Search continues for missing Skelton brothers 2010.12.01

Written by David Green.

skel.cameras.s.jpgBy DAVID GREEN

May God and Tanya forgive me...

Wednesday, Nov. 24, Facebook

That was John Skelton’s Facebook message to the world two days before he unsuccessfully tried to hang himself. It was also two days before the disappearance of his three children—Andrew, 9; Alexander, 7; and Tanner, 5.

After Skelton’s wife, Tanya, reported to police Friday that her three boys failed to return home following a scheduled visit to John Skelton’s home on East Congress Street in Morenci—the couple is separated and seeking divorce—an investigation began with Morenci police officers searching the neighborhood and speaking with neighbors.

Personnel from the Michigan State Police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation soon arrived in town and by Sunday, the disappearance of Morenci’s Skelton children became the most-read story on CNN.

Family troubles

Skelton, 39-year-old truck driver, had been unemployed for several weeks when he unexpectedly drove to Florida with two of his children.

The Skeltons’ marital situation had been troubled before that time, said Kathye Herrera, who is serving as a spokesperson for the Tanya, but the Florida trip was the turning point in their relationship.

After Skelton was convinced to return home with the children, Tanya moved out of the Congress Street home and obtained custody of the boys.

A neighbor who wishes to remain unidentified recalls seeing walk the boys to church on Sunday mornings and said his demeanor had changed.

“He looked sheepish and defeated,” he said. “It wasn’t his usual appearance.”

On Halloween night, Skelton watched his children go trick-or-treating, telling the neighbor that he wasn’t allowed to go with them.

“He talked for quite a while and was really despondent,” the neighbor said. “He really wanted to be with his kids. He said he loved Tanya and wanted to get back together.”

In a few days, Skelton said, he would find out if he was going for counseling or to divorce court.

Tanya stayed with her plans to seek a divorce and the couple eventually agreed upon informal visitation rights. That agreement included Skelton’s time with the children on Thanksgiving Day and Friday.

A neighbor saw the children playing the yard about 2:30 p.m. Thursday, but that was the last sighting of which police are aware.

Mystery woman

On Friday afternoon, Skelton was unsuccessful in a suicide attempt. He injured an ankle while trying to hang himself and called a friend for transportation to the Fulton County Health Center in Wauseon. Skelton was treated and transferred to a mental health facility in Toledo for psychiatric observation.

He told law enforcement officers that he delivered his children to a woman named Joann Taylor earlier that day. He said her met her during an auto break-down and maintained contact with the woman.

Taylor was to deliver the boys back to Tanya Friday afternoon so they wouldn’t be present when he killed himself. The boys never came home and police questioned whether there was any truth to the Taylor story.

Morenci Chief of Police Larry Weeks stated in a press conference Saturday evening that officers were unable to locate a Joann Taylor or to confirm that she exists. Eventually Skelton’s story fell apart and Monday morning Weeks told reporters Taylor was no longer part of the investigation.

“At this point we have been able to eliminate the reported established relationship between Joann Taylor and Mr. Skelton.”

Search begins

Search parties combed Wakefield Park and walked along Bean Creek into Riverside Nature Area Saturday afternoon looking for signs of the boys. Sunday the search widened to include an area northwest of Morenci and at Harrison Lake State Park. On Monday, the FBI sent search teams to areas near Kunkle and Holiday City, Ohio, and again into Michigan Tuesday morning.

Weeks stated Tuesday morning that Skelton has been forthcoming with some information, although police were not able to verify the credibility.

“We have searched a number of locations from all sorts of resources, including sources from him,” Weeks said.

 The search continued Tuesday, based on tips and locations Skelton had frequented.

Weeks cast a pallor on the conference  when he stated, “We continue to talk to all parties involved in this investigation, including Mr. Skelton. Statements he’s made to investigators indicate it’s not going to be a positive outcome.”

At the Morenci Methodist Church service Sunday, Herrera said she could visualize the boys’ faces at the front of the church during the children’s sermon.

“They always wanted to answer questions,” she said. “That’s the thing that keeps us going—remembering their faces and some of the silly things they did.”

Alexander, 7, claimed to have a girlfriend at school and she made a card for her friend. She delivered it to his house and asked that it be given to him.

It read, “Welcome home. I miss you.”

“I think that helped Tanya,” Herrera said. “She knows her boys are missed by a lot of people beyond the family.”

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