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MIRACLE IN THE MADNESS
to be the son of a murderer
I found a miracle in the madness of the most unlikely of trials. My Dad
murdered four people in three different incidents over a seventeen-month
period in the late 1980s. He told me some of the details of his crimes,
including describing exactly how he killed two of the victims. When he
sensed I might betray him, Dad tried to make me an accessory to his crime
by using me to help him destroy evidence. This was his insurance policy
to keep me from going to the police.
For years I kept this experience a secret, and
did not speak of it. Some say time heals all wounds, but this is an illusion
at best. In reality, time does not create distance from our hurtful life
experiences, it only distorts and intensifies the pain from them. The
unresolved issues and grievances from our past become infected wounds
hidden deep within us.
These types of experiences often cause great emotional,
and physical pain. For me it resulted in paralyzing migraine headaches,
chronic back pain, sleep apnea, irritable bowel syndrome, recurring nightmares,
depression, and an addiction to pain medication. All of these ailments,
I discovered, turned out to be the result of unresolved past grievances
from my childhood and early adult life.
Today, miraculously, through the process outlined
in this book, the impossible became possible, and all of these illnesses
have been healed. The greatest reward, however, is not the healing itself.
The discovery of the true cause of suffering, and the solution that leads
to healing was the most valuable gift that I was given.
Much of society tells us not to look too
closely at our pain or our fears. We are often taught to ignore them,
move on, and hope that they will magically disappear. In essence, without
realizing it, many of us are programmed to hope for, or expect a spiritual
bypass. As much as some people would like to convince others that holding
hands, praying and singing in church is where we will find the long-term
peace that we are looking for, it is just not so.
Paradoxically, it was the darkest moments of my
life experiences that were used to find, and experience the lasting happiness
that I had been seeking. I found that every so-called difficulty, tragedy,
or apparent setback in my life could be used as a springboard to a new-found
freedom and inner peace.
Through the process of letting go, what appeared
to be a liability was converted into an asset, and led to the discovery
of spiritual truth. When properly understood, and processed, pain became
the touchstone of my spiritual growth. It now seems that every
difficulty can be a doorway to this inner peace. What I once believed
to be fantasy, turned out to be truth that can be experienced at a deeply
personal level by taking a few simple steps. Happiness, I discovered,
is a choice.
Surprisingly, it was not in spite of my difficulties
and suffering that I was able to find my freedom, but because of
them. The process required a simple willingness to look directly at the
madness that led me to the answers. This is the miracle that I found hidden,
waiting in the madness, and forgiveness was literally the invitation that
appeared to trigger this extraordinary response.
My story is not intended to convince those who
are suffering that miracles of healing are available to all who seek them.
The hope is to offer a 'real life' example of the remarkable change that
resulted from this course of action that might inspire others who are
suffering to give it a chance. In my case, having the humility to try
this process with an open mind turned out to be the great healer of pain,
as my misery and failure were transformed into priceless gifts.
Family of Origin
My Dad appeared to
be a very successful business man. Our family lived in a home on Biscayne
Bay, had money and was very well known. My father, John Bruce Vining,
was well connected in Miami and South Florida. He had served as a pilot
in the Air Force, was good looking and extremely charming. From the outside,
our life looked almost perfect.
Like any young boy, I idolized my dad. When in
his presence, I was almost hypnotized by him. I was extremely attracted
to the way he approached life. I guess it's normal for a boy to want to
be just like his father. I wanted to believe everything that he told me.
I was four when my parents divorced. My mother
was a sweet, sweet woman. She was also an alcoholic. My dad ruined her
in court with false testimony and witnesses to get custody of me, my older
brother, and older sister. Mom was absolutely devastated from losing us
children to my father. She never fully recovered.
My dad re-married shortly after divorcing my mother.
When my father first introduced us to our future stepmother she seemed
as nice as could be. Before they married I would sleep with her robe because
it had her smell on it, and it made me feel safe. Turned out, like my
father, she was not what she appeared to be.
Once they married and she moved in, everything
changed. She made it very clear from the beginning that she was not interested
in being a mother to me, or my brother and sister. One evening she was
screaming at me for dropping a glass of milk, and I called her Mom. She
responded, "I am not your mother, never was your mother, and never
will be!" and then told me to call her by name. This was a major
disappointment and only added to the sense of abandonment that I experienced
as a very young child.
