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ISBN 978-1-62268-133-4
LCCN 2017964024

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ISBN 978-1-62268-134-1

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Grateful to be the son of a murderer

Author: Travis Vining


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.


Chapter 1
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 attention—almost 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 land deal.
    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 time.

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.

© Travis Vining

About the Author:



Author and Inspirational Speaker Travis Vining shares his experience from the real-life horrors of learning his own father was a serial killer. Travis details the grueling mental, physical and emotional journey that eventually became the springboard to a stunning transformation.

His website is

Travis Vining is the "real deal". His faith is profound and his teaching in this book could change your life and the lives of everyone you know. Read it! You'll "rise up and call me blessed" for having recommended it to you.
—Steve Brown, professor at Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando;
author and teacher on Key Life, nationally syndicated radio program

Listen to the live interview

First Edition
5"x8" Trade Paperback
Retail: $14.95US
ISBN 978-1-62268-133-4
LCCN 2017964024

Also available as ebook
ISBN 978-1-62268-134-1

book details
cover detail
read an excerpt
buy the book >>>

Grateful to be the son of a murderer
Author: Travis Vining

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