MISSING MICHIGAN BROTHERS - WHAT HAPPENED TO THE SKELTON BOYS?
When Tanya and John Skelton married in 2002, it was a second marriage for both of them, and for years the relationship appeared to be strong, with the couple having three boys together - Andrew, Alexander and Tanner. However, in late 2010 the couple were in the midst of a tumultuous separation, and they disagreed on the custody arrangements for the boys. In 2010 Andrew was age 9, Alexander age 7 and Tanner age 5. Tanya had been awarded full custody of the boys and John was granted visitation. It appeared to be a rather difficult and emotional period for John, who was also struggling to find work as a truck driver. Throughout their marriage, the couple lived and raised their children in Morenci, Michigan.
Andrew, Alexander & Tanner Skelton
On September 13th 2010 Tanya had dropped Andrew and Alexander off at school on what was to be a regular day for the boys, whilst she proceeded to file for divorce that same day. Sometime later she received a phone call from the school who were concerned that the boys’ father had collected them earlier stating that he was taking them on vacation, and that they had not been informed of this beforehand. When Tanya got in touch with John, he confirmed that he wanted to take the older boys on a three week vacation to visit his parents who resided in Jacksonville, Florida. He told her not to worry about their education, because the term had just started and he would enrol them in a local elementary school in Florida for three weeks. Tanya got in touch with the local Morenci police, who quickly contacted John Skelton. They informed him that the custody agreement in place forbid him from taking the boys across state lines without permission, and that failure to return with the boys immediately could result in an arrest for parental kidnapping. Law enforcement were able to convince John to return to Morenci with the boys and no official charges were brought. However, this incident caused further tension between Tanya and John and on 27 September 2010 John filed a motion seeking full custody of the boys, citing a 1998 offence of Tanya’s which he suggested placed his sons in danger. In 1998, Tanya had plead guilty to fourth degree criminal misconduct for having sexual intercourse with a 14 year old male. There are very little details online about this charge, and although Tanya confirms the offence, she denies that she would ever harm her three children, and refuses to elaborate on the charge. Tanya had two daughters from her previous marriage, with whom she remains very close to. Her daughters are much older than her sons, and by all accounts Tanya’s misdemeanour charge appears to have caused the breakdown of her first marriage. She served time in prison for this offence, and is a registered sex offender in the state of Michigan, but John was informed of this background prior to their relationship. As a result of John taking Andrew and Alexander to Florida without prior agreement, Tanya received exclusive custody of the boys, and her and John agreed his visitation schedule without court influence.
The custody agreement in place worked for a few weeks, although John repeatedly called Tanya and wanted to get back together, believing their marriage could survive, and continually claimed that he was still in love with her. Tanya and John had attended couples counselling, and it also appears that family counselling was taking place. In the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, John requested to spend the holiday period with his sons, to which Tanya agreed. It was decided that the boys would spend Thanksgiving with John and have a sleepover, and then John would return them to Tanya the following day. The boys visited John on Thanksgiving as agreed, and a neighbour witnessed the children playing in the front yard at approximately 5pm that evening. John calls Tanya on 25 November 2010 again asking if there’s any chance of them getting back together. She can hear the boys playing in the background and recalled that they appeared to be happy.
John with his three sons.
On Friday 26 November 2010, it was agreed that Tanya would pick the boys up from John at 3pm that afternoon, but in the morning Tanya contacts John and asks if she can collect them earlier, for reasons which are not entirely clear. The ex-couple communicate over calls and texts, and Tanya asks if she can collect the boys at noon instead. John states that he would agree to this, however he is not at home with the boys and they are out having fun with friends of his. The text messages appear to go back and forth, and later that day John says that he is home but the boys are still out with his friend who will drop them off at 3pm so Tanya can collect them. When Tanya contacts John a little later, he tells her that he is on his way to the hospital because he thinks he has a broken leg. Tanya is obviously concerned as to the whereabouts of her sons, but John says his friend will return the boys to John’s house. He tells Tanya that he does not have his friend’s number and he does not know how his friend will get in touch to return the boys to Tanya. Understandably very concerned at this stage, Tanya contacts her lawyer who informs her to wait until the scheduled collection time of 3pm, and then contact the authorities if the boys have not been returned to her. At exactly 3.01pm Tanya calls the Morenci law enforcement and reports her three sons as missing.
