along with investigators from the Rock County Coroner's Office, had wrapped up their work at the house Sunday, he said.
One deputy stayed on the scene and yellow caution tape still surrounded the home as authorities kept it secure.
Wagner's neighbor, 29-year-old Nathan C. Middleton, was still in custody at the Rock County Jail on a probation hold Sunday night, officials said.
Spoden described Middleton as a person of interest, though in what crime—be it homicide, hiding a corpse, or anything else—Spoden did not say. He has talked with District Attorney David O'Leary, Spoden said, but has not recommended specific charges yet.
Middleton had lived at the town of Porter home with his fiancÚ and infant child since Oct. 16, said John Crull, who owns the property and rented the home to him.
Middleton's fiancÚ and child were both at the home last week, Spoden said. Although authorities have talked with the fiancÚ, Spoden said, she is not considered a person of interest or a suspect.
Crull knew Middleton's stepfather, who rented the one-story gray home from Crull for years. With the stepfather's recommendation, and after hearing a glowing review from Middleton's employer in Madison, Crull said he was happy to rent the place to Middleton.
“This guy absolutely fooled me,” Crull said.
Like his daughter, Wagner, Crull also noticed the fire burning day and night behind Middleton's home. Neither thought anything of it.
The 221-acre property that Crull owns includes a dairy farm, corn, soybeans and alfalfa, but also woods and plenty of brush.
At this time of year, with people trying to clear and burn brush before winter, it isn't out of the ordinary to see a fire—even one that lasts multiple days, Wagner said.
“I wish there was something weird, to have tipped someone off,” she said. “But there wasn't.”