(CBS/AP) The disappearance of three young Michigan brothers from Morenci has turned into a homicide investigation, a police chief said Tuesday, dashing hopes that the Skelton boys who were last seen with their father at Thanksgiving are safe somewhere.
Chief Larry Weeks is now asking people in the area, along the Michigan-Ohio border, to be on the lookout for bodies. He said investigators have followed up on 900 tips but they have not been fruitful.
Nine-year-old Andrew, 7-year-old Alexander and 5-year-old Tanner were last seen playing on Nov. 25, 2010 in their father's backyard in Morenci, about 70 miles southwest of Detroit.
"We've seen false hope continue to grow," the chief told reporters.
Weeks said the boys' father, John Skelton, is the focus of the investigation, although no new charges have been filed. Skelton already has been charged with parental kidnapping and is being held on a $30 million bond.
Skelton's estranged wife, Tanya Skelton, reported her sons missing the next day after they weren't returned to her. John Skelton said during a custody hearing in December that he gave them to someone from an "organization" that he wouldn't identify. Investigators have said he earlier made false claims about turning his sons over to another woman.
At a court hearing last week, John Skelton said, "I can't," when a judge asked if he was prepared to give the boys to their mother. He didn't explain why not.
Weeks has said for months that he didn't expect a positive outcome. The reason to no longer call this a missing persons case, he said, was based on what Skelton has said in past interviews with investigators.
That includes telling police that he gave the boys to a group called United Foster Outreach and Underground Sanctuaries, Weeks said.
"No such organization can be located," the chief said. "That's just one example of misinformation that we received from him."
Tanya Skelton had continued to hold out hope that the boys were alive until investigators said that they were changing their focus.
"It's like somebody cut your chest open and yanked your heart out," said Kathye Herrera, a family friend.