Shattered: Black Friday is an 11-episode podcast investigating the disappearance of the Skelton Brothers from their home in Morenci, Michigan on Nov. 26, 2010.
Listen to the final episode, "May God and Tanya forgive me," below:
Listen on Apple Podcasts, Overcast, Stitcher, Google Play. If you have any information about this case call lead investigator Jeremy Brewer at (517) 636-0689. If you want to reach Jeremy and the Shattered staff email: firstname.lastname@example.org
"May God and Tanya forgive me."
Those are John’s final words, at least as far as Facebook is concerned. He posted that message the night before he turned up in a Toledo, Ohio hospital, the night he allegedly tried to kill himself. Possibly the night he made his kids disappear.
Asking for Tanya’s forgiveness makes sense, if you’ve given your boys to someone to keep them away from Tanya, because you believe she’s abusing them. Asking for god’s forgiveness doesn’t. It’s this request to god that first incriminated john in my mind. “may god,” those two words that made me think he was a murderer. Other things have pointed in that direction since then, some of those things have been less than subtle:
"It's my belief that John Skelton murdered his children," said Chief Weeks.
When this project started, I didn’t know much. I knew what I read. I heard what I heard and I saw what I saw. I didn’t know I would feel what I feel. See, a story is just a story when you look at it from a distance. If you drive past an accident on the road, it’s just an accident. But if you stop to check on those involved and you learn how they’re feeling, then you are truly affected.
These months, this year - it’s been a journey like I’ve never been on before. Everyone we’ve heard from has lived through this tragedy since the beginning. I don’t want to make it seem like I’ve been through anything close to what these people have - I’m not saying that at all. It’s just that now, I have a better understanding of what it is they’ve all gone thru, and continue to go thru. They’re all waiting and wondering … well, everyone is waiting and wondering except for john. He might be the only one who knows the what, where and why. John Skelton did something … he did … we know this much … even his mom admits it:
"I agree. I agree 100%! What my son did was irresponsible and stupid! I agree with that. And if he would have just confided in his father and I …” (cut out a lot in the middle)… “if he would have just said, mom, we’re going to do this, I’m thinking about doing this or I need you right now, we would have just gone,” said Roxanne, John's mom.
Roxanne, John’s mom is saying they would have left Florida, headed to Michigan and helped john through the tough time - if they’d have known where john was mentally.
"But he didn’t, instead he took the route ... Ya know ... When you put someone in a corner, something does gonna happen," said Roxanne.
Of course, John’s family sticks to the story that john gave his kids to a group and that group will return the kids to John or his family, once the time is right.
And remember who it was that was supposed to help get Tanner, Alexander and Andrew back to john - Mose Gingerich. Remember Mose grew up Amish then left that community and became a TV personality. John claimed Mose would know where his boys were, but there was a problem, Mose didn’t:
“I want you to know Mr. Skelton that I never received those 3 boys. If you did give them to an adoption agency there was a disconnect between them and me. Not only did I never receive them, I’d never even heard of them until 6 months ago," Gingerich said.
John’s stories have been shared, by proxy. John’s words in other people’s voices. Until now…here’s John Skelton as John Skelton.
As we’ve talked about, John has connected with reporter Sandra Ali. He feels comfortable talking with her. Sandra got into place as an executive producer, a photographer and I sat down in our tiny little recording studio and listened in:
Sandra: “how are you?”
John: “okay … okay, I uh …”
Sandra: “you called a few minutes earlier than I was expecting you”
John: “yea, well I just wanted to make sure that we were going to be able to get through … I have been trying, and I’ve been writing you emails telling you I have been trying. For a second there, I thought you were getting angry at me for not calling and that wasn’t the case … “
John wrote to Sandra that he was calling … he wasn’t. At least not at the agreed upon times we set up with him. He was calling at random times, when nobody was near the phone. See, we need him to call into a particular phone here at the TV station, so the call can be recorded. Of course there are ways to do this with a cell phone, but I’m not giving a potential murderer my phone number, would you? John and Sandra have been going back and forth for a while now. There’s been email, the letters and of course just recently, when Sandra visited John in prison.
