Update: Officials confirm identity of children found buried in family backyard but cause of death remains a mystery

A Georgia coroner positively confirmed the identities of two children found deceased and buried in their family’s backyard last week as 14-year-old Mary Jo Crocker and her older brother, Elwyn Crocker Jr., who would have been 16 if alive today.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that on Monday, coroner David Exley said that the issue will be determining how the children died, especially Elwyn, who had been deceased a few years before authorities found him. Both children were found in the backyard of their and stepmother’s home in Effingham County, Georgia. Exley said it could take weeks, possibly months, before the cause of death is known.

As CrimeOnline previously reported, Mary had not been seen since October, prompting authorities to perform a welfare check at her Guyton home, off of Rosebud Place in the Azalea Point subdivision last Wednesday night. The girl’s family told authorities that Mary went to South Carolina to live with her biological mother, but tips provided to investigators led them to believe the little girl was deceased.

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Throughout the next day, investigators searched for the girl, leading them to the discovery of two bodies, both children, according to Effingham County Sheriff Jimmy McDuffie.

“Deputies realized this information was false and not accurate. Information from Elwyn Crocker led investigators to search the grounds, and two bodies were discovered,” McDuffie said.

Investigators found Mary and Elwyn’s body buried behind the family home in a wooded area on the family property.

The children’s father, Elwyn Crocker, 49, along with their stepmother, Candice Crocker, 33, were arrested and charged with cruelty to children in the first degree and  concealing the death of another. The children’s step-grandmother, Kim Wright, was also arrested and faces the same charges as the stepmother.

On Friday, authorities arrested Wright’s boyfriend, 55-year-old Roy Anthony Prater, and charged him with possession of a scheduled or controlled substance, child cruelty in the first degree and concealing the death of another.

Elwyn Crocker, who played Santa Claus at a local Walmart in previous years, had past run-ins with Division of Family and Children Services, according to Effingham County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Gena Sullivan. Sullivan declined to comment on the details.

Sheriff McDuffie said the children may have been saved if neighbors had called police earlier. According to WSB-TV, “concerned neighbors” approached authorities when they arrived to the home on Wednesday night and said they were worried about the kids. However, police didn’t receive any prior complaints.

“People hear things. People see things. Of course, all day today, people have been coming up to us, ‘Well, I saw this and I saw that,’ but for whatever reason, they didn’t feel comfortable enough to call and let us know that,” McDuffie said.

“If we can just encourage those folks to give us a call, it could lead us to maybe not having this conclusion.”

Neighbors told WTOC11 that the children never played with other kids in the neighborhood. The little girl was often seen out working in her yard but never opened up to anyone. Kids at school reportedly said Mary always had red hands.

“Other kids said at school, they could tell stuff was wrong with her hands. They were red,” neighbor Gary Bennett told the outlet. “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.”

Authorities indicated they’re working to get in touch with the two children’s biological mother. The children’s exact cause of death is pending autopsies.

A third child in the home was taken the hospital for a medical checkup, but expected to be OK.

All four suspects remain behind bars. Check back with CrimeOnline as additional details become available.

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[Feature Photo: Mary Crocker and Elwyn Crocker Jr./Handout]