Adrian Jerry Gonzalez lured the little girl into his apartment where he killed her, police believe.
The crime was committed in what some consider a 21st century hippie commune or, as they are currently called, an 'artist colony.'
The victim, Madyson Middleton, 8, lived in the colony, reports say.
• The surprise of this story is that it breaks with Marxist media norm of boycotting murder stories in which the victim is white and the suspect is a 'person of color.'
Reports say the girl lived with her mother and male partner.
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The authorities did not say what led them to Mr. Gonzalez, but said that he was near the recycling bin when the body was found, that he was charged after several hours of questioning by detectives, and that there was evidence tying him to the killing.
Madyson had been missing since Sunday night, when a sole video camera near the arts center’s parking area showed a glimpse of her about 5 p.m., said Kirby Scudder, a resident and artist, who says he is dating her mother, an artist named Laura Jordan.
Posters of the girl’s lightly freckled face went up on light posts across town almost immediately after she disappeared, as did an impassioned online video of her mother pleading for her safe return. A citywide search included scent-tracking dogs patrolling the San Lorenzo River Levee beside the complex and investigators looking into a homeless shelter across the road from the artists’ colony. But the efforts ended right where they began, in the Tannery center.
The Santa Cruz County district attorney, Jeffrey Rosell, did not answer questions as to why Madyson was not discovered during the initial search of the complex on Sunday. In a news release, Chief Kevin Vogel of the Santa Cruz Police Department said that the second sweep was a “more thorough and focused canvass.” He also has said that the police believed that Madyson was already dead by the time the first missing-person call came in at 6:08 p.m. Sunday.
Mr. Gonzalez was among the oldest children of about 50 who made the complex, which was established in 2009, their playground each day, Mr. Scudder said. All ages routinely play together on the staircases and slim street that passes between the landmark buildings, where the photographer Ansel Adams once shot portraits of leatherworkers.
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“They’re like a slow Internet,” Mr. Scudder said of the children, “you tell one something, in minutes, every one of them knows.” Mr. Gonzalez was lower-energy than the rest, Mr. Scudder said, but generally in command.
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