When Tanya Zuvers dropped her three sons off for their Thanksgiving visitation with their father, John Skelton, in 2010, she had no idea that she would never see them again. The disappearance of Andrew, Alexander, and Tanner Skelton broke the hearts of an entire Michigan community, and more than a decade after they went missing their fate remains unknown.
Tanya had filed for divorce from John in September 2010 after he took the three children on an unplanned trip to Florida, where his mother lived. Tanya was awarded full custody of the boys after the judge learned that John had taken them out of the state without permission, but she and John soon worked out a visitation schedule so he could see his sons. Tanya had agreed to allow the boys to spend Thanksgiving with John at the Morenci, Michigan home they had once lived in as a family. When she dropped them off on Wednesday, November 24, 2010, she told them that she would see them two days later, on Friday.
Tanya and John had planned to exchange the boys at 3:00 pm on Friday, but Tanya called him late that morning to see if she could pick them up earlier. John told her that he had taken the boys to Jackson, Michigan, and wasn’t sure what time they would be back. As the day went on, however, John kept changing his story and eventually admitted to Tanya that he was at home but had sent the boys out with a friend he met on the internet.
It was clear that Tanya was upset, and she asked her friend when he would bring the boys back. John said he didn’t know, and then he dropped another bombshell: he wasn’t at home; he was in the hospital after trying to kill himself but failing. Someone helped him get to the hospital after he tried to hang himself but only hurt his leg. Tanya called the police right away to say that her sons were missing.
Finally, John told the police that he didn’t want the boys to be with him when he killed himself; he couldn’t wait the few hours until his visit with the boys was over, so he gave them to a woman named Joann Taylor. He said he met Joann and Mark, her husband, when he was a truck driver many years ago. Their car had broken down on the side of the road, and he helped them fix it. Since then, he said, he had kept in touch with them via email and had decided that Joann would be the best person to care for his kids.
Right away, investigators found out that this woman didn’t exist. John said she lived in either Jackson or Hillsdale counties in southern Michigan. They found no proof that either Joann or her husband were real. It was clear that John was not telling the truth.
The three kids, Andrew (9 years old), Alexander (7 years old), and Tanner (5 years old), were put on an Amber Alert right away because authorities thought they were in grave danger. Also, they asked anyone who saw John’s blue 2000 Dodge Caravan that Thursday or Friday to get in touch with them. Specifically, they wanted to know where he was between 4:00 am and 7:00 am on Friday.
The police did not believe at first that John had given his children to anyone else. They said that two of the boys had been seen playing in John’s backyard by neighbors on Thursday afternoon, but no one had seen them since then. Right away, a huge search was started in areas of Michigan and Ohio where authorities thought John might have left the kids.
Police from all over the country, including the FBI, worked together to find the Skelton brothers. Experts from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children were sent to help with grid searches, and hundreds of people in the area volunteered to help.
In Morenci, Michigan, every person knew everyone else. The 2,200 people who lived in the area were heartbroken when they heard that the three boys had gone missing over Thanksgiving. Everyone wanted to help find them. People put their lives on hold for a week to help look for the boys. The search would have ended quickly if they could have just used their willpower to find them. It was clear right away that the story probably wouldn’t have a happy ending. Even though a huge search was done, not a single clue as to where the boys were found.
The police were sure that John had killed the boys and then thrown away their bodies, most likely early Friday morning. John, on the other hand, wouldn’t help with their investigation and kept saying that he had given the boys to the ghost of Joann Taylor. Linda Ford, John’s sister, told reporters that she believed her brother and didn’t understand why police kept questioning him even though they had found no proof of her existence.
Tanya told the police that she just vaguely remembered John talking about helping a couple who were stuck on the side of the road. He had only talked about it once, when it happened, and she didn’t get the sense that he planned to keep in touch with the family.
After the police got access to John’s email accounts, they were able to say for sure that “Joann Taylor” did not exist and was only in John’s mind.
On Tuesday, November 30, 2010, John was taken out of the mental health facility in Lucas County, Ohio, because he was thought to be healthy enough. As soon as he got out of jail, the FBI arrested him and charged him with three counts of kidnapping a parent. He refused to give up his right to be sent back to Michigan, so the judge put him in jail and set his bail at $3 million. He was sent to the Lucas County Corrections Center in Toledo to wait for his formal extradition hearing.
It was still being looked for the three boys while John was in jail. There were reports of possible sightings of the boys, but investigators couldn’t confirm any of them. They told the public not to get their hopes up. The police were sure that the boys were dead, but Tanya and most of the people in Morenci refused to believe them. They were positive that the boys would be found alive.
The volunteers stopped looking for the boys on December 3, one week after they were last seen. An unknown donor offered a $10,000 reward for information that led to the boys’ location. However, it was clear that the police thought the person who knew where the boys were was already in custody. John kept telling everyone that he hadn’t hurt his boys, but he wouldn’t say where they were.
While John was in jail, his parents visited him and told reporters that they believed him when he said the boys were safe, even though he wouldn’t tell them where the kids were. Even though Tanya had been found by a court to be the best parent for the boys, his mother Roxann told reporters that she was proud of her son for taking the boys away from their mother.
