Elwyn Crocker works as an in-store Santa Claus for Walmart – but he’s certainly not the character he plays for Christmas. It’s December 20, 2018, and police stand on his property, ready to dig after their dogs have signaled where they should do so. And, as they rip up the earth, they uncover the stand-in Saint Nick’s grim secret.
Before the police showed up at Crocker’s home, he had once played the part of Santa Claus at a Rincon, Georgia, Walmart. At home in Guyton – a quiet farming community – he and his wife, Candice, spent time raising his children, Mary and Elwyn Jr. Candice’s mother, Kim, and her boyfriend, Roy, also lived with them.
But life on the Crocker property wasn’t as simple as it may have seemed from the outside. When the police came knocking, they uncovered something so terrible that the sheriff nearly broke down in tears when his team found it. And the local community of less than 2,000 people couldn’t believe what their local Santa had done, either.
Not all Santa impersonators behave as kindly the real Saint Nick. In fact, plenty of people employed to play the Christmas character – or those who just happened to be wearing the suit – have gotten in trouble with the law. And some of them have committed more horrific crimes than others.
In December 2004 a man dressed as Santa called Elkin Donnie Clarke went on the attack at an Atlanta area shopping mall. The ABC News crime blotter gave no motive for his actions, but he became wildly violent toward senior citizen Annie Ruth Nelson. Namely, he whacked her in the face and head with a two-by-four piece of wood.
When another person, Aisha Albritton, attempted to stop Clarke’s attack on the elderly woman, he raised the board to her, too. But her intervention stopped the fight, and the assailant apparently attempted to rid himself of evidence before the cops showed up. Namely, he ditched the Santa hat and matching red shirt he had on at the time. Clarke was subsequently charged with aggravated assault on two counts.
On the other side of the country, California-based Jesse Berube became known to the Citrus Heights Police Department in 2017 as “criminal Santa.” He didn’t have the signature outfit on, but Berube had mimicked one of Saint Nick’s go-to moves in order to commit a crime.
According to Time, Berube tried to break into a business by sliding down its chimney. However, the plan didn’t go as he envisioned – like chubby Santa might, the thief got stuck. So, he wiggled his body to give himself just enough room to call the police for help.
Firefighters wielded specialized equipment in order to free Berube from the chimney, and he got out of the precarious situation unhurt. Of course, cops realized pretty quickly what Berube’s plans had been and arrested him for burglary. And his mugshot shows off all of the soot from his failed Santa-style robbery.
As it turns out, donning a Santa suit during a robbery is a relatively common choice for crooks. On December 22, 2009, a Saint Nick impersonator waltzed into a Nashville, Tennessee, bank with his toy-filled sack in hand. And at first, the customers thought he might be there to hand out gifts for their loyal patronage.
But this Santa had no intentions of giving – he only wanted to receive. He whipped out a gun and apparently implored the tellers to give him the cash he needed to pay his elves. According to the Daily Mail, eyewitness Richlyn Jones recalled, “It was a little unbelievable. He was actually jovial, which is scary.”
That same year, Ohio-based Anthony Russo used a Santa suit and beard for an even more sinister purpose – he attempted to kidnap a 12-year-old girl. To do so, authorities said he hid in a bush with a box full of candy canes and a unicycle bedecked with bells and a red bow.
When she walked by, Russo leapt from his hiding spot and grabbed the little girl. However, she managed to wriggle away and report the attack. Thankfully, it didn’t take long for authorities to find and arrest the culprit – which indicates that he might have still had his costume on when they cornered him.
Santas around the world have partaken in criminal conduct while wearing the costume, too. Children in Great Yarmouth in Norfolk, England, broke down in tears at a local Christmas procession in 2000 when they realized the man in red was going to jail after being arrested for fighting. Police locked their bearded assailant into handcuffs and whisked him away as fireworks cracked and glittered overhead.
Sadly for him, this English Santa had earned his place in the back of a patrol car. The man had been hired as part of a Christmas event, though he wasn’t the Father Christmas tasked with riding in the processional sleigh. But as he stood in the market, the faux Saint Nick got into an altercation with a teenage attendee.
Soon enough, the Santa impersonator and the teenager were exchanging punches in front of families who had attended the Christmas processional. According to the BBC, children started to cry as they watched their holiday hero get into a fight. And the tears continued when police cuffed and arrested the man in red.
In a statement, Norfolk police said, “Some members of the public, including families with children, witnessed the incident. These children were understandably concerned and upset at seeing what they thought was the real Santa being arrested.” Fortunately, police had a solution to assuage their fears.
After arresting the Santa impersonator, police trekked to the station with some of the distraught children in tow. There, they explained that the man responsible for the fight wasn’t the real Santa – and that’s why he was arrested and detained. Eventually, though, Norfolk authorities released the faux Saint Nick with a caution.
The Norfolk Police ended their statement with a bit of advice that was inspired by the big man himself. They said, “[We] are certain that the real Santa would not approve of people behaving in this way and of course he will continue his pre-Christmas visits and delivery of gifts everywhere on Christmas Day.”
Not all Santa-related crimes end in such a wholesome way, and sometimes people in Saint Nick garb commit unforgivable crimes from behind the suit. And that’s what happened on Christmas Eve 2008 in Covina, California, when Bruce Jeffrey Pardo lost his job and struggled with a divorce – triggering him to go on a rampage.