I was not aware of it because I didn't know any
better, but I was living in a constant state of fear. I often woke up
with terrifying recurring nightmares. I didn't understand it and didn't
talk about it because I thought it was a sign of weakness. I would wake
up in the middle of the night, gasping for breath and feel as if the weight
of the Universe was crushing down on me. I couldn't breathe. I would feel
a frightening threat that I didn't understand.
This danger was extremely elusive and I couldn't
identify what it was. I didn't know where the threat was coming from,
only that it was close. It was always close, surrounding me on all sides.
The dreams felt real. I tried to dismiss them as just "kid stuff",
but I was really scared. I hated myself for this.
On the outside, I probably appeared to be like
any other kid my age. I made decent grades, was fairly outgoing, had friends
and tried my best to fit in. It helped that I always had nice things and
could afford to do most anything that my friends did. My dad taught me
to be respectful and to say "yes sir/ma'am" and "no sir/ma'am"
when addressing adults. They liked that, and I was typically a favorite
of my friends' parents.
The problem was that while my father was teaching
me some of the right lessons his behavior was offering a different point
of view. This was my experience with my father, and it happened often.
His behavior was raising questions that I could not answer. I can see
them now, but at the time, I didn't want to believe what I was seeing
or feeling. I would try to re-direct my attention to something else that
would make that feeling go away.
There were many signs of my father's dark nature.
Dad idolized Hitler, and hated women. He was very vocal about this and
did not hide his feelings. In fact, he was proud of his position of superiority
and judgement of others.
My brother JB was five years older than me and
was the first child. Dad beat him, threw him out of the house and "disowned"
him on several occasions. He told him that he was going to leave him a
dollar in his will because he was a disgrace. He talked about my brother
as if he belonged to someone else's family, always telling me what a screw
up he was. He used to say that my brother "could fuck up a one car
funeral." This is how I learned about the love of a father, from
watching his treatment of my big brother. The lesson for me was that love
comes with terms.
According to my father, my brother consistently
let him down. It was either his grades in school or always getting in
trouble. My father talked to me about what a loser my brother was
all the time. Without realizing it, I understood that not doing what my
father wanted would cause him not to love me, so of course I did what
he said. I was the "good kid" and now I know why. It was because
my brother went before me. He didn't know any better. He was born in the
middle of a mine field without instructions or a guide to help him, wandering
aimlessly and stepping on mine after mine until he was ripped to pieces
inside and out.
My sister Roxanne was a little over two years
older than me. My dad despised women so much that she never had a chance.
She was simply less worthy of his attentionalmost a throwaway. My
sister craved his love, as all little girls do, and he could not have
cared less. She so wanted to be Daddy's little girl. She did the right
things and stayed out of trouble, but he still told me how worthless she
was. She had no chance with him, absolutely none. Roxy was a good sister
to me even though she envied the way that Dad favored me.
As for my mom, I love her dearly, but she couldn't
give us what we needed, either. She struggled to survive and did the best
she could, but she was heartbroken. The weight of the divorce, losing
custody of us kids, and her alcoholism eventually led her to a complete
state of despair and hopelessness.
When I was twelve years old, she called me one
night very drunk and told me goodbye. It took me a while to figure out
what she was doing because she was slurring her words so badly, but I
came to realize that she was in the process of committing suicide.
I went to my father and begged him to take me
to her. He didn't want to be bothered. I was crying hysterically and he
finally agreed to take me to her apartment. Once we were there he refused
to get out of the car. The whole scene disgusted him. I banged on the
door, but she did not answer. After several attempts, I took a small towel
from my father's car, wrapped it around my fist and broke the jalousie
windows in her door to enter her apartment. She was barely awake and heavily
drugged from a combination of Valium and alcohol. I called 9-1-1, and
the police sent an ambulance. Mom survived, but never really recovered.
As sick as this was, the most disturbing part
of that night was my father's behavior. Hers made sense to me. His did
not. He simply didn't care. At the time, I rationalized that it was because
he didn't love my mom. I looked up to my dad because he was so tough.
He had always taught me that being emotionally strong was an important
quality for successful men, but this wasn't right. My mom was trying to
kill herself and he didn't bother to get out of the car to help. When
I asked him for support, he showed little or no emotion. It wasn't his
problem. He would have been okay if she had died that night right in front
of me. He seemed to want it to happen. That is what I felt, but
I got busy burying that thought.
One of the many questions that I dismissed that
night was why didn't Dad help me and why didn't he understand how difficult
this was for me? Why didn't he hold me and tell me that it would be okay?
I was extremely scared and confused. Either he really didn't care or he
couldn't relate to what I was feeling.
