What’s it like to grow up with a father who is a sociopath—and you’re not?
Travis Vining knows. At least, he knows now, because when he was a child, even a young adult, he didn’t know that his father, John B. Vining, was a sociopath. Travis just knew that his father was fun, charming, the coolest guy around. All Travis’ friends liked his father. Travis, himself, idolized him.
The Vinings were a prominent, politically connected Miami family —Travis’ grandfather, E. Clyde Vining, was a real estate magnate. John B. Vining also went into real estate, and Travis grew up in a house on a lake with all the trappings of privilege.
Fraud and murder
But John B. Vining wasn’t content with real estate sales—he graduated to real estate swindles. He forged land titles and other documents in three real estate cons that could have netted him $1.6 million, but he got caught. In 1983, the con artist pleaded guilty to three counts of mail and wire fraud and was sentenced to 12 years in federal prison.
Vining was released in 1987. By this time he was 56 years old—and that’s when the real trouble started. Vining told two half-brothers from Washington, D.C. that he could sell them cocaine for $15,000 a kilogram, about a quarter of its value. Convincing the men he had buried the cocaine, he lured them into the woods—and shot them. Vining took their cash and left the bodies—which went unidentified for 17 years.
Shortly after that, Vining answered a newspaper ad placed by a Georgia Caruso, who had diamonds to sell. Vining accompanied Caruso to see gemologists, who appraised the diamonds for $60,000. A couple of weeks later, Caruso’s body was found in a field. She’d been shot twice in the head.
In August 1989, Vining put an elaborate plan into action. He’d heard a rumor that Charles E. Fleming, a convicted Georgia drug kingpin, had hidden $3.5 million before he was arrested. Charles Fleming was still in prison, but his wife, Gail Fleming, was not. Vining and an accomplice went to Georgia and kidnapped the woman, locking her into a cage they’d constructed in the back of a van. They drove Gail Fleming around for hours, demanding to know where the money was, threatening to kill her. Eventually they left her, handcuffed and bound with duct tape, while they went into the woods and dug a grave.
The men pulled Fleming out of the van, carried her to the edge of the grave, and wrapped her head with duct tape, like a mummy. She couldn’t see, could barely hear, and had trouble breathing. One of the men grabbed Fleming and put a gun to her head. Then she heard muffled words, “Freeze! Police! Drop the gun!”
Kids had seen the two men carry Fleming from the van. They ran to a nearby store and called the police. Vining and his accomplice were arrested.
John B. Vining was convicted of murder in the Georgia Caruso case in 1990, and sentenced to death.
For years, Travis Vining suppressed many memories of his father’s crimes. In fact, it wasn’t until 2004 that he remembered hearing the story about the two drug dealers from Washington. Travis then told the police what he knew, and his father was convicted of those murders as well.
John B. Vining is currently on Florida’s death row. (Type “Vining, John” into the name fields for details.)
When he was young, Travis Vining berated himself for not having the stomach to do what his father, the tough guy, did. But now Travis recognizes that his father is a criminal sociopath, and he is grateful that he did not follow those evil footsteps.
Travis went to college and married. He started a family and a business. And during those intervening years, he healed from the experiences of his youth.
For the first time, Travis is telling his story, here on Lovefraud. He hopes that by sharing his experiences, describing how they felt at the time, and relating his path to healing, that he can help you recover from your entanglements with these predators. His posts will be appearing on Wednesdays.