From Miracle To Murder

By Joyce A. Lefler

The early years of my childhood were idyllic and served as a strong foundation for my character. My father earned two masters’ degrees and became a certified teacher. My parents met, married, and had six children. They provided a nurturing environment for us. They taught us the grace and love of a caring God: He would carry us through anything as long as we believed in the sacrifice and salvation of Christ. They also taught us by example to understand the difference between truth and lies, to respect hard work, and to never give up. We were happy. I dreamt of having that kind of life for myself when I was old enough to make those choices. It was the normal I craved and worked for.


Then, when I was fourteen years old, my father discovered a different way of believing in God. He began to follow the “Message” of William Branham. My father’s voice and heart turned cold. Long hair, long dresses, no makeup, no nail polish, no jewelry, no dates, no football games, no music other than what was on the William Branham doctrine tapes, no dancing, no TV, no Christmas – our lives became one big NO. Being different hurts. The differences were supposed to set “Message” believers apart for Christ. Instead, they set us up to be isolated and victimized. 


Branham taught that women are Satan’s partners in bringing down the morality of all men. He preached sexual discrimination, belittling, and sexual objectification of women. He believed women were “nothing but a garbage can” and “dog meat.” Branham admonished men to beat their wives “with oak slats until their clothes and skin peeled off” for the transgression of sunbathing. Men had permission to divorce their wives if they cut their hair. Instead of being treated as a precious jewel and partner in life, a woman was to be treated as a slave – good for breeding and for maintaining a home but nothing else. Education was now of the devil, especially for a woman. I graduated salutatorian of my high school class, but my dream of becoming a physician was broken. I was forced to say NO to scholarships that would have allowed me to attend college and eventually support myself.

 

Dating led to sin, so very young girls and boys were told to marry. Wives were expected to shut up, obey their husbands, and have babies. They had no right to ask for more. I became engaged without going on a single date. Within two weeks of marriage, my “Message” husband humiliated, cursed, raped, and beat me. His behavior became a habit. I often had bruises on my face, arms, and legs. Even with the modest cover-up clothes I wore, the bruises were not easy to ignore. When I cried out for help to my “Message” parents and my “Message” pastor and church, they ignored the bruises, turned their backs on me, and advised me to obey my husband. I was told to stop being stubborn so he wouldn’t have to beat me. 


Birth control was not allowed in the “Message.” My daughter Anne was conceived within six months of marriage. She was born perfectly healthy and beautiful. She was my greatest joy. When I was pregnant with Adam, our second child, my husband beat me and tried to make me miscarry. He didn’t succeed. When Adam was born with Cornelia de Lange Syndrome, a severe congenital anomaly, the medical advice I was given was to institutionalize my newborn baby and tell people he died at birth. My husband cursed me and blamed me for carrying him to term. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” My “Message” family and friends thought that meant I should allow Adam to die. My “Message” father told me my disabled son was a waste of taxpayers’ money. My “Message” pastor and church told me Adam’s medical complications, the misery of my marriage, and my husband’s abuse were caused by disobedience to my husband, some secret sin I needed to confess, or a lack of faith in believing the “Message.” I don’t believe that’s what Jesus had in mind.  


My journey away from the “Message” began when I learned to speak for my baby because he couldn’t speak for himself. I wouldn’t give up on my son and fought to keep him alive. I learned how to insert a feeding tube though Adam’s esophagus and give him formula, one ounce at a time. Initially, feedings lasted an hour and had to be repeated every couple hours day and night. Adam underwent several corrective surgeries, extensive therapy, and the intervention of medical specialists. He defied the odds and became a miracle of God when he learned how to crawl, feed himself with an adaptive spoon, and spit out any food that was green. He laughed at the messes he left in his diaper, patted his sister on her face, and dove out of my arms whenever he saw someone drinking out of a can of soda. 


My husband continued to rape and beat me on a regular basis. He jammed loaded pistols down my throat and threatened to blow my head apart. He had multiple affairs with both men and women; yet because he was a man, his behaviors were excused by the “Message” church. When my husband started beating Anne, I stood up to his wrath and told him to leave. I was lucky. He beat and raped me again, but he didn’t kill me. The moment he moved out, the “Message” people, including my family, viewed me as a divorced woman. A divorced woman is considered to be an adulteress and the worst of sinners. I was shunned and condemned to live as if I were already dead. “Message” women who had intact marriages pointed at me and used me as an example to their little girls. I was an example of what happened to a woman who loses favor with her husband and, thus, God. My two children and I were emotionally and financially abandoned to fend for ourselves. 