On the other hand, adding to the confusion, there
were times when my dad paid a lot of attention to us kids and I loved
it. He would take us to the Monkey Jungle in South Florida on the weekends
and wrestle with us in the house. We always had small farm animals of
some kind around, and we would watch sports together.
He had a good sense of humor and could make you
laugh until you couldn't stop crying. I couldn't seem to get enough of
that time with him. It was during these occasions that everything seemed
perfect. I would get lost in the feelings that came from being close to
my dad, especially when he laughed. I lived for those moments. They never
lasted long, but apparently it was just enough to keep us all from seeing
the real truth.
When I was a young teenager Dad began to get tangled
up in all kinds of lawsuits, and the newspaper started to take notice.
In the early seventies the Miami News did a series of articles
about a land deal that my father orchestrated, calling it "Secret
Land Trusts". Someone made hundreds of thousands of dollars, and
the newspaper implied that it was my dad. It seemed that everyone my father
knew was caught up in this scheme. His banker, political friends, business
associates and even his secretary were all named in this so-called mysterious
My father made hundreds of thousands of dollars
by buying large tracts of land, then optioning them to the state for construction
rock pit sites. The Department of Transportation mined gravel from these
sites to build an extension for the South Florida Turnpike.
The problem was that before he bought them, Dad
knew in advance that the state was looking for these sites to dig out
landfill to build the toll road. The unsuspecting landowners had no idea
that the state was in line to offer them huge sums of money. My father
came between the two parties and cleverly used the state's option fees
to buy the land for himself. Knowing the state wanted it, Dad purchased
an option to buy the land, then sold the mineral rights of the site to
the state and used the money from the state to purchase it.
The options brought in almost five times more
than what he paid for the land and after the state dug out the landfill
the property actually increased in value. The huge hole left behind filled
up with water and the land became lakefront property. That is how he marketed
it. The plan appeared to have been well thought out, except for one little
detail. It was illegal and unethical.
I remember him telling me that he didn't do anything
wrong and how "the Miami News was just a bunch of Jews out
to get him." As it turned out, my father's only punishment was that
he had to give up his real estate license. He gave testimony under protest
in the case, then sued to prevent its use and won. He gave up his license
under pressure, he said, just to show them he didn't care, because it
restricted his ability to operate like he wanted to anyway. Boy, would
that turn out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy!
Over the next ten years my dad made hundreds of thousands of dollars by
successfully orchestrating elaborate land deals, masquerading as various
government agents. He would steal the identities of dead people, using
the names he found on fresh graves in cemeteries. In one case, he forged
land titles and other documents in three real estate cons that could have
netted him $1.6 million. Finally, he got caught.
Things changed suddenly in 1982. He started to
have serious money problems. I was twenty-two and in college at the time.
He pulled me out of school saying that I needed to come home to wait until
his next deal came through.
My father began to tell me that the FBI was looking
for him because of something that he "did not do". He said that
"they had the wrong guy" and that he would sue them for this
when it was all over. I wanted to believe that, but I had begun to see
signs of his business dealings before this. Now they were becoming increasingly
more difficult to deny.
The pattern was there, but I didn't want to look.
I really didn't have any faith in God, and my father was my "higher
power". Everything that I believed in for my existence was wrapped
up in this man. This was not a good feeling so I tried not to look too
closely. I focused on his charm and promises instead.
The FBI agents began showing up at the house looking
for dad. My father was in trouble, but he still kept telling us kids it
would be all right. The Feds were after him, he said, but he would beat
them. "They had the wrong guy," was his standard response when
something went wrong. Only this time, something was, in fact, terribly,
terribly wrong. These guys were after my dad. The Feds didn't seem to
think he was so charming.
One night when we were headed to the house from
Mount Dora. I was driving. My father had a house in the exclusive neighborhood
of Sweetwater Club in Longwood, Florida. Once we pulled in the gated community,
a car began to follow us and my dad asked me to turn left instead of right
to see if they were indeed after us. I don't know what I knew at the time
. . . only that my dad had serious trouble, but I was not expecting this.
My dad changed his behavior. He became angry.
When the law enforcement agents tried to pull us over, Dad instructed
me to keep driving and he wasn't kidding around. This scared the hell
out of me. Here was an undercover agent pulling me over, and my father
telling me to keep going. The agent pulled in front of the car, and my
dad said to keep going forward and around his car. The cop was directly
in front of me, yelling "Stop", with his hand on his gun. It's
hard to describe how intense this was for me. Panicked, I chose to obey
the police, and stopped.