Sandra: “so tell me what’s being going on since last time i saw you…”
John: “well, i’m not sure what i can say because of the ongoing investigation, but there is new developments in the investigation. Umm, closer, i’m hoping closer to finding … to getting the boys back …”
Sandra: “what do you mean … “
John gets right into his meeting with Mose Gingerich. Sandra lets John tell his version of the story.
John: “they found one of the guys i was talking about. So …
Sandra: “which guy?”
John: “they found a warm body, someone alive and so …”
Sandra can’t let John know that she knows Mose. John might lose trust in her. Also, sorry for any colorful language you might hear in the background. The phones in prison aren’t very far apart, so you might hear some expressive words from another inmate. Anyway, back to the conversation:
Sandra: “who did they find? They found someone that might have information?”
John: “yeah, yeah. That i was told to contact, to uhh … to get my sons and umm … when the found him, they brought him over to me on Saturday and talked to them for a while”
Sandra: “they brought him over to you on Saturday? What happened?”
John: “we just had an interview and uhh, like i said, i’m not exactly sure what i can and cannot say. You know, ha … umm …Brewer can …i don’t know”
The Brewer John is referring to is lead investigator Jeremy Brewer, of course.
Sandra: “how did it go? Was it the same man you mentioned to me?”
John: “umm … we had talked about him earlier, yeah. I told you a couple months after i told sgt. Brewer - they let me out of the hole, you remember that?”
Sandra: “right, yeah, you said you gave them a name and then they let you out of, segregation, was it?”
Sandra: “yeah, so … so that man came to visit you?”
7:59 John: “what’s that? Clippers?”
John has obviously been distracted by someone:
John: “just out here in the yard, there’s people out here playing basketball and there’s other people on the phone haha …”
Sandra: “so how have you been since i last saw you? How have you been doing?
John: “umm .. Okay … i’ve got a question, did you talk to Tanya after you talked to me?
Sandra: “i did. She asked me how it went. She asked me if you came out and talked to me and how it went. But you haven’t talked to her, right?”
John: “no, but her sister Tennille has been sending me hate emails.”
Sandra: “she’s been sending you hate emails since my visit?”
Remember Tanya talking about her sister:
Tanya: “he didn’t even pull out of the driveway, he raced out of the driveway, about ran my sister over because she was coming up the street. He didn’t even look and my sister, she’s my little bulldog, i call her … she like stood in the road and was like yelling at him.”
That was Tanya talking about when John took the boys to Florida. Tanya called her sister her, “bulldog.” That sister’s name is Tennille. Tanya says Tennille’s the person you want in the foxhole with you. She says Tennille will fight tooth and nail and is relentless. Tennille setup a j-pay account, so she could email John in prison:
Tennille: “I just, i got tired of it. He’s sitting in there, thinking it’s a joke and laughing and carrying on and you know, breaking down in tears when he gets a visitor?! Where were the tears 7 years ago? Where are, where … he doesn’t show emotion. He doesn’t care about the boys, it’s always been everything else. Him, him, him … poor him. No, poor boys”
It had been a long time since John heard from Tennille, a long time since he’d heard from any of Tanya’s family:
John: “I figured you probably talked to Tanya and Tanya told her sisters and her sister is harassing me … and that’s probably gonna hinder things, because i’m not gonna put up with that. I can’t say what i want to say in emails because it will all just be used against me …”
Tennille says she sent John 2 emails.
Tennille: “The first time I was very nice. the first one was like, ‘oh 7 years and you still can’t tell the truth. I waited a little bit, the second time … I was not so nice. I was very blunt and to the point.
John: “and then she was like, ‘i don’t know if you got my first email. I don’t know if you’re still scared of me."
Tennille: “I basically told him, you’re still a coward and point-blank asked him, ‘what did you do?’ ‘how can you live with yourself, knowing what you did to those boys?’ and you know, that’s the nice version”
John: “you know, just bad language and really trying to demoralize me.”
