Details of Disappearance
Tanner is missing with his brothers, Alexander
. Their mother, Tanya Lynn Zuvers Skelton, had filed for divorce from their father, John Russell Skelton, in September 2010 and had custody of the boys.
John took them for a court-ordered visitation over Thanksgiving, and never returned them. That last time anyone besides John saw them was at 5:00 p.m. on November 25, the day before their disappearances were reported. Photos of John and Tanya are posted with this case summary.
John stated he gave the boys to a woman named Joann Taylor, whom he had met on the internet several years before, and asked her to return them to their mother. He said he did this because he planned to commit suicide and didn't want the boys to see it. He stated Joann was married to a pastor named Mark, drove a white or silver minivan and lived in either Hillsdale, Michigan or Jackson County, Michigan.
John attempted to hang himself later that day, but survived and was hospitalized, first at a general hospital and then at a psychiatric facility in Ohio.
Authorities issued an Amber Alert for the Skelton brothers, but they could find no sign of them and no indication that Joann Taylor even existed. Police said they believed the boys were in "grave danger." They said they believed John's story about Joann Taylor was fictitious and something else caused the Skelton children's disappearances.
Investigators stated they were investigating the disappearances as homicides, and John was the prime suspect. They said John's blue Dodge Caravan was on the Ohio Turnpike, along the Michigan-Ohio border, between 4:00 and 7:00 a.m. on November 26, and asked anyone who saw it to come forward. A photo of the vehicle is posted with this case summary. It has the Michigan license plate number 9JQ H93.
Immediately following John's release from the hospital, he was arrested and jailed under suicide watch. He was eventually extradited to Michigan and charged with three counts of felony parental kidnapping, three counts of kidnapping and three counts of false imprisonment.
At a court hearing in December 2010, he changed his story, saying his sons were in the care of "an organization" which he at first refused to name. He later said it called United Foster Outreach and Underground Sanctuaries. The police believe no such group exists.
Tanya and John married in 2002, and the family was active with United Methodist Church in Morenci. John also has one adult daughter and Tanya has two daughters from their previous marriages. In mid-September 2010, he withdrew Andrew and Alexander from school and to Florida without Tanya's permission. He told their school they were going on vacation, but also implied they wouldn't return and the school might need to forward the children's records.
Tanya had to go to Florida and have the authorities there force John, under threat of arrest, to take the boys back to Michigan. After they got back, Tanya filed for divorce. She said she only did it to secure custody and prevent John from taking the boys out of the area again, and that she and John were in counseling with hopes of a reconciliation. The children had been visiting John on a regular basis with no reported problems.
John had previously worked as a long-haul truck driver, but in 2009 he was fired after he was convicted of drunk driving. He had been unemployed ever since.
The children's parents were in the middle of a bitter custody battle. Tanya was at one time a registered sex offender; she pleaded guilty to misdemeanor fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct for having a sexual relationship with a 14-year-old neighbor boy in 1998, when she was 32 years old.
In response to her divorce filing, John had asked the court to sever her parental rights based on her sex offender status. The judge refused to do so. After the children disappeared, John said he had feared Tanya was abusing them, but investigators can find no evidence of abuse. Tanya said that when she went to their former family home, where John was living at the time of the disappearances, many items inside the house had been destroyed.
In July 2011, John took a plea deal with prosecutors and pleaded no contest to three counts of false imprisonment. The kidnapping charges were dropped. He could have faced life in prison if convicted of the original charges. Instead he was sentenced to ten to fifteen years in prison, a term that exceeds the state sentencing guidelines.
John has stated his children are still alive but will never be returned as long as their mother has custody of them. His relatives and Tanya don't believe he would have harmed them.
Alexander, Andrew and Tanner all attended Morenci Elementary School at the time of their disappearances; Alexander was in third grade, Andrew in first grade and Tanner in kindergarten. Their cases remain unsolved and foul play is suspected.