Family accused of ‘exorcisms,’ food restriction before 4-year-old died in Surry County, warrants reveal

24 January 2023

SURRY COUNTY, N.C. (WGHP) — New details are emerging in the death of 4-year-old Skyler Wilson.

According to warrants, Joseph Wilson, who is charged along with his wife Jodi in the death of their adopted child Skyler Wilson, got a text from his wife that there was a “problem” with “swaddling” Skyler on Jan. 5. She also sent a picture of Skyler, wrapped in a sheet or a blanket face-down on the Wilsons’ living room floor with duct tape attaching him to the floor.

Skyler Wilson died on Jan. 9.

According to the warrant, on Jan. 11, a detective interviewed a former foster parent of Skyler and Vance Wilson, also known as Skyler and Vance Bowles. According to the warrant, the former foster parent “advised that Jodi Wilson had told her about the ‘pouching,’ swaddling, food restriction, refusal of Vance Wilson to walk by himself, the gating of Skyler in a room for excessive ‘alone’ time, and the exorcisms of both children.”

The warrant does not provide additional details on the alleged “exorcisms.”  

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The foster mother talked to a care worker with the Surry County Department of Social Services on Dec. 7, worried for the safety of the children. She was told to make a formal report, which she told detectives that she did on that same day. The warrant says that phone records corroborate the timing of when she filed a complaint.

Skyler and Vance Wilson were placed with the Wilsons in September of 2021 and the Wilsons had “fostered” three children prior to the two boys.

The warrant states that Jodi was using techniques learned from Nancy Thomas, a self-described “professional therapeutic parent.”

When reached for comment on the death of Skyler Wilson, Nancy Thomas provided the following response:

“I am shocked and saddened to hear the sad news of this little one passing away.  Since I have no knowledge of the incident, I am unable to give a comment. I am willing to assist law enforcement if they have any questions.”

On Jan. 6, while Skyler Wilson was in the hospital, the Department of Social Services contacted the Surry County Sheriff’s Office.

A detective with the sheriff’s office spoke with a doctor, who explained that Skyler had a hypoxic brain injury, which happens with a restriction that prevents oxygen to the brain. The doctor, who had previously spoken with Joseph Wilson, told the detective that Skyler’s brain injuries were consistent with “too much restriction” used during this so-called “swaddling” technique.

Swaddling is a technique used to comfort and help babies sleep with a blanket wrapped snuggly around the baby’s body. Rolling over while swaddled has been correlated to an increased likelihood of SIDS deaths, and swaddling is not encouraged for an infant that is old enough to roll over on its own.

The sheriff’s office executed a search warrant at the home on Rosecrest Drive in Mount Airy. While in the home, they observed “wrist and ankle support strap/braces” and cameras in a tote in the basement of the home, Joseph Wilson told an SBI agent and a detective that the straps were for restraining Skyler during swaddling, and that Jodi Wilson took the cameras down and potentially removed SD cards from them during the “incident” with Skyler on Jan. 5.

The Wilson’s home on Rosecrest Drive was searched a second time, looking specifically for the SD cards in the cameras. They list the following items:

Three white surveillance-type cameras

Mueller sport wraps

Handwritten documents

USB drives


SD card from Wii

Notebooks & binder

Cameras containing SD cards

3 tablets from a playroom

Dell Optiplex 7020 tower with power cord

Hitachi laptop

Jodi and Joseph Wilson (Surry County Sheriff’s Office)

On Jan. 13, Joseph and Jodi Wilson were charged in Skyler Wilson’s murder and taken into custody with no bond. Their three biological children and one adopted child, Vance, were taken into custody by social services, where they remain.

Skyler’s former foster mother described him as a social butterfly with a big heart.

“He was so tiny and small but had a heart three times bigger than he was,” she said. “I want to love unconditionally and remember his smile and the little things.”

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Skyler Wilson

Nancy Thomas, attachment therapy and holding therapy

According to Nancy Thomas’s website, “Nancy Thomas is not a doctor, psychiatrist or therapist. She is an amazing mom who has, through years of search, study and experience, found solutions to parenting challenging children.”

Nancy Thomas advocates for “Attachment Therapy,” which Psychology Today describes as “unconventional, unproven, and potentially harmful,” as a treatment for “Reactive Attachment Disorder.”

According to the Mayo Clinic, reactive attachment disorder is “a rare but serious condition in which an infant or young child doesn’t establish healthy attachments with parents or caregivers. Reactive attachment disorder may develop if the child’s basic needs for comfort, affection and nurturing aren’t met and loving, caring, stable attachments with others are not established.” This rare disorder primarily impacts infants and toddlers, who will show symptoms like listlessness, not seeking comfort or unexplained withdrawal.

On her website, Nancy Thomas says that, for children experiencing RAD, “everyone becomes the enemy. They learn to manipulate and use and abuse people to get what they want. The true child may [have] never been seen by anyone except the mother figure they unleash their deep-seeded (sic) rage on.”

Psychology Today differentiates between “attachment-based therapy” and “attachment therapy.”

Attachment-based therapy is described in Psychology Today as looking “at the connection between an infant’s early attachment experiences with primary caregivers, usually with parents, and the infant’s ability to develop normally and ultimately form healthy emotional and physical relationships as an adult.”

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PsychologyToday also notes: “Attachment-based therapy as described here should not be confused with unconventional, unproven, and potentially harmful treatments referred to as ‘attachment therapy’ that involve physical manipulation, restraint, deprivation, boot camp–like activities, or physical discomfort of any kind. These so-called ‘attachment therapies’ were developed in the 1970s as interventions for children with behavioral challenges, particularly those with autism; they have since been investigated and rejected by mainstream psychology and medicine.”

The “attachment therapy” that Nancy Thomas promotes involves “holding therapy” where a person or sometimes multiple people will forcibly restrain a child.

The Daily Beast wrote that the treatments popularized by this so-called attachment therapy “revolve around asserting parents’ absolute control over their children, through strict regulations on children’s movements and eating habits. Sometimes children are put on extremely limited diets of bland, unappetizing food; assigned hours of pointless, repetitive chores; forced to sit in one location, facing the wall, for hours at a time; and endure “holding therapy,” wherein children may be forcibly held down by parents or therapists to induce first a feeling of rage and powerlessness, then catharsis and acceptance when they finally submit.”

Nancy Thomas’s “therapies” were highlighted in HBO’s 1990 documentary “Child of Rage” following her experiences with her adoptive daughter Beth Thomas, who she claims had RAD. Thomas’s parenting advice was also at the center of the case of an Arkansas State Representative in 2015 who adopted and then gave up sisters with serious behavioral issues, at one point accusing the girls of being possessed.

In 2000, a North Carolina 10-year-old named Candace Newmaker died under the care of attachment “therapists” in Colorado and the two unlicensed therapists were found guilty of her death.

Newmaker died after she was “wrapped in a blanket meant to represent a womb, the little girl was sat on by four adults until she could no longer breathe,” during a process called ‘rebirthing’ according to a Guardian article published at the time. This inspired “Candace’s Law,” which bans the “re-birthing” therapy in Colorado and North Carolina.

The Wilsons will be back in court on Feb. 2. Skyler Wilson’s funeral will be on Saturday, Jan. 28.

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