Tennille: “and that’s probably what set him off because, I didn’t ask him what you did, I basically said, knowing what you did”
“Knowing what you did,” Tennille implying John did something to the boys. Something different than what John claimed he did. What John would reveal is two factors made him want to speak to Sandra. Those two things: Tennille’s emails and John’s meeting with Mose. Both knocked John off balance. The meeting was something John was struggling to process:
John: “well after that visit i just, i don’t know, i just … i was in shock that day and …there was just a lot of things, you know, being in the hole for 4 years and nobody believing you that these people even exist and then they finally find somebody and get you some validation that hey, you know, i’m not lying to these people. I’m not just blowing smoke anywhere. So, that’s what i mean. It just gave me some validation that i’m not lying.“
Mose: against my better judgment i am willing to stay in touch with this guy. Whether it’s via email, writing letters, anything like that. Again, I think it’s important to keep lines of communication open and if he wants to relay information, change his story, until I’m told by detectives that i should not communicate with him anymore, I’m open to keeping the lines open with him.”
John: “we’re gonna stay in contact and I’m trying to remember any details …”
John: “I don’t know when they’re gonna come see me again or anything like that”
Sandra: “i mean do you think he’s going to help find the boys?”
John: “yes. Yeah, that’s the purpose of him being here … umm … because he was the contact … he was the one … his name was given to me as, someone in his organization was gonna be able to, will know where the kids are. Like I said, it was good news and it was bad news. The bad news was that, uhh, as of this time my children hasn’t gone thru his organization.”
John: “he was the one that i really wanted to … i really thought was gonna get something done, almost immediately or i thought that he was in contact with my sons. That’s why when brewer brought him over i was excited you know … like, whoa, did you guys find them?
Sandra: “so when you saw him, you got your hopes up?”
John: “yeah, I thought they found my boys”
Sandra: “oh you did? Did you think that’s what they were coming to tell you?”
John: “yeah, because they brought this guy, the guy I was supposed to contact and i was like, alright cool and that’s when he told me, ‘well, they haven’t come thru me yet.’ I don’t know if he’s going back and doing his, searching his people or not, I don’t know. But he came with brewer and they were pretty cordial, so I don’t think he was going to be getting in trouble or anything. I don’t know, it seemed like he was cooperating and everything like that.”
So there’s a lot to unpack here. John is saying, he understood his arrangement with this underground organization to be, they take the boys, then John reaches out to this Mose Gingerich guy and he reunites John and the boys. John also seemed to think Mose might have been in trouble with the law, but when he saw Mose and lt./d. Brewer interact, he thought Mose was going to be okay.
John: “i was upset with you too … “
John would say he wasn’t happy with Tennille … or Sandra:
Sandra: “oh, you were upset with me, why?“
John: “well, I was being just … “
Sandra: “oh because of the phone calls?”
John: “no, no … no, no, no … because of …
Recording: “you have one minute remaining … “
John: “when I heard, you know … Tennille, all of a sudden Tennille started emailing me these, this nasty stuff and i was like … I gotta … I really … that’s why i really wanted to call you. So I could see if you had talked to Tanya because the timing was just suspicious.”
John: “I don’t know any of the details other than … alright, we’re gonna get cut off so let me hang up and i’m going to go inside and I will call you. Hopefully it will be a little quieter too”
Recording: “thank you for using GTL”
Sandra: “okay it just cut off …”
Jeremy: “i’m just going to keep rolling”
Moments passed and then he called back:
Recording: “hello this is a prepaid call from …”
John: “John Skelton”
John: “hello there”
Sandra: “hey John, glad I got you back”
They go back to why John was unhappy with Sandra and Tennille:
John: “I kind of deduced that you probably talked to Tanya and that’s why Tennille was sending me all this hate mail. I wished i would have saved them. I could have printed them out and sent them to you just so you could see what she was saying. It was just terrible crap, you know. It was uncalled for and I was almost, i was almost deciding not to talk anymore about it because i don’t need the backlash of Tennille’s attitude.
Sandra shifts the conversation back to Mose, and more specifically, how John said it was Mose who was supposed to reconnect John and the kids:
Sandra: “I mean, do you think he’s going to help you? Does he know people in the Amish community?"
John: “yes, well that’s what he used to … apparently he used to do this. I don’t know if he still does it or not, but he’s helped people get, you know, he’s helped people move, move people”.
