A former Walmart Santa in Georgia is charged with murder, one month after police found the bodies of his two teenage kids buried in his backyard.
Elwyn Crocker Sr., 50—along with four of his family members—have been jailed on child cruelty charges since officers made the gruesome discovery during a welfare check at Crocker’s mobile home in Guyton. It was five days before Christmas.
Deputies with the Effingham County Sheriff’s Office arrived at Crocker’s residence acting on a tip that 14-year-old Mary Frances Crocker was missing and feared dead. During the visit, relatives told investigators that Mary had gone to live with her biological mother in South Carolina, but according to police, their stories didn’t add up.
“Throughout the course of the investigation, [the deputies] figured out things weren’t as they were being presented,” said Gena Sullivan, a spokeswoman for the sheriff’s office. “They were able to determine positively the children were there.”
Sullivan told The Daily Beast that cops were called to the Crocker residence around 10 or 11 p.m. At daybreak, officers began searching the property, which is inside the Brother's Keeper trailer park. “We did bring a cadaver dog in,” Sullivan said.
On Monday, the five suspects were charged with felony murder for the death of 14-year-old Mary Frances Crocker. Under Georgia law, the charge pertains to a death that occurs during the commission of a felony—in this case, cruelty to children.
It’s unclear whether they’ll face charges for the death of Elwyn “JR” Crocker, Jr, whose body was also found in a grave near the family’s dog pen, just inside the wood line. He would have been 16 years old this year.
Authorities have yet to determine a cause of death for the children, who were removed from public school before their deaths and were being home-schooled.
“As the bodies come back, there may be more charges added at some point, once the autopsies are completed,” Sheriff Jimmy McDuffie told WTOC on Tuesday. “We’re going to follow the letter of the law right up to the very tip of it that we can. We will get justice for these young folks.” Mary hadn’t been seen since October, while JR was last seen in November 2016, when he was 14 years old. Neither was reported missing.
Both children were last enrolled in Effingham County schools during their sixth-grade year. Mary attended school in the 2017-2018 year, while JR last attended school in January 2014, officials said in a statement.
The other relatives facing murder charges include Candice Crocker, 33, the children’s stepmother; Kimberly Wright, 50, the step-grandmother; Roy Prater, 55, Wright’s boyfriend; and Mark Wright, 31, Candice’s brother.
All five suspects have been charged with first-degree cruelty to children.
Meanwhile, Elwyn Crocker, Candice Crocker, Kimberly Wright and Roy Prater are charged with concealing a body.
One neighbor told WSAV said he saw Elwyn Crocker with a shovel in the area where the bodies of his son and daughter were discovered, on multiple occasions.
Marvin Gills, a former neighbor in Rincon, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he recalled the stepmother’s relatives complaining about the children. Gills, however, found the kids to be respectful and “awesome” kids. Mary, he said, did yard work around the neighborhood in order to buy a bike, while JR loved watching wrestling.
The kids didn’t appear to play outside with other kids. Next door neighbor Gary Bennett told WTOC that classmates at school “could tell stuff was wrong” with Mary’s hands, which were red from raking leaves and doing other yard work.
Still, authorities were familiar with the family’s troubled history.
When the family lived in Rincon, Elwyn Crocker called police about his then-13-year-old son, saying the boy stole and was homeschooled for being a “bully.” The kid also fought when ordered to take a bath, the elder Crocker claimed.
A Rincon police officer spoke to JR, who admitted to getting angry a lot, mostly because he didn’t have many friends, the Journal-Constitution reported.
Indeed, child welfare investigators had a case file on the Crocker family as early as 2012, the Journal-Constitution revealed.
In 2012 and 2013, Elwyn and Candice Crocker went through counseling and parenting classes with Georgia’s Division of Family and Children Services following allegations that JR had been abused, the Journal-Constitution reported.
JR was allegedly beaten by his step-uncle in June 2012, the Savannah Morning News reported. “JR is not the person who needs sessions. They do,” a counselor wrote, referring to Elwyn Crocker Sr., Candice and other adult relatives.
At the time, a shopper at a local Goodwill called police after seeing a bruise on JR’s face. When Effingham County deputies responded to the family’s residence, the step-uncle Mark Wright was arrested for backhanding the child, WTOC reported.
According to WTOC, Elwyn Crocker seemed to be an “apathetic father” when child-welfare authorities opened their case. “In statements he made, he even said the state of Georgia only required him to feed, clothe, and give shelter to his children,” WTOC reported.
The agency closed the case in February 2013. One DFCS worker noted the Crockers’ parenting seemed to improve. “Both Candice and Elwyn understand why they became involved with [the agency], and they are willing to protect Elwyn Jr. from any physical abuse,” the worker wrote in a document.
Yet, in 2017, DFCS received another report alleging abuse.
A student claimed she saw her neighbor, JR, being whipped with a belt for more than an hour, but the agency declined to investigate the incident because it happened in 2016, the Journal-Constitution reported.
The girl had spoken to a school counselor in March 2017 after a classroom lesson about child abuse. She identified “Kim,” JR’s “grandmother,” as the alleged abuser, and said the woman told her JR was being punished for stealing. The counselor placed a call to DFCS.
It’s unknown whether JR was alive when the tip came in.
Following the murders of the Crocker children, DFCS said it would change how it responds to reports of past abuse, the Journal-Constitution reported Monday.
The agency’s interim director Tom Rawlings recently sent employees a memo advising them to take “dated” reports of abuse more seriously. He also said the department has “a shared responsibility” for not acting sooner on the alleged abuse.
“Those who knew the children have expressed a sense of responsibility and regret for not coming forward with their concerns sooner,” Rawlings said. “They are not—and should not be—the only ones.”
Sullivan, of the sheriff’s office, said the victims’ biological mother lived in South Carolina and didn’t appear to have knowledge of what was happening.
After Elwyn Crocker claimed Mary moved in with her mom, police called the woman. “When we contacted the mother, she had not seen [her daughter] or heard from her,” Sullivan said.
“Since this case started, we’ve had so many people come up to us and say, ‘I saw this, I saw that,’ but they didn’t call the police,” Sullivan added.
“Our biggest message is: if you see something or something doesn’t seem right ... call and report it,” Sullivan told The Daily Beast. “There were months upon months that we could have intervened had we known something was wrong.”