John had called a friend to bring him to the hospital and he checked himself in with an ankle injury. It was reported that John had attempted to hang himself and suffered the ankle injury as a result. John continues to stick by his original story, that a friend of his is with the boys. For the first time John reveals the name of this friend to be Joanne Taylor, who he claims to have met because he came across Joanne and her husband when their vehicle broke down during his employment as a truck driver, and he stopped to help them. He claims that he and Joanne kept in touch online following this incident, and she has taken the boys somewhere safe, but Tanya refuses to believe this story and is concerned for the welfare of her three sons. Law enforcement search John’s residence whilst he is at the hospital, hoping to locate the three young boys. The boys are not located in the home, but the residence is in disarray. The entire contents of the house are smashed, destroyed and broken. At 11pm on Friday 26 November 2010, an AMBER Alert is issued for the missing Skelton children. The AMBER Alert details that the FBI are on their way, and that the three children are believed to be in extreme danger. The alert also states that the children were last seen at 2.30pm that day in the company of Joanne Taylor who was driving a silver van.
At 1.30am on Saturday 27 November 2010, Tanya receives a call from the Morenci Police Department asking her to visit the station as soon as possible to discuss the case before the FBI arrive. Law enforcement obtain John’s phone records which present as very unusual. At 4.29am on Friday 26 November 2010, John’s phone pinged approximately 3 miles away from his house, and it was moving. Then at 5am, his phone pinged near Holiday City, Ohio, which is about a 25 mile journey from his house. At 6.46am his phone location was at his house, meaning he was in Holiday City for approximately 70 minutes, but why?
When questioned as to where the boys were, John’s story appears to change over time. His first recollection is that he gave the boys to Joanne Taylor because he was planning to commit suicide. The next version of his story is that he gave the boys to an underground foster home, in order to protect them from their mother who was abusing them. Upon John’s release from the hospital, during which his injured leg was attended to, he was taken to a medical facility for psychological evaluation and he was eventually taken into police custody. Law enforcement made it public knowledge that they did not believe John’s story, and that unfortunately it was possible that the Skelton brothers may be deceased.
However, three days after the AMBER Alert was issued, a shop worker in House of Donuts, Ohio reported a sighting of three young boys with a dishevelled looking woman, who reportedly called the youngest boy ‘Tanner’. The Donut shop was located approximately 100 miles away from Morenci. During this time, extensive searches were taking place in Michigan, but unfortunately no trace of the young boys was found. This sighting does however add some credit to John’s story that he gave the boys away, and that they were alive when he left them. Unfortunately, this lead appeared to fizzle out, and John was on trial in 2011 for the disappearance of his children, but he continued to protest his innocence and claimed that he has not harmed the boys in any way. He pleaded no contest to a charge of false imprisonment in exchange for the state dropping a parental kidnapping charge. He was sentenced to 10 - 15 years in prison, and when questioned about his no contest plea, John states that he made it so he would be free to see his children when he was released. John continues to protest that the boys are alive.
In 2018, John participated in an interview from prison where he stated that he had handed the boys over to an underground group of child-protective activists, to protect them from their abusive mother. Law enforcement have investigated John’s story, and confirmed that they do not believe any such group exists. In September 2020, John was denied parole and his eligibility will not be reviewed again until November 2020. His current date for release is listed as November 2025.
In some aspects, this case appears to be stranger than fiction, but given John's previous attempt to take the boys on 'vacation' without Tanya's permission, I do wonder why Tanya's attorney did not pre-empt the possibility of John possibly fleeing with the children, and put court orders in place to prevent this.