John: “in less than legal ways so … “
Sandra: “oh, okay. What does that mean? Like move them to other homes? Or different cities?”
John: “umm … yeah .. Hahaha”
Sandra: “okay, kind of like foster care?”
John: “yeah. Yes or umm … yeah”
Sandra: “or like Amish homes?”
John: “umm … all of the above.”
John: “when Brewer brought him in to me I was excited. I really thought that things was coming to a head and you know”
Sandra: “you were hopeful?”
John: “yeah, very … very, very hopeful. I mean, i was crying.”
John: “I had never talked to this guy, ever before. I was just told that i needed to contact that guy”
Sandra: “had you ever seen him before?”
John: “in a picture.”
Sandra: “just a picture?”
Sandra: “oh, where did you see his picture?”
John: “his name and a picture, uhh … at my house, when uhh, umm, Joann showed me his picture. Told me this is your contact and he’d be able to help me get in contact with my boys.”
Joann Taylor … there’s a blast from the past. John told police at the very beginning that Joann Taylor and her family had the kids. That story morphs into an underground group, then on to naming Mose Gingerich. Of course, police never found a Joann Taylor or underground group. They did find a Mose Gingerich though:
John: “Brewer said the same thing. He said here is the guy you were going to contact and he doesn’t have any information. Now what do you do? I don’t know. I couldn’t answer that question. I still can’t answer that question. I mean, i don’t know where to go”
Sandra: “do you feel like it’s kind of an end?”
John: “no, no, because i’ll never give up hope, ever. And i think Tennille does …Tennille has given up hope. She wants me to say the worst, because that’s what she believes. She’s already confined herself to that. You read that in her nasty grams to me. That’s what she believes and she’s doing everybody including the boys a disservice.”
Sandra: “she believes … you say she believes the worst, what does that mean?”
John: “the worst. She wants me to say … what she wants me to hear - haha you know.”
Sandra: “but what is she eluding to?”
John: “i’m not going to say it. I think it’s doing the boys a disservice and it would demean me.”
John. “she’s just a bitter woman”
Sandra: “you think she’s given up hope?”
John: “oh yeah.”
Sandra: “do you think she’s delivering messages from Tanya?”
John: “i don’t know. I don’t know. If she … it would break my heart it Tanya actually believed it, but …”
Sandra: “it would break your heart if Tanya believed what?”
John: “if she believed that our boys were gone or they weren’t alive. It would just … it would break my heart, that she would just, give up.”
Sandra: “you know John, she just wants to know where they are”
John: “right … “
John hasn’t lost hope:
John: “i still believe they’re safe. They’re alive and they’re well, i just don’t know where. And i don’t know, unless they were playing a game or stalling, withholding that information from me until a later time, i don’t know but … “
Sandra: “you don’t have any doubt at all? You’re 100%?”
John: “yeah, i guess, you know … i can’t do otherwise, they’re my kids.”
John said his week was strange and heavy. Talking to the guy who was supposed to get his kids to him was a positive. Hearing that guy say his kid never got to him, was not. John’s mood reflected the sad discovery:
John: “ehh … i would say almost somber, but i haven’t really done very much since that meeting. Just a little melancholy just thinking about where do i go from here and what am i going to do when i get out … you know, what’s next.”
Sandra: “you know Tennille i mean, she’s sending you the hate emails and everything, but it’s hard for everyone to believe the boys are okay. I mean you tell me they’re okay, but everyone else believes what you said was the worst, you know?”
Sandra: “i mean is that hard? Do you feel like you’re the only one that believes that?”
John: “yeah … no … because i know there’s a lot of people who know”
Recording: “thank you for using gtl”
Jeremy: “i knew that was going to happen”
Ro: “i did too”
Our second 15 minutes was up … right in the middle of John answering a tough question. We weren’t sure he’d call back.
Jeremy: “so Tanya had said every time she would email John …”
Ro: “in prison, Jeremy?”
Jeremy: “yes … that he would always bring it back to him and not talk about the kids”
Recording: “hello, this is a prepaid call from:”
John”: “John Skelton”
Recording: “thank you for using gtl”
John: “alright ha”
Sandra: “alright, sorry. It cuts you off after a couple of minutes, doesn’t it?”
