Hearing scheduled on request to declare missing Morenci brothers dead

Hearing scheduled on request to declare missing Morenci brothers dead

ADRIAN — Now that all three missing Skelton brothers are at least 18 years old, their mother is asking the court to declare them legally deceased.

An evidentiary hearing on Tanya Zuvers’ petition is scheduled for July 29 in Lenawee County Probate Court. Andrew, Alexander and Tanner Skelton have been missing since Nov. 26, 2010. State law allows a person to be declared legally dead if he or she has not been heard from for a continuous period of five years and his or her absence is not explained after a diligent search or investigation.

Zuvers “has prayed that someone would heal her broken heart and provide information as to their whereabouts,” according to the court filing filed by Zuvers’ attorney, Burke Castleberry of Onsted. “She has hoped beyond all hope that the last person to see the children alive would provide a plausible explanation as to their whereabouts and what happened on November 26, 2010. Heartbreakingly, none of that has happened. It is time to declare the children legally deceased.”

The documents blame the boys’ father, John Skelton, for their disappearance and presumed deaths. Skelton pleaded guilty in 2011 to three counts of false imprisonment after he failed to return the boys to Zuvers, who was his estranged wife at the time, following a Thanksgiving visit. Skelton was living at the family home in Morenci at the time and Zuvers was living with relatives a few houses down, the petition says. The boys were 5, 7 and 9 years old at the time.

Skelton’s sentences will end on Nov. 29, 2025, when he is released from prison, Michigan Department of Corrections spokesman Kyle Kaminski said in an email. He was sentenced in September 2011 to 10 to 15 years in prison — the maximum under the state’s false imprisonment law.

More: Timeline of the Missing Skelton Boys

Skelton was last up for parole in the summer of 2023 and will not receive another before he is released from prison, Kaminski said. He was denied parole last year because the parole board “considered him a risk to the community and ordered an extension (of the denial) up to his maximum prison term.”

The key witness at the hearing is expected to be a Michigan State Police detective who will testify about the overall investigation into the boys’ disappearance, including the “far-fetched, unfathomable stories John Skelton told authorities, who went on one wild goose chase after another,” according to the court transcript. “Despite his incarceration … John Skelton chose to use whatever information he had about his children to obtain better treatment and enjoyed sending authorities here and there to unravel his latest far-fetched fable.”

“John Skelton has done nothing to assist authorities, his family, or his ex-wife’s family in what has become an exhaustive search for his three sons since they disappeared in 2010,” the petition calling for the boys to be declared dead reads.

During the investigation, detectives used data from Skelton’s cellphone to track him about 30 miles in Ohio around 4:30 a.m. the day after Thanksgiving, the filing said. The cellphone tracking then went down, indicating the phone had been turned off, but when it was turned back on, it showed him back at his home in Morenci at about 6 a.m.

“Over the next few hours, John’s behavior completely contradicted the story he told his wife and authorities,” the petition said.

A few hours after the phone came back on, he drove to a nearby relative’s house and asked for a ride to the hospital for a suspected broken ankle. The boys were not there. It was later determined that Skelton injured his ankle when he tried to commit suicide by hanging himself in his home.

“John was taken to the hospital and soon began receiving calls from Tanya asking when he would have the boys back with her,” the petition reads. “John’s first lie was when he said the boys were with a friend of his and that this friend would return the boys to her. He later lied again and said he did not know where the boys were because he was not sure who had them. Due to the many lies and bizarre circumstances that led to John having these conversations with Tanya while he was in the hospital for his suicide attempt, Tanya had called authorities and notified them that the boys were missing. John was soon taken into custody.”

While in custody, Skelton told investigators that he had given the boys to an underground group to protect the boys from Zuvers. He also told them that he had given the boys to a woman named Joanne Taylor and that he had a vision of the boys being thrown into a dumpster in an area of ​​Ohio. Police also received hundreds of tips from all over the country. None of them led police to the boys.

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“When authorities attempted to speak with John in prison, he would not discuss the whereabouts of his missing boys,” the petition states. “All of John’s phone calls and written correspondence from prison were closely monitored and at no time was anything said by John or anyone he communicated with about the well-being or whereabouts of his children. There was never any discussion of when the boys would return. John never showed any emotion when his missing boys came up in conversation.”

Skelton later gave investigators the name of a man in the Amish community who might be able to help find the boys. Investigators found the man, who had never heard of Skelton or the missing boys. They took him to the jail where Skelton was being held, and when Skelton saw the man’s face, “he immediately became visibly disturbed and acted as if he were going to be sick,” the petition says.

Investigators told Skelton that they had brought the man to the jail to help find the boys. Skelton told them that he only knew the man’s name. The man spoke with Skelton for a few minutes, trying to gather information about a connection between the investigation and the Amish community, but Skelton gave no further information.

It turned out that Skelton had been moved from segregation to protective custody and was able to watch television, the petition said. The Amish man was featured on a reality TV show that Skelton was able to watch. Skelton later said the Amish man story was another lie.

“All of the information provided by the last person to see the boys, John Skelton, leads investigators to believe that John Skelton murdered his sons,” the petition reads. “At this time, all three boys would be over the age of 18. If the boys were still alive, they would have reached the age at which they would now be adults. If John Skelton’s lies were true, the boys could now be reintegrated into society, but that has not happened and authorities have received no cooperation from John Skelton.”

— Contact reporter David Panian at [email protected] or follow him on X, formerly Twitter: @lenaweepanian.