In the summer of 1998, just days after her divorce was final, author Theresa James’ ex-husband, John, broke into her home and murdered their three children before killing himself. James didn’t share her tragic story for almost twenty years. Now, as a means to inspire and encourage others, she offers insight into that life-altering event.
Healing Tears narrates her story, beginning with meeting John in 1990, the joys and challenges of their life together, their separation and eventual divorce, and the early morning in July when evil and tragedy descended on her home. Based on journal writings penned at the time, James tells how she survived the nightmare that had suddenly become her life, how she handled her challenging journey of grief and healing, and how she tried to orchestrate a new beginning.
Emotional and heart-wrenching, this memoir recounts James’ fear, hatred, anger, sorrow, joy, and happiness as she gives a voice to her tragic story.
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A Profession of Love
The summer of 1990 offered romance and great times for me. Early July held the Thunderboat races on the Ohio River in Evansville, Indiana. It is a weeklong festival, with the finale being high-performance speedboat races. A coworker invited me to attend. Several of her friends had arrived early that morning to set up a tarp for shade throughout the day. The day was filled with the sound of the powerful marine engines, thousands of people, sunscreen, and lots of beer.
From one side of the tarp, I noticed a dark-haired man watching me — he never said anything, just watched. I thought to myself, What a weird one.
Little did I know that he was on the other side thinking, She has such an attitude.
We were later introduced by my coworker.
"Theresa, this is John Ritzert. He went to high school with my fiancé."
They say that opposites attract, and that was so true. John was very quiet and reserved, wearing shorts, a tank top, and of all things on a hot July day, work boots. I, on the other hand, was very comfortable being the center of attention in a group of new friends. As with most of the girls my age at the races, I wore a bikini top with a pair of jean shorts and was very flirtatious. I learned that John was a bricklayer and foreman for a local contractor. As fate would have it, John's humor and shyness intrigued me enough that by the end of the day, I gave him my phone number.
John called me the next day, and we made plans for dinner and a movie the next weekend. We enjoyed each other's company very much, and soon he would come over most evenings. Sometimes he brought me bouquets of beautiful flowers. He had quickly learned how much I loved having freshly cut flowers. There seemed to be flowers on the kitchen table and on my desk at work every week.
Less than a month after we started dating, John proclaimed himself in love with me. I apologized in the beginning, explaining that I could not say the words in return. John did not want to rush me and said he understood. He continued to profess his love, always receiving a soft glance of acknowledgment from me. It was also during this time that Sean, my five-year-old son from a previous marriage, and I were living with my mom, Sharon, and stepfather, David. Sean and I had recently relocated back to Indiana from California. My parents had opened their home to us while I got my feet back on the ground.
I remember the rest of July was filled with summer cookouts, making new friends, and seeing John daily. Much of our time together included Sean, and John was very good with him. Sean would always greet John with a smile and a hug when he would come through the door. They would play ball in the yard before it was dark, and then John would put Sean onto his lap in the evenings and read to him. I enjoyed watching John and Sean together, and my heart was full of love.
One beautiful, sunny afternoon, John, Sean, and I went for a drive. Sean rode in the middle of the front seat of John's pickup truck, and with the sun's warm rays shining into the truck, he soon fell fast asleep. As we drove, I sat staring at my son, slowly caressing his face.
As I raised my eyes to look at John, he said, "Theresa, I love you."
At that moment, I knew in my heart that I loved John.
"I love you too," I said.
John couldn't believe his ears and asked me to repeat what I had just said.
"Yes, John. I said that I loved you." I leaned over Sean's sleeping body and kissed John on the cheek as we happily drove home.
By the end of August, we had fallen deeply in love and became inseparable. We attended a wedding in which he was a groomsman. At the reception, I caught the bridal bouquet, much to everyone's excitement and teasing. By the end of the evening, John had proposed marriage to me while we were sitting at our table, and my immediate response was "Are you serious?" I followed then with an acceptance.
A few weeks later, while we were having dinner at John's parents' home, John and Sean disappeared. Sean came into the room as we were all being seated at the table for dinner, bearing a ring. He asked, "Mom, will you marry John?"
Tears filled the eyes of everyone at the table, and not quite a month later, we announced our wedding date for May 4, 1991. We would be moving into a rented house by the end of September.
Things were happening so fast, but they felt so right. My first marriage was one of convenience because I was pregnant, a mistake from being a nineteen-year-old girl thinking she was a woman. The marriage finally ended exactly three years from its start, with a lot of rough times in between. After being a single mother for a few years, I became hopelessly infatuated with an older man. I thought it was true love, but as it turned out, he was just having a midlife crisis. I matured significantly through those hard years.
When I returned from the air force, I lived with my father and stepmom for a brief time. At some point, there was miscommunication and family member interference of the "he said, she said" variety that drove a wedge between us. Dad and I quit speaking. We would even attend some of the same family functions, but neither of us would acknowledge the other. This was a heavy weight on me, but being as stubborn as my father, I refused to open the communication.
I focused on my son and the bright future before me. I knew now that I loved John, and I felt that he was a good man. I was twenty-five, and John was twenty-three and had never been married. We both agreed to start adding to our family immediately, as we were already blessed with Sean, who was nearly six years old.
