Missing – November 20, 1993 – Russellville, AL
In a tragic tale of family turmoil and despair, Andrea’s life was marred by instability and trauma from a very young age. Her parents, Michelle and Paul Gonzalez, had a rocky start to their marriage as they were both teenagers ill-equipped to handle the challenges of parenthood and marriage.
Michelle and Paul had a bitter court battle with Michelle’s mother, Garnet Melton, which resulted in Garnet gaining custody of their first child, Anthony. The couple later had two more children, Andrea and Greg, but their marriage continued to deteriorate. In 1990, Paul initiated divorce proceedings, and Michelle’s life took a troubling turn as she grappled with legal troubles, including time in jail and probation for perjury.
During this time, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services stepped in, removing Andrea and Craig from Michelle’s custody and placing them in foster care. The children’s difficult experiences continued as they were shuffled between foster homes. Adding to the tragedy, there were reports that Andrea may have been sexually abused prior to her removal from Paul and Michelle’s care, though Michelle has denied these allegations. After roughly a year in various foster homes, Craig was adopted. In 1992, Andrea was sent to live with her father Paul, stepmother Kim, and younger sister at their home in Russellville, Alabama.
Tragedy turns to heartbreak
Sadly, Andrea’s move to Alabama did not improve her circumstances, as Paul and Kim’s marriage was equally fraught with instability. Kim later reported an ongoing barrage of mental, physical and sexual abuse, although these claims were never conclusively substantiated. It was documented, however, that Kim had at least one hospital stay following severe injuries sustained during a confrontation with Paul, including beatings and strangulation.
Andrea appeared to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and exhibited behavioral issues, such as screaming, foul language, pulling her hair out, using the restroom on the floor, and reportedly forcing herself to vomit when she became upset.
On November 20, 1993, around 7:25 a.m., Russellville Police Department and Franklin County Sheriff’s Office received a distressing call from Kim and Paul reporting the disappearance of 5-year-old Andrea. They feared she’d wandered out of their home in the night and been abducted. According to them, Andrea had last been seen somewhere between 12:00 and 12:30 a.m., but Andrea had vanished by the time Paul went into her room around 6:30 a.m., Andrea was gone. They claimed they’d searched around Bob Cummings Trailer Park, their residence on County Road 48, prior to notifying police but found nothing.
A search of the area was conducted immediately using bloodhounds, law enforcement, and volunteers, but there was no trace of Andrea to be found. Two days into the search, Franklin County Sheriff’s Office began to suspect foul play and the focus of the investigation shifted to Kim and Paul as potential suspects. Alabama SBI along with FBI assisted FCSO investigators with interviewing people close to the Gonzalez family, some of whom reported seeing Kim mistreat and/or abuse Andrea.
By early to mid-December of 1993, both Kim and Paul had been given polygraphs. It was reported that Kim’s polygraph indicated a “high degree of deception.” While Paul’s first polygraph was inconclusive, a subsequent polygraph “supports the suspicion of investigation at this point.”
Unraveling the web of truth and lies
Andrea’s disappearance sparked a massive search effort that lasted well over a year with authorities following up on numerous tips and conducting searches from November of 1993 to 1995 but failing to find any trace of Andrea.
Kim eventually confessed to her involvement in Andrea’s disappearance and death, explaining that Andrea had died after being scalded in hot water. She admitted to disposing of Andrea’s body by placing her body in multiple garbage bags and securing it with a cement block before throwing the body off a bridge. A thorough search involving multiple agencies, including dive teams, was conducted in the area Kim claimed to have disposed of Andrea’s body but those searches yielded no results.
Both Kim and Paul were indicted on various charges related to Andrea’s death, but Paul struck a deal to testify against Kim in exchange for a reduced sentence. The statements given by Kim and Paul evolved over time, offering conflicting versions of the events leading to Andrea’s death, with Kim initially taking sole responsibility.
Two venues, one cause, no answers
Due to concerns over whether Kim and Paul would receive fair trials in Franklin County, court-appointed attorneys requested a transfer of venue for each case. Kim’s case was transferred to Butler County, and Paul’s case was transferred to Pike County.
In return for his testimony against Kim, Paul received a reduced charge and shorter sentence, ultimately serving only two years in connection with Andrea’s disappearance and death. In 1997, Kim was acquitted of all charges except child abuse, which resulted in a 10-year sentence.
Where is Andrea?
Even as the trial dragged on, the burning questions remained: Where is Andrea, and what is the real story behind her disappearance?
In a subsequent twist, Paul relocated to Texas, but his journey there seemed fraught with legal complications. Meanwhile, Kim’s tragic tale took another turn as she passed away several years after her release from prison.