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Taken on Thanksgiving: The Unsolved Disappearance of the Skelton Brothers

On Thanksgiving Day 2010, three brothers were taken by their father and never seen again.

skelton brothers
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  • Photo Credit: National Center for Missing and Exploited Children

Thanksgiving Day is a time for families to come together and be grateful for one another. But over the course of the Thanksgiving holiday in 2010, Tanya Zuvers’ family was torn apart. On November 25, 2010, Tanya's three sons—five-year-old Tanner Skelton, seven-year-old Alexander Skelton, and nine-year-old Andrew Skelton—were under the supervision of their father, John Skelton. The siblings were last seen playing in their father’s backyard in Morenci, Michigan, a small town just north of the Michigan-Ohio border. Soon thereafter, the Skelton brothers vanished, never to be seen again. 

Years later, their whereabouts remain a mystery. What happened to the Skelton brothers? 

Related: Face on the Milk Carton: What Happened to Johnny Gosch? 

Tanya Zuvers and John Skelton: A Rocky Relationship

By the fall of 2010, Tanya's relationship with John was at an end; she had filed for divorce from the unemployed truck driver on September 13th, and was awarded custody of the three children. What followed was a nasty custody battle during which John picked up Tanner, Alexander, and Andrew briefly fled to Florida. John was convinced to return with the children to Michigan. Despite such an alarming episode, John retained limited visitation rights. He continued to see the three boys "with no issues" throughout the fall—and was granted the right to spend time with them for the Thanksgiving holiday.

Related: 7 Chilling Books About Real-Life Kidnappings 

skelton brothers
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  • Photo Credit: bailbondcity.com

The plan was for the boys to be returned to Tanya on November 26th. Trouble arose when they did not get dropped off at Tanya’s home at the agreed-upon time. This prompted Tanya to call John; he didn’t respond. She checked John’s Facebook page, where she saw a cryptic update dated November 24. It read, “May God and Tanya forgive me.” Frightened, Tanya called the police.

Related: Gone on Christmas Eve: The Sodder Children Disappearance of 1945 

Authorities soon tracked down John, but the boys were nowhere to be found. John told the police that he had given Tanner, Alexander, and Andrew to “a friend” named Joanne Taylor, whom he met online. According to John, he had then attempted to hang himself, and wanted the boys out of the house when he committed suicide. He thus asked Joanne to take the children away. John said he didn’t have a phone number or address for Joanne, and he couldn’t give a direct answer about where in the state or country she lived.

the skelton brothers
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  • Photo Credit: skeltonbrothers.org

Authorities Search Skelton's Home

Morenci police searched John’s home. They reportedly discovered web searches for “how to break someone’s neck” and “poisoning.” They couldn’t find anything about Joanne Taylor. They also found a few suspicious items such as bottles of bleach, stain remover, and odor remover.

An Amber Alert was issued, and the search for the missing Skelton brothers began. Investigators searched for anyone named Joanne Taylor, with any sort of connection to John Skelton. They found nothing—it turned out the story was fabricated. Skelton finally admitted his lie, only to then claim that he had given the children to “an organization”. He named a group called United Foster Outreach as well a group called Underground Sanctuaries, but no such organizations exist.

Related: Before the Lindbergh Kidnapping, There Was the Abduction of Charley Ross 

John Skelton was arrested and charged with three counts of kidnapping and three counts of unlawful imprisonment. In 2011, he was convicted and Circuit Judge Margaret Noe handed down the maximum sentence of up to 15 years in prison. "Your actions are wrong. Your actions are criminal and you have failed," Judge Noe told the defendant. "The community of Morenci will never lose their memories of these children. They will lose your memory."

John Skelton has consistently maintained that he never hurt his children, and that he knows where they are. He repeatedly says that he handed the boys over to “an organization,” yet he keeps changing the name of the organization. Still, John maintains the boys are still alive and that they are safe.

The Search for the Skelton Brothers Continues

As John Skelton sits in prison, the search for Andrew, Alexander, and Tanner continues. In late 2017, a box of teeth and bone fragments was discovered in a shed in Missoula, Montana. Investigators ran tests on the fragments to see if the remains could be that of the Skelton brothers. Forensic analysis concluded that the samples were over 99 years old and thus could not belong to the missing boys. In May 2019, news broke of a fresh lead in the Skelton case; a tipster had contacted police claiming that on Thanksgiving Day 2010 she spotted a man in a vehicle at an Ohio pond due south of Morenci. The man matched John Skelton's description. Authorities viewed the tip as credible, saying that the tipster's information aligned with what detectives already knew about the case. They searched the body of water and surrounding woods in search of clues. Thus far, no discoveries have been reported. 

Related: 46 Gripping True Crime Books from the Last 54 Years 

In 2019, Bryan Times reporter Lynn Thompson published 76 Minutes: My Search for Andrew, Alexander and Tanner Skelton; the true crime book details the search for the Skelton brothers and highlights what Thompson views as gaps in the investigation. It also pinpoints an area where the author believes the boys’ bodies may be found. 2019 also saw the release of new age-progression images depicting what the Skelton brothers may look like now.

The updated composites of the Skelton brothers call to mind the plaque erected in Morenci's Wakefield Park, commemorating the three smiling boys who vanished all those years ago.

[via: crimewatchdaily.com; wmbfnews.com]

Feature photo via the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children