SPRINGFIELD, Ga. - Five relatives pleaded not guilty Wednesday to murder charges in the deaths of two children who authorities believe were kept in dog cages, starved and beaten before being buried in their father's backyard.
News outlets report the dead children's father, 50-year-old Elwyn Crocker Sr., their stepmother and three others entered their pleas Wednesday during arraignments in Effingham County Superior Court.
Sheriff's deputies acting on a tip discovered the bodies of Mary and Elwyn Crocker Jr. in December. Authorities say both were 14 when they died roughly two years apart. The children were homeschooled and never reported missing.
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Effingham County sheriff's investigator Abby Brown testified last month that Mary was beaten, starved and kept naked in a dog crate. A later indictment said Elwyn Jr. was a victim of similar abuse.
It’s the latest development in a case that’s drawn national attention and horror. The teens were discovered in shallow graves on Dec. 20 near the rural Guyton community outside Savannah, authorities said. JR had been missing since November 2016, Mary since this past October.
Interviews with those who know the family, as well as public records obtained by the AJC, show the children endured a tumultuous home life from an early age. Police were summoned multiple times, responding to fights between the adults around them. Child welfare agencies in South Carolina and Georgia investigated. There were strange punishments — especially for JR. Some witness accounts of mistreatment for one reason or another went unreported to authorities. Viewed together, the information paints an unsettling picture of how isolation and a hesitancy by authorities and neighbors to intervene more forcefully left the kids vulnerable.
An officer’s 2015 encounter with JR was just one of many times when authorities and other got close to the family without realizing something would go terribly wrong, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution found.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported in January that the agency declined to investigate a 2017 report of abuse, because at the time the report was made, the story it told of a merciless beating of JR was a year old.
Before he died, Elwyn “JR” Crocker Jr.’s dad complained about the 13-year-old to police. The father claimed JR stole, fought when told to take a bath and was a “bully,” which was why he was homeschooled, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.
Cpl. Kurtis Smith took the boy aside and asked what was wrong, according to an incident report. JR acknowledged he did get angry a lot. He was upset mostly because he didn’t have many friends. The Rincon police officer advised JR to listen to his family, everything would be fine.
Two and a half years later, Effingham County Sheriff’s deputies found he and his sister buried behind their trailer.
All five relatives are charged with felony murder, child cruelty and other crimes.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution contributed to this report.
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