Pardo, formerly employed in the aerospace industry, put on a Santa costume and carried a large present with him. He then knocked on the door of a Christmas party held at a two-story house. When a young girl answered the door, she may have even thought the man on the other side was actually Saint Nick himself.
However, the man at the door was Pardo, and he had prepared to massacre the people inside the house. He shot the young girl who let him in in the face – although she would ultimately survive the night. Then, he went on the attack, firing at the 25 people who had come over to celebrate the holiday. Some leaped through windows or hid behind furniture trying to save their lives.
Most of those who Pardo shot were inconsequential to him, though. He had come to the party looking for one person in particular – his ex-wife, Sylvia. The pair hadn’t separated amicably and he still owed her the $10,000 she’d earned in their divorce settlement. After losing his job, though, it had apparently become tough to make the payments.
At the end of his rampage, Pardo had murdered his ex-wife, as well as her parents, Alicia and James Ortega. Six other people died, although not all of them died from gunshot wounds. Horrifically, the Santa-costumed killer eventually unwrapped the present he had brought along with him to reveal a flamethrower.
To end his nightmarish rampage, Pardo doused the house in accelerant before lighting it up with the flamethrower. It took seconds for the property to go up in flames – killing those left alive inside of the building. After that, the costumed mass murderer went to one of his brother’s houses and ended his own life.
And then there was Elwyn Crocker, Sr., the man who’d found work as an in-store Santa at a Rincon, Georgia, Walmart. On the outside, the man may have seemed to be a good candidate for the job. His own birthday fell on Christmas day, and he had three children of his own.
Crocker had three children living in his Guyton, Georgia, trailer. His youngest son, James, had cerebral palsy and lived at home. His other boy, Elwyn “JR” Crocker, Jr. and his daughter, Mary, also used to live there and go to school in the area. JR went to South Effingham Middle School and Mary went to Effingham County Middle School a few years later.
Eventually, though, both JR and Mary left their traditional schools in favor of homeschooling. The former left first as a sixth grader in 2014 and he’d remained a visible part of the close-knit Guyton community of 2,000 people until November 2016. After that, no one could remember seeing JR around town.
Then, Mary withdrew from school in 2018, and the family said she left Guyton to move in with her biological mother in South Carolina. And Crocker’s house had grown crowded – he lived there, as did his wife, Candice Crocker, his mother-in-law, Kim Wright, and her boyfriend, Roy Anthony Prater. Of course, four adults plus three children would equal tight quarters.
Mary’s departure didn’t sit well with some people, however. Consequently, the police received a tip-off that suggested the young girl was possibly missing or even dead. So, the cops went to speak to Crocker at his property in Guyton.
In the past, the Crocker family had raised a few alarm bells within their community. Police had been summoned to the property once to settle a complaint about the Crockers’ pit bulls. The pups had a dog pen on their property, close to the wood line, so the cops never came back for dog-related calls. Deputies also later discovered that the family had been reported to the Division of Family and Children Services.
During the police’s second visit, Crocker, his wife and his in-laws stuck to the story that Mary was living with her biological mother in South Carolina. But, as the investigators listened to the family’s stories, they realized that the details didn’t quite add up. As the Effingham County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Gena Sullivan told The Daily Beast, “… [They] figured out things weren’t as they were being presented.”
So police kept pressing and, eventually, they figured out the truth. Sullivan continued, “They were able to determine positively the children were there.” Unfortunately, though, the Sheriff’s Department would find neither Mary nor JR alive on the Crocker family homestead. Instead, they called in a cadaver dog to search as soon as the sun came up.
The cop’s feline signaled that the bodies of both JR and Mary were on the Crocker family property. The boy, who had been missing for two years, was buried right near the dog pen that had brought police to the property in the first place. On that note, cops initially had no idea that another government office had them in their crosshairs for a while.
As we mentioned earlier, the Crocker family had been reported to the Division of Family and Children Services. In both 2012 and 2013, for example, Crocker and his wife, Candice, had needed to go through state-provided counseling and parenting classes. They did so after they dealt with allegations of child abuse, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
As WTOC reported in 2019, Crocker started out as an “apathetic father,” but the investigation into his home life had changed him. Supposedly, he’d later realized the importance of showing love to his children. And as a result, the Division of Family and Children Services later closed the Crocker file because they saw, according to the publication, “significant improvements in the family.”
Still, the Crocker’s case file told only a part of JR’s story – there were no details about Mary’s treatment. The released information had nothing to do with the teenagers’ deaths, either. What the public does know, though, is that the adults who let both children perish will have to face the law. Each one faced charges for child cruelty and concealing a body so far. However, the teens’ causes of death have yet to be determined.
Fortunately, Crocker’s third child escaped the home unscathed, although he did go to the hospital for observation. Still, the case proved heartbreaking for the entire community – Sheriff Jimmy McDuffie included. He said at a press conference, “I’ve been doing this 41 years and… I almost broke down in tears. It’s that bad. I cannot understand how you do children like this. It’s horrible.”
Elsewhere, the 2,000 people who lived in Guyton couldn’t believe that something so heinous could have occurred in their hometown. Coroner David Exley told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 2018, “This is a very unusual crime, especially in this area, [which is] a good, close-knit community. Many people cannot believe this happened.”
The sheriff’s office did hope one huge lesson would come out of such a painful loss for the Guyton community, however. Spokeswoman Sullivan told The Daily Beast, “Our biggest message is: if you see something or something doesn’t seem right… call and report it. There were months upon months that we could have intervened had we known something was wrong.”