A boy vanished, then a girl. Anybody who knew chose to say nothing.
Now, authorities in Effingham County near Savannah say they believe they’ve found the children’s bodies buried in their family’s backyard.
Elwyn Crocker Jr. was 14 when he was last seen two years ago. His sister, Mary, was 14 when someone caught a glimpse of her this October. But the remains weren’t discovered in Guyton, an old farming town of fewer than 2,000 people, until Thursday.
What happened to them is unclear. Autopsies, which authorities hope will confirm the identities and causes of death, were underway Friday. Investigators have taken custody of a third child, who has special needs, and arrested four adults who lived in the home, including the father and his wife, on charges of child cruelty and concealing a death.
“I’ve been doing this 41 years, and a while ago I almost broke down in tears,” Sheriff Jimmy McDuffie told reporters, his voice shaking. “It’s that bad. I cannot understand how you do children like this. It’s horrible.”
Deputies went to the home Wednesday after a tipster expressed concern for the whereabouts of the girl. Initially, they were told she was with her mother in South Carolina.
Deputies said they interviewed father Elwyn Crocker Sr., who turns 49 on Christmas and until recently played Santa at a nearby Walmart in Rincon. Investigators haven’t revealed what he said, but it led them to dig up the yard.
The father, his wife, Candice Crocker, 33, and her mother, Kim Wright, 50, were arrested, as well as Wright’s boyfriend, Roy Anthony Prater, 55. The charges of concealing a death and child cruelty could be upgraded as the investigation continues, the sheriff said.
Neither child had ever been officially reported missing.
At one point, they were enrolled in Effingham County schools, but Mary was recently being home-schooled, authorities said.
Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Gena Sullivan said deputies had only ever been called to the home for complaints about a couple of pit bulls, but they’ve now been told the family was reported in the past to the Division of Family and Children Services. The agency declined to comment, as it doesn’t speak on particular cases.
While investigators were on scene Thursday, McDuffie said they were met by concerned neighbors who said they had thought something was wrong in the home. The sheriff wished they would’ve said something sooner.
“If we can just encourage those folks to give us a call,” he said, “it could lead us to maybe not having this conclusion.”
Neighbors said the kids seemed to stay mostly inside the home, although the girl was often outside doing yard work, according to Savannah television station WTOC.
“Other kids said at school they could tell stuff was wrong with her hands. They were red,” neighbor Gary Bennett told WTOC. “That was from being out in the yard, out there most of the time working, doing stuff from the time she got off that bus until they would go in at night. Then she would go to school and kids would see her and ask what was wrong and she wouldn’t ever say anything. She wouldn’t open up to anybody.”
Investigators are still trying to make sense of the case. None of the suspects have a significant criminal history, the Sheriff’s Office said. Detectives are hoping for help from the girl’s mother in South Carolina, where she is believed to be homeless.
“The biggest question some of us are asking is, how did the little boy go missing for two years and nobody identified that?” Sullivan said.
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