John and I were thrilled when we learned in April that I was pregnant and due in December. We had already begun searching for a home to buy, and now that I was pregnant, we wanted to have a home of our own before the baby's birth. We had just started our search and happened to stumble onto a home only a couple of blocks away from my parents'. The owners were selling it without a realtor and also needed to move rather quickly. We were able to negotiate a price fairly quickly and arrange for closing on our new home right before the wedding. It was perfect for us — a small three-bedroom, one-bath house with a one-car garage. It had a small fenced backyard. John laughed at the one piece of "furniture" that the owners were going to leave for us.
"Really, Theresa? I'm a bricklayer, and we will have a fake electric fireplace in the living room!"
John and I decided to tell his parents at the rehearsal dinner about our exciting news that I was pregnant. John's mother was excited for us. Then we told John's father, Bill, who made the strangest comment.
"Dad, we wanted to tell you that Theresa is pregnant and we are going to have a baby in December," John said.
"Well, Theresa, I guess you won't have to buy tampons for quite a while now," he said very matter-of-factly. I was shocked by his comment and at a loss for words.
John just laughed off the comment, and we went back to decorating the hall for the reception.
Pink and teal bows lined the pews in church. There were beautiful arrangements of pink carnations placed near the altar. Months of preparation were soon to become a reality. A lovely spring day, a large Catholic wedding, and a gown gorgeous enough for a princess, isn't that what every girl dreams of? It was certainly my dream then. The reception hall was ready, the pictures taken, and the guests began to arrive. May 4, 1991, was going to be a wonderful day.
As I sat in the little room, the wedding march began to play, and it was time to make this one dream come true. Because this was my second marriage, I felt that my son should walk me down the aisle. My little man was entering this relationship too. Sean was excited to be a part of the wedding. He loved John and was so happy we were to become an official family.
The ceremony was beautiful, and there was an inclusion for Sean to proclaim his acceptance ofJohn and the marriage. After the ceremony, everyone had a wonderful time at the reception. John didn't want to deal with the details of the wedding, with the exception that he wanted bubbles blowing from machines onto the dance floor and a mirrored ball above. My mom and I, with the help of the wedding party, ensured every detail was complete. There were so many friends and family and lots of laughter and dancing well into the night.
On our wedding night, we stayed at a local hotel, only after going through the Dairy Queen drive-through for a cheeseburger and fries. The rest of our honeymoon, we spent moving into our new home. It was perfect for a newlywed couple wanting to expand their family.
Our lives settled into a fairly normal routine — or as normal as it could be for a newlywed couple with a child. Sean was starting kindergarten in the fall, and I was busy at work. I was employed by a local temporary employment service. I was enjoying my work interviewing and placing workers into open job positions throughout the local area, which our company had been contracted to fill. My role then expanded into sales as Kim, one of the owners, began including me in the marketing and growth plan for the business. Kim and I had become great friends, in addition to forming a dynamic sales team.
John and I were preparing the nursery. The theme was "sleepy-time bear," and my aunt made the crib bumper pads, quilt, diaper holder, and fabric wall hangings to match. My friends hosted a wonderful baby shower for me, and the owners of the company I worked for gave me a cherry-wood rocking chair. I couldn't wait to hold my newborn and use that chair. My grandmother's gift to me was a Thumbelina baby doll that had been mine when I was a little girl. Thumbelina had a string you pulled and the doll wiggled and squirmed like a newborn. Sadly my uncle pulled too hard on the string one day and it broke. Thumbelina was replaced by a different doll, but my grandmother kept Thumbelina until my shower. I opened the box, and tears streamed down my face as I removed and held that doll. What a beautiful gift from such a loving grandmother!
Sean had not seen his biological father since January 1991 and flew to California that fall for a short visit. He was going to stay for approximately one week. Just a few short days into the trip, Sean called me crying and wanted to come home. Sean was just six years old and barely remembered his stepmother and half sister. His father felt that it would be best not to continue to upset Sean and to let him fly home. By this time, Sean was calling John "Dad" and had totally accepted him as his father. Once Sean started school, he would sometimes talk of his "dad in California," as he would come to be called.
The holidays were approaching rapidly, and we were all happy and adjusted. Before Christmas, my physician restricted me from working because of water gain and swelling from the pregnancy. Though I was tired and cranky, Christmas was wonderful and full of the giving spirit. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were the hottest toys at that time, and Sean wanted nothing more than the newest "Turtle" toys. He was thrilled when he received all of the figurines and playsets. John would play with Sean and his new toys on the floor while I watched, lying on the couch with my feet and legs propped up.
My due date approached with the New Year. The morning of December 31 began with a water break ... mine. After having false labor pains for over a month, I knew this was different. After bringing Sean to my parents, we went to the hospital for what would be a very long, very hard day. Because it was a holiday, there was only a skeleton crew of medical personnel available. My labor progress was slow all morning, but I didn't have to worry about not having company. Because I was going to have my baby in a birthing room, visitors were allowed. My mother came by and became so nervous watching me in labor that she began to breathe each contraction with me. This quickly irritated me, and after a short visit, she left. John's mother and my sisters-in-law stopped by briefly, also to bring John something to eat.