His previous ‘vacation’ to Florida, the ongoing custody battle and the fact he was recently unemployed all point to an altered mental state, and his attempted suicide suggest John was spiralling. It remains unclear as to whether John attempted suicide due to his guilt at murdering the boys, or whether he actually handed them over to this alleged group. Unfortunately, I do not believe we will ever receive the answers from John.
Personally, I do find Tanya’s criminal record to be rather disturbing, and John’s parents and his sister have recalled that John expressed concerns to them about Tanya’s behaviour with their sons, although I have been unable to find any specific details of his concerns. Also, the evidence of John’s phone pinging 25 miles away in what is almost desolate wasteland in the early hours of the morning, when it would have been dark in late November 2010 can be interpreted as damning evidence against him- why was he there at all? It was an area that a trucker would have been familiar with and that John had likely driven through many times, but what reason would he have for being there that morning when he had visitation with his sons? In saying that, if John had killed his sons and disposed of their bodies in this area, the fact that he returned to his home to attempt suicide strikes me as rather strange - why would he not commit suicide there? Also, given the extensive searches which took place following the boys’ disappearance, the lack of evidence or bodies suggests to me that the boys were not murdered or their bodies disposed of at this spot. I also do not believe that John killed the boys at his home, as again law enforcement would likely have found evidence of this upon searching the residence.
It is of course entirely possible that John gave the boys to someone, but I do agree that his story about an underground group is vague at best. However, as we are all well aware, there are many such weird and creepy organisations that exist, hiding beneath the surface of the dark web. Furthermore, this case reminds me of a similar case which was closed in 2015, and involved two teenage girls who were at the heart of their parents’ heated custody battle. After two years of being classified as missing, the girls were found at a ranch, safe and well, merely a three hour drive from their hometown. The ranch at which the girls were located was called ‘White Horse Ranch’, and their website chillingly reads that it helps ‘broken children’. The founder of the ranch had connections to the mother of the girls, who was charged with felony deprivation of parental rights a month before the girls were found. Law enforcement questioned the girls who said they ran away because they did not want to live with their father who was to be granted full custody. However, law enforcement continue to believe their mother brainwashed them and orchestrated the ‘hiding’ of the teenagers at the ranch. Additionally, missing children charities note the increasing frequency of cases in which parents in the midst of a custody battle turn the children against the other parent, in what is identified as a form of grooming. The executive director of the agency Child Find of America confirmed her knowledge that in some instances of parental alienation, it is not unknown for a parent to enlist the help of what they believe to be ‘activists’ to assist in hiding the child. She states that, “There are different kinds of networks organised under different premises, whether it’s religion, whether it’s man-women-hater clubs or female-male-hater clubs, that will provide [an] underground and hide kids for a parent”.
Therefore, John’s story that he communicated with Joanne Taylor online may hold a grain of truth - even if Joanne Taylor does not actually exist, he may have been communicating with someone who he believed would provide a better life for his children than Tanya could provide for them following her receiving full custody of the boys. Also, it is to be noted that John’s parents have supported him throughout the last ten years, and to me it could possibly suggest that they have more knowledge of what happened to the boys than they have told authorities, or at the very least they may know more than what has been released to the media.
In this case, the best possible scenario is that the boys are being kept somewhere safe and will hopefully one day be reunited with their mother. Unfortunately, as the years go on I think it is less likely that this will be the outcome, as authorities would likely have received a tip or information by now. If John did in fact murder his three innocent young children, I hope he develops enough of a conscience someday to confess and allow those who love the boys to grieve and find closure.
Age progressed image of what the brothers may look like in 2020.
If you have any information regarding the whereabouts of Andrew, Alexander and Tanner Skelton, please contact the Michigan State Police on 1-517-636-0689 or alternatively the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children on 1-800-THE-LOST.