. police say father of 3 missing boys lied

MORENCI, Mich. —A father of three missing boys lied about a relationship with a woman he claims to have entrusted with their care, said the Michigan police chief leading the investigation into their disappearance.

Morenci Police Chief Larry Weeks said Monday that police doubt the story of John Skelton, 39, who told them he handed over his children to a woman named Joann Taylor before attempting suicide Friday. The boys — Tanner, 5, Alexander, 7, and Andrew, 9 — were last seen Thursday in the backyard of their father's southern Michigan home and are believed to be in danger.

Authorities haven't named the father as a suspect, but Weeks said they haven't ruled him out. The police chief said Monday that authorities are looking for anyone who saw the three boys in their father's blue Dodge Caravan on Thursday or Friday along the Michigan-Ohio border. The FBI said the vehicle was on the Ohio Turnpike during that time.

"We believe the boys were in the vehicle the morning or evening before" they were reported missing, Weeks said. He said that despite the time since they were last seen, searchers "remain hopeful" they're still alive.

Police said they have extensively searched name records and other sources for Joann Taylor but have yet to find a woman by that name in a relationship with Skelton.

Authorities said John Skelton told investigators Friday that he wanted the boys out of his house when he committed suicide, and he asked Taylor to take them to their mother. John Skelton claimed he met Taylor several years ago and the two had been involved in an online relationship, and she likely lived in southern Michigan.

Authorities and volunteers searched Monday afternoon along busy U.S. 20 in northern Ohio highway for any evidence of the boys.

Cambridge Township fire chief Scott Damon said he had a crew searching east of Pioneer, Ohio, about 12 miles from the boys' home in Morenci.

"It's pretty flat land. We're just walking along," Damon said. "We're looking for any type of evidence. My group has not found anything."

Volunteers have been searching around Morenci, about 75 miles southwest of Detroit, for days. Monday morning, they checked fields, farms and wooded areas along the state boundary based on "information we've collected from a number of sources," Weeks said.

Police have searched Skelton's home and removed items but declined to identify them.

Weeks said Skelton was being treated at a hospital in Ohio for "mental health issues" after he told police that he tried to hang himself Friday.

The boys were reported missing Friday by their mother, Tanya Skelton, Weeks said. A family friend said the boys were with their father as part of court-ordered visitation and their parents were going through a divorce.