My husband drove away in a new car, bought a new house, and had another new girlfriend. He paid me $200 a month in child support for two children and retained 50% ownership of our house. I became responsible to pay the mortgage, food, utilities, and medical bills. I had no money, no job experience, no training, and no credit. 


I stuck pride in my pocket and asked my “Message” pastor for help. Help was denied. One sweet couple heard of my financial struggles and gave me a check to make one house payment. No one else offered to buy groceries, mow my lawn, keep my “beater” car running, or babysit my children so I could find work. 


My children and I went on welfare. I hired myself out to clean houses and took my children with me.  After two years, I knew something had to change. I didn’t want my daughter to be condemned to a life such as mine. I needed to have a marketable skill. It was too late to become a doctor, so I decided to become a nurse. I drove down to the local community college and enrolled in my first class, Biology 101. 


My father was appalled at my actions and apologized to the men of the “Message” church. He was already embarrassed that his daughter’s marriage had failed. Now he was ashamed his daughter had a brain. My mother never stood up to my father. Instead, she added to my stress when she refused to take care of Adam so I could work or go to school.


By the time I finished my prerequisites, Adam was six years old, and Anne had turned nine. Adam survived all sorts of medical crises, multiple surgeries, and infections. I began to hope and believe he would be my child forever. Kind professors allowed me to take Adam to class the first couple years, but I was no longer allowed once I was accepted into the nursing program. Instead, I was informed that if I missed more than two classes during the semester, I would be kicked out of the program and would have to apply again. I scrambled to find someone who would babysit Adam. He was stable, but he still was so tiny that he wore size zero shoes. His immune system was never strong. He often came down with fevers caused by urinary tract infections, colds, and skin conditions. A few weeks into the first semester, Adam was diagnosed with another contagious skin infection. None of my regular babysitters would take him. I was desperate. An older trusted friend of mine suggested I allow her son Eugene to watch Adam. Her son was divorced but had two young daughters he was devoted to. As a test, I had her son babysit Adam once for a couple hours. Adam seemed fine when I picked him up. 


The second time I had Eugene babysit Adam, there was a different outcome. Less than an hour after I dropped him off, Adam required emergency services. He didn’t survive. I thought he died as a result of the infection, prolonged CPR, and the complications of Cornelia de Lange Syndrome. The babysitter, however, told the police that I had brought a dead child to be babysat. My ex-husband said that I was the abusive parent. The investigating officers failed to conduct a forensic investigation of any kind: no interviews of neighbors, no blood samples, no background investigations, no questioning of Cornelia de Lange Syndrome experts, no examination of Adam’s medical history – the list can go on and on.


The district attorney, child protective services, the county coroner, state appointed psychologists, and a grand jury all said I must have murdered my son. I was fingerprinted, photographed, and followed. I lost my house and went bankrupt.  I was kicked out of college. I was spurned by almost everyone I knew. My “Message” father and the “Message” church reveled in their chance to blame me for Adam’s death. They never examined the role they played in their abandonment of my children and me. At my son’s funeral, instead of consoling me, my father called me a whore.  


My nine-year-old daughter was taken away from me. Custody was given to my ex-husband. The first thing he told her was that I had murdered her brother. No one listened to me while my ex-husband psychologically, physically, and sexually abused her over the years that followed.  


I couldn’t prove my innocence. The state couldn’t prove my guilt. The charges against me were eventually dropped, but they were dropped without prejudice, meaning they could be brought again at any time. I went through a trial in juvenile court to get my daughter back. Fifty witnesses testified on my behalf. My ex-husband had no witnesses at all, but his parents had political connections. Besides, murder charges hung over me. The return of custody was denied. Defending myself and fighting for the return of my daughter cost me over $360,000. I stopped adding it up in 2001. 


As the years passed, my daughter began to identify with her father in order to survive. She experienced Stockholm syndrome and grew afraid of me. She was angry with me. After graduating from college, she married and had two children - two grandchildren I wasn’t allowed to see. 


I eventually finished my BSN degree and graduated as a registered nurse. I remarried and had two more children. In 2001, 18 years after Adam’s death, his case was reopened and another round of insanity began. I thought I was going to be charged again. My second husband left at this time. I had told him my entire story before we married; however, when things got tough, he showed his true colors and proved himself to be spineless. 


