Father of 3 boys says sons safe But police say they believe he is guilty of murder.


The boys are gone.

He doesn't want their mother to have custody.

And he can't get his sons back from the people harboring them until he's out of jail. That is John Skelton's account.

But police say they believe he is guilty of murder.

"She can take those divorce papers and she can go to the park and push them around; she can push them on a swing," he said, later admitting he regretted the statement. "That's as close as I ever want her to get to these kids again."

Amplify’d from www.freep.com
John Skelton of Morenci appears at a divorce hearing June 7 in a court in Adrian. He is awaiting trial on kidnapping and unlawful imprisonment charges.
Chris Loomis and other Cambridge Fire Department firefighters search for the boys through heavy brush in Montpelier, Ohio, in December.
Andrew Skelton
Alexander Skelton
Tanner Skelton

it was back."

He also insists he didn't give his sons, ages 9, 7 and 5, to the organization -- members of the group intervened and took them.

A call to work together

Skelton's accounts to the Free Press are variations of a story authorities have heard, Morenci Police Chief Larry Weeks said. If Skelton wants his sons returned safely, he needs to work with police, Weeks said.

"If he has a desire to talk, we're certainly here," Weeks said. "We want to find those boys desperately."

Hundreds of people searched for the boys after they disappeared.

On Saturday, a volunteer search and rescue group from Shiawassee County will lead another effort to look for them as part of a training exercise, Weeks said. They will be joined by other volunteer search and rescue groups and public safety officials, but no civilian volunteers.

Skelton said he does not know where his boys are and will not know until he is released. He is facing up to life in prison if convicted of kidnapping.

So what if he never gets out?

"Then," Skelton said, "nobody will see them again."

Fond memories

While he's sitting in his jail cell, Skelton thinks about his boys, he said.

He said he was in truck-driving school when Andrew was born, but made it to the hospital in time to cut his umbilical cord and give him his first bath.

"Actually, it was almost like a dream in itself," Skelton said. "It was wonderful."

He said he nearly missed Tanner's birth when he took a smoke break.

The boys, Skelton remembers, always wanted him to tickle them, especially Alexander.

"I think I've been an excellent father," he said. "I was an excellent husband."

Troubled times

By the time of the boys' disappearance in November, financial troubles plagued John and Tanya Skelton, and their relationship had soured.

They were losing their home and John Skelton wasn't working.

About two months earlier, he had taken two of their sons to Florida without permission, and his wife, Tanya, filed for divorce. It became official last month. Her pastor, Donna Galloway, said Tanya changed her name back to Zuvers after the divorce.

Skelton said he became depressed when she moved to end the marriage -- just as he had been after the marriage to his first wife failed.

In interviews, Skelton has accused his ex-wife of abusing their children and said he went to Morenci police to report her in September.

But police said no such report was ever made, and Zuvers has not been accused by authorities of any wrongdoing in this case.

Weeks said he had a conversation with Skelton about his ex-wife, but not about any alleged assaults. He declined to elaborate.

Zuvers did not want to comment for this article, but said in an earlier interview that Skelton wanted her to stop the divorce.

"I told him that at this point, I couldn't do that," she said. "There was something broken."

Disturbing words

Skelton left a cryptic message on his Facebook page before anyone knew the boys had vanished:

"I love my wife very much," it read. "May God and Tanya forgive me."

Jack Levin, a professor and co-director of the Brudnick Center on Violence and Conflict at Northeastern University in Boston, said there are several catastrophic blows in cases where a father kills his family: loss of a job, a failed marriage, a custody battle for his children.

A father, Levin said, may decide to commit suicide and believe he needs to protect his children by taking them, too.

"If a husband, father feels the need to control," he said, "if he sees himself as the breadwinner and as the alpha parent, then he may decide to take matters into his own hands and determine the fate of his own children."

Conflicting information

Skelton said he began talking to members of a group called United Foster Outreach, part of an organization named Underground Sanctuaries, weeks before his boys were taken.