My father was disappointed, and he let me know
it. I felt that it was my fault he was going to jail that night. Once
again, I proved to him and myself that I wasn't man enough to be
like him, or at least that's what I thought. He was pissed and gave me
a look that was very chilling, one that was usually reserved for "the
bad guys", as he liked to say.
The cops had a warrant from Alabama for my father's
arrest. They handcuffed him and put him in their car. This was another
one of those moments when I didn't know how to react. I felt that they
were doing the right thing, but he was my dad, my provider. I didn't understand
what this all meant to me. I felt safer with him in custody, yet I wanted
Dad freed. These emotions didn't make sense together. I was scared and
confused. Fear was everywhere I turned because that's all I knew, everything
else was evaporating.
The FBI came for my father with warrants from
three different states. Dad's lawyer convinced him to plead guilty. The
final straw, the one that broke the camel's back for me, and overloaded
my ability to process all this madness came the day before my father was
scheduled for his sentencing hearing on the land fraud charges. This was
an experience that would lead to a behavior that I did not think possible
at the time, repressed memories.
It wasn't until writing my first book that I was
able to recall the final bits and pieces of this memory and begin to understand
why it was repressed for so long. It wasn't the scariest thing that happened
to me, but how and when it happened made it a deal breaker for my capacity
to accept reality.
My dad attempted to have me shoot him in the butt
with a shotgun to avoid being present in court at his scheduled sentencing
on the land fraud charges. We got in the car together and he began to
tell me his plan. We were going to drive out in the woods together and
he told me that I was going to shoot him in the ass with a shotgun.
He said we would say it was an accident. It would
keep him from having to go to court in Atlanta the next day. He said,
"Do you understand what I'm telling you, son? If you don't do this
they are going to take me away tomorrow!" He said this over and over
as I began to crumble.
He could see that I was having a problem with
this, and it only made him more demanding. He told me again, "Do
you understand what I'm telling you, son? If you don't do this, they are
going to take me away tomorrow! Do you understand me, son?!"
I wasn't able to pull the trigger and became the
target of my father's anger and frustration. At that time, I still wanted
to believe that my father was the man that I "thought" I knew.
I was crushed by not being able to meet his expectations.
This memory was completely hidden from me for
years. It took work to find it, and now I understand why. I remember pointing
a loaded shotgun at my father. I recall his frenzied request that I shoot
him. He was leaning on a fence post imploring me to pull the trigger.
I was already overwhelmed from learning that my dad was a conman and with
my father's impending sentencing, the pressure was just too much.
I broke down, shaking, crying hysterically. I
begged him not to make me do it. The sight of me crying and begging made
him sick. He turned around, disgusted, walked toward me and grabbed the
shotgun from my hands. He then, very briefly, yet forcefully, pointed
the shotgun at me and said, "Maybe if I just shoot you, that will
work." At that very moment I thought that he was going to shoot me.
He wanted to hurt me, I could tell, but he caught himself.
The ride home was the worst. He tried to show
me some pity and told me that he was just kidding about shooting me. He
asked if I understood that and I meekly apologized, "Yes, Dad, I'm
sorry I couldn't do it." I was now a complete failure. He was possibly
headed to prison the next day, and this was our final time together. It
would be my fault if they took him away the next day.
The next morning he left the house to go to Atlanta
for his sentencing. I received the news from my stepmother that Dad had
been given twelve years for land fraud and taken straight to county jail.
He wasn't coming home. That was the last time that I spent with Dad before
he was sentenced.
At least now I understand why this event was deleted
from my memory over time. It had so much attached to it, including the
clincher of being told that I would be responsible for him going to jail
if I couldn't do this. It was simply too much for me to handle at that
A few weeks after my father's sentencing in 1983; I decided to move to
Miami where my mom lived. I wasn't welcome in my stepmother's house, and
I got out of there as quickly as I could. I was still reeling from all
the events leading up to my dad's sentencing, but at least my Mom welcomed
me with open and loving arms.
Everything seemed to be happening so fast. Things
were spinning out of control. Now I had the added fear of not having a
future, or any kind of plan for my life. I was pre-occupied with the rapid
collapse of the only world that I had ever known. I was totally unprepared
for any of this.
During this next phase of my life, I would try
to learn how to function in a world I no longer knew or understood, with
my dad in prison. I would experience my first serious attempt at suicide.
I would also learn that Mom had lung cancer and would watch her die.