The day after Thanksgiving in 2010, three young brothers were due to return home to their mother after visiting their father for the holidays in Michigan. Instead, the boys, aged between 5 and 9 years old, did not return home and 12 months later their father was jailed on charges of unlawful imprisonment relating to each one of his sons. For the last seven years, no trace of 9-year-old Andrew Skelton, 7-year-old Alexander Skelton, and 5-year-old Tanner Skelton has ever been found nor has their father shed any further light as to what happened to them. After so much time and no evidence of the boys still being alive, police have come to the devastating conclusion that all three brothers were murdered at the time they went missing and most likely by their own father.
This month police have revealed that human remains found in a shed in the back yard of a house in Missoula, Montana back in September 2017, 1,500 miles away from Morenci, Michigan where the boys went missing, have now been confirmed as belonging to three children of ages which match those of the Skelton brothers. The remains were discovered by a cleaning firm who were cleaning the house after the tenant had been evicted.
The link between the discovery and the Skelton case has not yet been conclusively proven, however, it is looking possible that these remains are those of the boys and may shed some light on the mystery of what happened to them seven years ago. The Michigan State Police have released in a statement, “Until this testing is completed and additional investigation by law enforcement in Montana occurs, it cannot be determined if these remains belong to the missing Skelton brothers.” The Daily Mail reports.
This case was made more unusual through the repeatedly different explanations given by their father as to what had happened to them. On the day they were reported missing by their mother, Tanya Zuvers, who was in the process of divorcing John Skelton, he attempted suicide. He told police while recovering in hospital that he had given the children to a woman by the name of Joanne Taylor, a woman he claimed he had met a number of years earlier and wanted her to take the children back to their mother as he did not want them to witness his suicide. Police were unable to trace any woman by this name or find any connections between John Skelton, the three children, and her existence, leading them to believe this story told by Skelton was untrue.
John Skelton spent time in a psychiatric unit after his suicide attempt and changed his story repeatedly when questioned as to where his sons were. Almost two months after they disappeared, the State Line Observer reports that in January 2011 Skelton told a new story, that a “man named Virgil” had arranged to remove the children to help Skelton make sure his wife did not take his children away from him. This story changed again to say he himself had driven his children to a location which he hasn’t revealed.
A report by CNN in June this year took an in-depth look at parents who kill their children and chillingly found it is a crime that is more common than many realise. Termed filicide, they cite statistics from a 2014 study published in the Forensic Science International journal that on average 500 children are murdered each year in America by their parents and that almost 72% of these children were just 6-years-old or younger. A study one year earlier which focused on cases of parents who murdered their children in England and Wales between 1997 and 2006 found that 37% of those parents suffered from some form of mental illness with fathers being more likely to kill their own children than mothers and to use “violent methods of killing”.
Television journalist Nancy Grace investigated the case for her show “The Nancy Grace Mysteries” and revealed “John Skelton`s home was a treasure trove of evidence. In the home was found a noose, a bullet, a list of cleaning supplies, a computer search of neck-breaking and poisoning.” Discoveries which no doubt added to the police theory that John Skelton had murdered his children. Furthermore, they reported that an analysis of John Skelton’s mobile phone records revealed in the early hours of the morning on the day the boys disappeared; Skelton left his home at 4.19 am, travelling around 30 miles away before returning to his home at 6.46 am. Where he went and why has never been confirmed, however, it has been theorized this is the period in which John Skelton may have “disposed of the three boys.”
In 2011, almost 12 months after his sons disappeared, John Skelton was charged with three counts of unlawful imprisonment and charges of parental kidnapping. Prosecutors, although believing Skelton had killed his sons, did not have enough evidence to charge him with triple homicide. Skelton agreed to a plea deal, pleading no contest to the unlawful imprisonment charges with the parental kidnapping charges against him being dropped.
John Skelton was sentenced to 10-15 years in prison, where he remains today. Despite numerous visits by police investigators in continued effects to find the truth from John Skelton, he refuses to talk. “I know realistically they may not come home alive, but I will always have that hope,” Tanya Zuvers told The Detroit News in February this year. After this new discovery and the possibility the remains of her children have been found, she posted an update to her Facebook page, “We are processing it,” she said, “….and hopeful that we will have answers soon.”