Former Walmart Santa dad who buried his two kids in backyard has been charged with felony murder: Police

Murders charges have been filed against five people in connection with the deaths of two Georgia children, found buried in their backyard last month, including the kids’ father, who had custody of them at the time of their deaths.

AJC reports that authorities charged Elwyn Crocker Sr., 50, and his wife, Candice Crocker, 33; her mom, 55-year-old Kim Wright; Wright’s boyfriend, Roy Anthony Prater, 55, and Kim Wright’s son, Tony Wright, 31, with felony murder and cruelty to children.

As CrimeOnline previously reported, Mary Crocker, 14, and Elwyn “JR” Crocker, who disappeared two years ago at age 14, were found deceased and buried in the backyard of the residence, in a wooded area inside the property line, in December.

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Mary had not been seen since October, prompting authorities to perform a welfare check at a home in Guyton, off of Rosebud Place in the Azalea Point subdivision in late December. 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.

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

Candice Crocker, Elwyn Crocker, and Kim Wright [Police Handout]
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.

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.

The children’s causes of deaths are still pending. Further, the felony murder charges are only in connection with Mary’s death at this time.

“We’ve just got a lot more information on Mary because of course, it’s more recent. With JR, it was two years old, and we’re just still trying to put together the pieces on what happened with that,” McDuffie said.

Another child in the home, a 9-year-old boy with cerebral palsy, James, was found alive and taken into custody of social services. James has a different mother than the oldest children. Rebecca Self, his mother, said Crocker had been abusive to her while they were together. She’s now fighting to get custody of the boy.

Documented Abuse

According to court documents obtained by the AJC, JR was the recipient of a belt beating that left welts across his legs. A girl who witnessed the abuse told her teachers at school about the incident in 2017, around a year after it reportedly happened. The girl came forward after she watched a school video about child abuse.

The little girl reportedly claimed that the beating was dealt out by Kim Wright, JR’s step-grandmother. Wright allegedly hit JR with a belt for around “10 to 20 minutes,” then asked the girl how many times JR should get hit for stealing. Scared, the girl spouted off a random number. The beating the continued for around an hour.

The girl said JR’s screamed in pain but Wright told him to stop crying. Wright later took JR and the girl back to a trailer he lived at with his dad and family, at the Brothers Keepers mobile home park in Rincon. Wright reportedly forced James to “drop his pants” and show the belt welt marks on his legs to his father.

JR later told the girl the beating was his own fault, then apologized for screaming so loudly, according to court documents.

Mark Wright (l) and Roy Prater (r) [Photo: Police Handout]
After the girl reported the incident, the school turned the case over to DFCS, where a social worker apparently made the decision to not act on the allegation, since by that time it had become “historical.” It’s something DFCS interim director Tom Rawlings stands behind, stating that, “given what the intake person knew at the time, I can’t fault her.”

Yet, this wasn’t the first time DFCS had been notified about possible abuse in the home. In March 2012, police arrived to Wright’s residence in Effingham County after someone spotted JR at a Goodwill store with marks across his face. Crocker Sr. and his wife, Candice Crocker, were living with her mother, Wright, and brother, Tony Wright, at the time after moving to Georgia from South Carolina.

According to Candice Crocker, her brother Tony Wright hit JR across the face for misbehaving, after Crocker Sr. gave them permission to “discipline” the boy. Police arrested Tony Wright and ordered him to stay away from the boy. The family later moved to their own home, but later returned to live with Kim Wright in Guyton, where the children’s bodies were ultimately found.

It’s unclear whether DFCS workers connected the 2012 report with the 2017 report.

Mary was also abused, according to witnesses.

According to a former neighbor who knew the family when they lived at the Brothers Keepers mobile home park, the trouble intensified when Candice Crocker started having  Kim Wright, and her brother, Mark Wright II, visit them more often.

Former neighbor Marvin Gills told the outlet that his own daughter, Daniella, was friends with Mary, when the family lived in the Brothers Keepers trailer park. Mary would show up to play with Daniella with marks on her. In one instance, Mary had purple hands. Mary explained she got the marks from swimming. In another instance, Daniella reportedly saw Kim Wright hit Mary in the back of head.

“She would never want me to leave her. If she went to the bathroom she would want me to go with her,” Daniella said. “She wouldn’t tell me why.”

Crocker Family [Photo: Facebook]
Gills told the outlet that the family kept a lock on refrigerator to keep Mary, a diabetic, her from getting sweets. He also said he remembered both kids as being “awesome,” despite the stepmother’s family members constantly complaining about their behavior. He also heard the family would force JR to sleep in the bathtub for “being bad.”

“I feel bad because I missed something somewhere,” Gills said. “It just eats at me.”

Court documents indicate that JR was a troubled boy, mostly because he allegedly had anger issues and didn’t have many friends. Gary Bennett, a neighbor who lived next door to the family off of Rosebud Place, said he couldn’t remember ever seeing JR, not even once.

Bennett did, however, spot Mary on several occasions, outside doing yard work for hours. He said she was “rail thin,” looked scared and younger than her 14 years, and always wore old, tattered clothing. Bennett regrets not calling 911 and reporting what he saw. He said he thought Mary likely knew her brother was dead and was scared  to come forward about the abuse she reportedly endured.

“I honestly think that little girl knew.”

Bennett stated he remembered seeing Crocker lingering around the area where authorities would eventually find the two children, though the elderly neighbor had no idea at the time that the kids were buried there. On December 20, authorities dug both Mary’s and JR’s bodies up and sent them to the state medical examiner.

Anyone with any information or tips regarding Mary or JR should  contact authorities at 912-754-3449.

The story continues to develop. Check back with CrimeOnline as additional details become available.

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