The physician checked on my progress midafternoon and broke my water the rest of the way. This intensified my labor pains. The running joke that evening was whether I would have a tax deduction or the first baby of the New Year. I no longer wanted any visitors, as my labor was progressing more rapidly. By the time the doctor wanted me to push, I was completely exhausted from being in hard labor all day. After I had been pushing for nearly an hour, the nurses, doctor, and John were all coaching and intensely giving orders to push. Jarod William Ritzert was finally born at 9:40 p.m. on December 31, 1991, weighing in at eight pounds twelve ounces and twenty-one and three-fourths inches long. He would be that extra tax deduction after all. As they laid Jarod next to me in the bed, tears rolled down my face. What a beautiful baby boy! Short brown hair covered most of his head, and his face was round and full. John was emotional as he held his son, and tears fell from his eyes. Two days later, we took our beautiful baby boy home.
I returned to work in six weeks, while my mother watched Jarod during the day. Mom and David instantly became attached to Jarod. Sean was in school at this time, while John and I both worked full-time. Our evenings and weekends were busy with family outings or visiting with friends. The boys were a great joy to us. We were all very happy, staying busy with work, school, and a new baby.
John and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary. When we married, we agreed that he would plan the odd-year anniversaries and I would plan the even. John made arrangements for the boys to spend the night with our family while he recreated our wedding night. We went through the drive-through at Dairy Queen and then arrived at the hotel we had spent our wedding night in. We approached the door to our room, and John asked me to wait outside the door for a few minutes. I was beginning to wonder what was going on, as several minutes had passed, when he finally opened the door. I entered a room full of balloons and bubbles. John had turned on an electric bubble-blowing machine he created, and there were balloons on the floor, on the bed, and in the bathroom. He had champagne chilling and candles lit. The evening was very romantic, and John put a lot of effort and thought into making it wonderful.
Moving to Jasper
By July 1992, Sean's biological father had called and written several times, expressing an eagerness for John to adopt Sean. We had discussed this with Sean on a few occasions at a level that a six-year-old could understand. We told him that if he wanted John to adopt him, his last name would change from Tilk to Ritzert and that he would no longer see his father from California. Sean discussed this over the phone with his father, Mike, and then I received a letter shortly afterward. Mike and his wife expressed that they wanted to continue keeping in contact with Sean as they currently were, by means of phone calls and mail. They felt it in everyone's best interest for Sean to be adopted. They did not want Sean to feel any less of a family member because his last name was different.
"Mike, Sean understands that he is as much a family member as Jarod. Sean doesn't worry that his last name is different," I explained. "Sean knows he is loved and who his family is."
I felt that this was more of a financial issue for Mike than one of concern for Sean's best interest. There had been little to no communication between him and Sean since his last visit in the fall of 1991.
"IfJohn adopts Sean, then all communication with Sean will stop," I said to Mike. "John and I feel that Sean should be involved in this decision and that he can bring it up at any time with us. But for now, Sean doesn't want to be adopted. He wants to keep his last name and stay in touch with you."
Much to Mike and his wife's disapproval, the issue was dropped.
Over the past year, I had expanded my career into the sales portion of the employment field, while still maintaining my other job duties. With sales increasing, my employer made the decision to open a branch office in Jasper, Indiana, about an hour away from home. Since I had been instrumental in the growth of the business in that area, they offered me the manager position.
John had recently joined the bricklayers union and left his position with the local contractor. We discussed my new job opportunity, and John agreed that the move would be beneficial for us. I accepted the job promotion, and by November 1992, the new branch office was opened, but I was commuting two hours daily. We knew the commute was temporary until we could sell the house and move once Sean was out of school. We didn't want him to change schools midsession. Sean was as excited for the move as we were. He made friends easily and was not scared to move or change schools and friends.
Excerpted from "Healing Tears"
Copyright © 2017 Theresa James.
Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 — A Profession of Love, 1,
Chapter 2 — Settling In, 7,
Chapter 3 — Moving to Jasper, 12,
Chapter 4 — The Truth Session, 15,
Chapter 5 — A Fist through the Wall, 24,
Chapter 6 — Out-of-Town Assignments, 32,
Chapter 7 — Growing Tension, 41,
Chapter 8 — I Want a Divorce, 63,
Chapter 9 — Splitting Up Our Household, 67,
Chapter 10 — More Fighting, 73,
Chapter 11 — Our Florida Vacation, 89,
Chapter 12 — A Return to Harassment, 97,
Chapter 13 — Our Last Days Together, 107,
Chapter 14 — The Nightmare, 113,
Chapter 15 — Preparations, 122,
Chapter 16 — My Children's Funeral, 132,
Chapter 17 — Days of Healing, 148,
Chapter 18 — A New Beginning, 157,
Chapter 19 — Continued Struggle and Healing, 176,
Chapter 20 — The Oprah Winfrey Show, 195,
Chapter 21 — Settling John's Estate, 207,
Chapter 22 — Moving Forward, 212,
About the Author, 231,