John: “yeah, we get 15 minutes and at 14 minutes they give us a 1 minute warning.
John: “this will probably be the last call”.
John remembered where we left off, and goes back to talking about the perception that his kids might not be where he says they are:
John: “I know i’m not the only one who believes my boys are safe because, I know my family don’t believe that they are in harms way.”
Sandra: “but you can see why other people feel that way, right?”
John: “no, i don’t, no. They chose what they want to believe.”
Sandra: “what do you think the police think?”
John: “i don’t know. They’ve just said, they want to find them.”
John tells Sandra he didn’t go anywhere that black Friday morning back in 2010. He says he stopped off at his aunt and uncles house around 7:30 and i think he means 7:30 a.m., but it’s hard to tell.
Sandra: “what are you thinking about the boys now?”
John: “I miss ‘em. I mean … that’s it.”
Sandra asked about John’s final night with the boys. John said he made the boys their favorite meal, fried chicken and also a cake. He said they all enjoyed both and then watched a martial arts movie:
John. “I was also explaining about that crap on the internet about how to break a neck and all the stuff like that”. (cut Sandra) “yeah, because my sons and i were watching a karate movie and they were asking me questions and so we looked them up on line”
Sandra: “right and i asked you about the rat poison and you said you never searched about rat poison and bleach …”
John: “yeah, but i know in the movie, this one lady got poisoned and we may have looked that up too, i don’t know. They just had some questions about death and dying and stuff like that”
Sandra: “they had questions about it? About death and dying?”
John: “yeah … now don’t make this into something i’m going to hang up about now, because they were asking about the movie. Someone got hung and this lady got poisoned in the movie. It was a martial arts movie we were watching and they questioned, can somebody really get, die by doing that or stuff like that. I said yeah, i’ll show ya … and then … it was an educational time. It wasn’t like they were asking about dying and stuff like that. They were …. Like … it wasn’t something morbid.”
John. “I wasn’t talking to them about death and stuff like that”
John would go on to say he was surprised that neither he nor his parents haven’t heard anything from this secret organization. He thought by now, they would have reached out. He also talked about Missoula and how the other inmates turned on him once they saw the news.
I’ve thought a lot about John and his perspective. More than i should have, i’m sure. Most everyone i’ve spoken to says, “why do you give him the time or consideration?” “why would you try to rationalize what he did?” “he’s awful, just the worst, don’t let him fool you.” I know. Believe me, I know. He’s a dad, who made his kids disappear.
Those happy sounds are my kids. They’re innocent and just want to have fun. At it’s core, this story is about 3 young boys; Andrew, Alexander and Tanner Skelton, it’s them that matter. It’s their innocence I care about. I don’t have any answers, I wish i did, so do police and family. I don’t know who’s right or who is wrong - i’m not sure which stories have been true and which ones haven’t. I know some of them must have been lies, otherwise things don’t make sense. I have my theories and feelings - my beliefs and thoughts. I will say, I truly hope John is telling the truth, i’m no different than anybody else. When Mose Gingerich told John he didn’t know anything about his kids, John responded this way:
John. “it did break my heart that he didn’t have any … I told ya … i was crying and brewer can atest to that, but, you know, i mean, i got emotional, i mean it’s, i mean, it did break my heart, you know? I’m not a sociopath.”
We all have choices and judgments to make. I choose to believe that John Skelton is unable to tell the truth. I choose to believe John has no empathy for other human beings. And i choose to believe the people that have investigated this case thoroughly and exhaustively are correct when they say Tanya was not abusing her children. I choose all of these things because that’s what my gut tells me. That’s what my better judgment says.
John knows what he did and I truly believe one day, we will know, too.
About Shattered: Black Friday
For past episodes to and to learn more about Shattered: Black Friday at: https://www.shatteredpodcast.com. If you have any information about this case please call the Morenci Police Department at (517) 458-7104. You can reach Jeremy and the staff at Shattered at: email@example.com
Shattered: Black Friday is produced and hosted by Jeremy Allen with support producer Zak Rosen, the WDIV Local 4 newsroom and Graham Media Group.
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