MOBILE, Ala. (AP) -- Bones found Wednesday in the woods of rural Mississippi are believed to be the remains of a missing 3-year-old Alabama boy whose father told authorities he dumped the bodies of the boy and his sister at separate locations, police said.
The boy's father, 27-year-old John DeBlase of Mobile, is held on charges of child abuse and corpse abuse, and he has been assisting authorities in the search for the children's bodies. Remains of the 5-year-old girl haven't yet been located.
A child's bones were found by search crews Wednesday morning in the woods just off Highway 57 north of Vancleave, Miss. Tests are needed to confirm the identity, but authorities are convinced the remains are those of Chase DeBlase, Mobile Police Officer Chris Levy said. John DeBlase told investigators he dumped the boy's body in March.
"Everything we found is absolutely consistent with the information he gave to us on what to look for," Levy said.
The father has also told authorities he dumped the body of his daughter Natalie in the woods north of Mobile in June.
He claims the children were killed by their stepmother, Heather Leavell-Keaton. She is jailed in Louisville, Ky. on child abuse charges awaiting return to Mobile. Leavell-Keaton says DeBlase poisoned them.
Their families echo each one's allegations. Leavell-Keaton's mother said her daughter had tried before to leave a lying, controlling man, and they suspect he poisoned the children. DeBlase's parents, however, said they believe it was a violent and unpredictable stepmother who manipulated their son into helping cover up slayings she committed.
Still, they're not excusing DeBlase.
"I can't believe John is responsible for this, but I know he could have prevented it," Deblase's mother, Dorothy, told The Associated Press. "But if Heather told him to go jump off a bridge, he would go jump in a river."
The finger-pointing frustrates investigators.
"What we know at this point is that they're dead," Levy said. "How they died is still up for determination."
Levy added: "Both of them are ultimately responsible for the deaths."
DeBlase was arraigned earlier Wednesday. A judge set a preliminary hearing for Jan. 4. His court-appointed attorney didn't immediately return a telephone message. Neither suspect has yet been charged with killing either child.
Levy said witnesses told authorities both suspects beat the kids on numerous occasions.
"We have some incidents where people observed them striking the children with objects," Levy said, adding investigators are disturbed no one came forward sooner. "The children had some injuries that warranted medical attention which they never properly received."
Police say the boy was last seen in March and the girl in June, but their disappearances weren't reported until authorities in Kentucky received a tip recently. Mobile police began investigating last month.
DeBlase and Leavell-Keaton had been together since 2008, but they were not legally married. The couple met on the website MySpace while DeBlase and his children were living with his parents and Leavell-Keaton was attending nearby Spring Hill College in Mobile.
Her mother, Helena Keaton, said her daughter was legally blind and dependent on DeBlase because of her limited eyesight.
"She does not know really what happened to the kids. We suspect he poisoned them," Keaton told the AP, adding that her daughter smelled really bad breath on both children.
"They had the same symptoms. They were not eating, they were not drinking. They were beginning to use the bathroom on themselves although they were potty trained," she said. "John would not take those children to get medical care."
In the spring, Keaton said, DeBlase forced Leavell-Keaton to go on a long ride. DeBlase finally stopped and got something out of the vehicle, Keaton said, but Leavell-Keaton - who was pregnant at the time with DeBlase's third child - was unsure what it was.
Keaton described DeBlase as a controlling, "habitual liar."
"She has tried to get away from John before, and he has tracked her down," Keaton said.
The couple moved to Kentucky without the children this summer, and Leavell-Keaton had DeBlase's child in August.
DeBlase's parents have a very different account. They say Leavell-Keaton controlled the relationship, wouldn't allow DeBlase to take his children to church and forced him to move out of their home with the kids.
They told the AP they suspect Leavell-Keaton killed the kids during a fit of rage while DeBlase attended night classes to become a personal trainer, then manipulated him into getting rid of the bodies.
The grandparents last saw the children in February when they tracked down their son and Leavell-Keaton at a trailer park in the rural Alabama town of Citronelle.
Leavell-Keaton's family never met the kids, and DeBlase's parents didn't even know the woman was pregnant.
They say the pain of losing their grandchildren is unbearable. They described Chase as a rambunctious little blonde-haired boy and Natalie as "the princess," with penetrating big blue eyes who loved baking cookies with her grandmother.
"They were our reason for living," Richard DeBlase said, tears running down his cheeks. "We watched them from crawling to walking and I can't tell you how badly it hurts us."
Associated Press writer Jay Reeves contributed to this report from Birmingham, Ala.