He mentioned a couple named Sue and Elijah from either Hillsdale or Jackson. Skelton said he doesn't know their last name.

"Just for the reasons of security," he said.

In one interview, he said he met them at a truck stop. In another, he said a woman introduced them. Skelton said her name is Judy -- a woman he acknowledged he originally referred to as Joann Taylor. Police have said Joann Taylor does not exist.

He said Sue and Elijah spoke to him and his boys, but he was still exploring his options and hadn't made a decision.

Skelton said those people intervened and took his sons before he could make up his mind.

"I believe that they implemented their program because I wasn't doing my job," he said. "I was letting them go back to Tanya."

Skelton's account doesn't sit right with Faye Yager, who, for years, was involved in an underground network that hid abused children. She said she's been involved in thousands of cases, but is now running an inn in North Carolina and has become less involved on the front end.

She told the Free Press that if the children are with a group, there would likely be a contact person, and networks wouldn't take children without a guardian's involvement. Any such group, Yager said, would also likely require medical records or court documents to support an abuse claim.

"I'm telling you that no network that I worked with or know of would do such a thing," she said. "There's something wrong there. ... I'd be very worried about the children."

Some supporters

Skelton said he's a Christian -- born again as a teen -- and has faith that his children are safe.

He isn't the only one. Skelton's parents and sister have stood by him, saying they, too, believe the boys are safe.

But Skelton vows to stay in prison until he dies rather than let his sons go back to his ex-wife. In a meeting after the couple's final divorce hearing, Skelton expressed contempt for his ex, but denied harboring anger toward her.

"She can take those divorce papers and she can go to the park and push them around; she can push them on a swing," he said, later admitting he regretted the statement. "That's as close as I ever want her to get to these kids again."

Skelton said he prays every day and wishes people wouldn't believe he harmed his sons.

"I know I'm going to heaven," he said. "Let's just put it that way."

A noose reported to be found in Skelton's home was for an apparatus he was building, he said.

Police searched for the boys in Williams County, Ohio, because information from Skelton's cell phone led them there, they said. Police have said they cannot account for his whereabouts between the afternoon of Nov. 25 and 1:30 p.m. Nov. 26 -- around the time the boys disappeared.

Skelton said he wasn't in Ohio.

"I just want to say I wasn't there, my phone was," he said. "That morning when I woke up

Police say they believe Skelton killed his sons and are treating the case as a homicide investigation, but Skelton has not been charged with murder. He is awaiting trial on kidnapping and unlawful imprisonment charges.

In a series of interviews from the Lenawee County Jail, Skelton told his story to the Free Press.

He disputed details of the case, some released by authorities.

Police said he attempted suicide after the boys went missing. He said he didn't.

he details of his story may change, but the theme remains constant: Andrew, Alexander and Tanner are safe.

John Skelton insists that he wouldn't hurt his sons, who disappeared in late November.

But the father says he doesn't know where the boys are and only has the first names of the people who took them.

Skelton, who has said he does not want the boys in the custody of their mother, maintains that his sons are being harbored by members of an organization.

Skelton of Morenci sits in the Lenawee County Jail, awaiting trial on charges of kidnapping and unlawful imprisonment in the disappearance of his three sons.

In a series of interviews with the Free Press at the jail, Skelton maintained that the boys, missing since late November, are in the custody of members of an underground sanctuary group.

Skelton said they intervened and took Andrew, 9; Alexander, 7, and Tanner, 5, before he could make that decision. He said he feels guilty "that I let these people come into my life."

Still, Skelton insists he does not know where his boys are and won't until he is released. But

he faces up to life in prison if convicted of kidnapping.

Police say Skelton is just telling a variation of a tale authorities have already heard.

Many questions in the case linger.

One rises to the top: Where are they?

Father of 3 missing Morenci boys tells his story

Read more at www.freep.com