MOBILE, Ala. – A father told investigators that his two young children missing since the summer are dead and buried, prompting corpse-abuse charges for the man and a search by cadaver dogs for the youngsters' bodies, police said.
The father, John DeBlase, and the children's stepmother have also been charged with child abuse.
"We know that both of them are going to be responsible for the deaths of both children," Mobile police spokesman Christopher Levy said Saturday. "But the exact details of how they died, it's still too early to tell."
Levy said about 20 officers and search-and-rescue workers were unable to find the children's bodies after combing a wooded area north of Vancleave, Miss. — about 55 miles west of Mobile — from morning until dark Saturday.
He said police chose that area to search in part based on information the children's father gave them about where he recalls burying the bodies of 5-year-old Natalie DeBlase and 3-year-old Chase DeBlase.
"He has been cooperative and we've been able to speak to him a bit," Levy said.
DeBlase was arrested Friday in the Florida Panhandle town of Navarre and charged with two counts of aggravated child abuse and two counts of abuse of a corpse. He is now jailed in Mobile.
The children were last seen in July during an outing in Mobile, but their disappearance wasn't reported until police in Kentucky received a tip recently from a relative of the stepmother's, police said. Mobile police said they began investigating about a week ago.
On Wednesday, police in Louisville, Ky., arrested the children's stepmother, Heather Leavell-Keaton, and charged her with child abuse.
Levy said he did not know if DeBlase or Leavell-Keaton had hired attorneys.
Police say the charges of abuse of a corpse filed against the father resulted from evidence he buried the bodies without proper respect.
Levy said it was uncertain if police would resume searching in the same area Sunday. He said investigators hope to get further information to help narrow the search.
"That has yet to be determined," he said. "We're going to continue on with our investigation and try to get better information to improve the search."