Thanks to two police detectives and a state prosecutor, Adam’s case was finally solved. It was discovered that the coroner had been wrong in the timing and cause of Adam’s death. If there had been a thorough investigation in 1983, the year Adam died, it would have been discovered that Eugene, the babysitter, had a history of domestic violence and vile behavior towards children. He abused his first wife and tried to strangle and sexually molest their son. Eugene sexually molested his second wife’s daughter from her first marriage and then sexually molested the two daughters they had together. Maybe Eugene’s family was aware of his history but didn’t inform me. I was an easy target. The “Message” hadn’t prepared me to think or speak for myself or to question authority. 


Eugene was arrested and convicted of smashing my little boy almost in two. He served nine years and was released early for good behavior. Nine years. That’s all the state thought my son’s life, my daughter’s childhood and innocence, and my agony in losing my children was worth. Through the benevolence of Keith Perkins and the Never Again Foundation, I sued the murderer of my son. He was convicted in civil court, and my daughter and I were awarded 14 million dollars in damage. We have never collected a dime and never will. The murderer was retired military; military pensions are exempt from civil judgements. 


I sued the state, the Phoenix Police Department, the Glendale Police Department, and the county coroner’s office for blatant incompetence, violation of my civil rights, and violation of my daughter’s civil rights. I filed within the required six months of when the verdict of guilty against the babysitter was won. My law suit was denied. I was told the statute of limitations had expired years before the real killer was convicted. An Arizona Supreme Court judge looked at me and said I didn’t look damaged enough to warrant a win for myself or my daughter.


I became the first advocate for Geri’s Law before the Arizona House of Representatives and the Arizona Senate. This law didn’t help me, but it extends the statute of limitations for people like me. 


I live with the nightmares of PTSD. They haunt me nearly every night. I have to shake them from my mind when I arise. I could live in bitterness, anger, and fear, but I choose not to. Instead, to honor my son, I specialized in high risk deliveries and the resuscitation of newborns at the county hospital.  I also co-founded and then directed a perinatal bereavement program that served as a model for pediatrics and emergency room departments. I was denied the right to mourn my child and didn’t want that to happen to anyone else. 


I’ve forgiven my parents, my family, and those who caused me harm. I haven’t mastered the art of perfect love for abusers, so I can’t forgive the murderer of my child. I’ve given what I feel about him to God. 


I retired three years ago. I spent the first two years hiking and backpacking throughout Arizona and some parts of California. I saw the handiwork and beauty of God in nature and felt His healing touch on my soul. 


I am now a volunteer facilitator and speaker for Parents of Murdered Children (POMC). I offer assistance to the fresh parents of murdered children or loved ones – parents who walk into the room looking stunned and in shock over a terrible and horrible new loss. I conduct workshops for them and go to court with them when they would otherwise have gone alone. 


I am a volunteer speaker in the Arizona Department of Corrections for the Impact of Crime on its Victims Classes (ICVC). My topics discuss the murder of children, the impact of child abuse on children, and the impact of domestic violence on women. 


Six months ago I finished writing a book I started after the criminal murder trial ended: From Miracle to Murder: Justice for Adam. I’m an advocate against the “Message” and any other similar religious cult that suppresses women or condones their abuse.


I have been happily married to my best friend for nearly fifteen years. All my surviving children earned professional degrees, and we are emotionally close. My oldest daughter, the one who was taken away, went through intensive counseling along with me. After about a year of sessions that initially didn’t go well, she gave me the ultimate compliment. She said I was the only person in her life who had never lied to her. She then followed in my footsteps and became a registered nurse. She is a strong woman who doesn’t put up with lies or drama. Her two daughters are honor students and are now in high school. I call them my beautiful chickadees. My youngest daughter from my second marriage is an art teacher and photographer, while my youngest son will graduate as a registered nurse next year. 


From Miracle to Murder: Justice for Adam is a true crime thriller memoir based on  court documents, depositions, police reports, psychological exams, an autopsy, medical records, journals, and so much more. My story is long and complicated. I only touched on a few of the highlights. My published book covers the entirety of my son’s life and almost three decades of mine.


Book Link: http://bit.ly/MiracleToMurder (Available on Amazon)

 

Feel free to connect with me:

http://bit.ly/FBJoyceALefler

http://bit.ly/MiracleMurder

http://bit.ly/fryedmarbles


My blog, website, Facebook account, and book are dedicated to: 

1. survivors of emotional, physical, spiritual, or sexual abuse,

2. those who have had to bury a murdered child,

3. former members of a misogynistic religious cult,

4. children born with Cornelia de Lange Syndrome,

5. and anyone who was falsely accused of a crime.

Back to Our Stories