After a week, John chose not to go to a formal extradition hearing and was taken back to Michigan right away. He was put on a $30 million bond by a judge while he waited his trial for kidnapping his parents.
John finally said that his story about Joann Taylor was not true on December 16. Now he said that he had given his sons to a member of a secret group who had come to his house on Thanksgiving. Investigators didn’t believe he was telling the truth because he couldn’t name the person who took his sons or the group they were said to be with.
John would not answer any questions about what he had done with the kids at the divorce hearing, but he kept saying that they were safe. At one point, he asked Tanya across the courtroom, “Why aren’t you wearing your ring, hon?” but she was smart enough to dismiss him.
Authorities tried to warn Tanya of the worst that could happen, but she still had hope that her children would be found alive. To try to make things better, she bought them each a few gifts for Christmas and planned to wrap them up and put them under the tree.
2011 came and went with no progress on the case. Tanya and John’s divorce hearing was on January 28. John told the judge again that he couldn’t give the kids to their mom. Detectives said they had followed up on more than 900 tips but had not found any evidence that the boys were still alive, even though he kept saying he had not hurt the boys and that they were in a safe place.
At a press conference on February 1, 2011, officials said that the case of the missing Skelton brothers was now officially being looked at as a murder. Authorities were still looking for the boys, but they didn’t think they were still alive. The chief of police in Morenci even said he didn’t think the boys would be found safe.
At that point, John was still the main suspect, but no new charges were brought against him because detectives were still trying to figure out what he had done with the kids. Again, he changed his story. This time, he said he had left the boys with a group called United Foster Outreach and Underground Sanctuaries. However, investigators said there was no such group.
John was charged with more counts of kidnapping and unlawful imprisonment at the end of February. His bond was raised to $90 million. John talked to a Detroit TV station on the phone while he was in jail waiting to be tried on these charges, but he didn’t say anything new. He kept telling everyone that he hadn’t hurt his kids.
John and Tanya’s divorce was finally finalized on June 2, 2011, but the process was not a happy one. Tanya was given full custody of the three boys by the judge. John said that if Tanya was given custody, the boys “won’t be available to either of us.” I can’t do anything about it.
The Morenci Police Department and a Toledo TV station worked together in the summer of 2011 to make a public service announcement about the Skelton brothers who went missing. They were offering a reward of $60,000 to get people to call in with new information that might finally help them find the boys. The police asked people in Michigan and Ohio to check their properties, including any buildings that were empty, in case the kids were hiding there.
John admitted on July 28, 2011, that he was guilty of illegally holding his three sons in jail. John still insisted that he had done nothing wrong, so the plea wasn’t an admission of guilt. Instead, he agreed to a deal with the prosecutors that meant he would plead “no contest” to the charges of unlawful imprisonment and the kidnapping charges would be dropped. The deal didn’t stop the prosecutor from bringing more charges in the future. They were still hoping that the bodies of the boys would be found so that John could be charged with murder.
Pictures of the brothers as they got older (Wbckfm.com owns the picture)
According to the charges against John, he was given a prison sentence of 10 to 15 years on September 15, 2011. The judge thought his crime was so bad that she went beyond the guidelines for sentencing, which said he should spend 43 to 86 months in prison. The judge said in her decision that she still didn’t know what happened to the three children and that the situation had done a lot of emotional harm to Tanya, her family, and the community as a whole.
John didn’t agree with the harsh sentence. He had once again changed his story. He now said that he had never tried to kill himself and that the noose was for “an apparatus” he was making. He also said that he hadn’t really given his kids to a secret group, but that a member of the group had come to his house to kind of help him out and taken the boys to hide them from their mother.
It was his third time saying that he didn’t know where the boys were and that he wouldn’t know until he got out of jail. If he never got out of jail, “nobody will see them again.”
John is still in prison. He had his first hearing for parole in September 2020, but it was denied, so he is still at the Bellamy Creek Correctional Facility in Iowa. The search for the boys has been going on for ten years, but no one knows where they are, and investigators still don’t have enough evidence against John to bring any more charges.
Detectives have revealed that they were able to track much of John’s movements in the early hours of Friday, November 26, 2010, by using his cell phone records. His phone was at his Morenci, Michigan home at 4:19 am that Friday, but was on the move by 4:23 am. At 5:02 am, the phone was in an area located to the northeast of Holiday City, Ohio; the phone was apparently turned off at this point and no other tracking data is available until 6:46 am when the phone was back in Morenci.
John disputes that he ever went to Ohio; he admits that his phone was there but claims he wasn’t with the phone; he told police his phone simply reappeared at his house the following morning and he wasn’t sure how it got there. Investigators believe that John was with his phone the entire time, and that he most likely disposed of the boys’ bodies between 5:02 am and 6:46 am. They continue to conduct sporadic searches of that area and look for witnesses who might have seen something, but to date the exact fate of the boys remains unknown.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children recently released age-progressed photos of Andrew, Alexander, and Tanner Skelton, showing what they might look like if they are still alive. If you have any information about the whereabouts of John Skelton on Friday, November 26, 2010 or the location of Andrew, Alexander, or Tanner Skelton, please contact the Morenci Police Department at 517–458–7104.