While a court of law determined in 2008 that he made up the whole thing, John “Homer” Van Meter continues to stand by his story. And a new book written by the longtime Rhinelander man sheds additional light on the controversial case.
Van Meter received statewide media attention in April 2006 after reporting five gunshot wounds he said he received while logging in a rural area near the Lincoln/Oneida county line. He alleged that two men in a black SUV opened fire on him, engaging in a drawn-out gun battle covering several wooded miles.
Van Meter was later rescued by a passerby, weakened and, he said, close to death.
“I know I would have died in the woods that day had he not been driving on that rural road,” said Van Meter. “They almost finished me off.”
At the initial point of the investigation, Van Meter told investigators he did not recognize his attackers. He later changed his story, saying he had been in a shoot out involving the same two men a year prior in Sonoma County, Calif.
“Biggest mistake I ever made,” said Van Meter of his decision to inform authorities of the prior California shoot out. “I could tell they were skeptical at the beginning, and they didn’t believe me at all after I told them I knew who the men were. I lied to them, because I didn’t want what happened in California to come back and haunt me. It didn’t matter. The authorities were no longer on my side.”
Van Meter gives his account of the shoot out, and the previous incident in California that he said led to it, in his newly-published book, The Dreaming Time: Anatomy of a Cover-Up.
The irony of the book’s title is not lost on Van Meter, especially since investigators ultimately ruled that he “dreamed up” the forest gunfight, inflicting the gunshot wounds on himself in the process. However, the title paints an entirely different picture, alluding to a quote from the Franklin Russell book, The Hunting Animal, pointing out that the time when a man is hunting (or being hunted) is “really the only time that he is fully alive.” The rest of his time, the book says, is “the dreaming time”.
“I felt the quote was appropriate, because I don’t think my mind has ever been more clear than it was during these two ordeals,” said Van Meter. “I know what happened. It was during the time that followed, and the fraudulent investigation, that things became unclear.”
Van Meter explained his belief that he was targeted by these two men in retaliation for the casualties Van Meter himself took in the October 2004 incident. He recalled happening upon a scene he found “extremely disturbing,” a Satanic cult sexually assaulting a young woman and preparing her to be sacrificed. Rather than call the authorities, Van Meter said he felt a personal obligation to stop this “insult on humanity,” and he opened fire on the group with his handgun. While Van Meter says he sustained four gunshot wounds in the ordeal, he inflicted much more damage, killing five men and wounding three more, while enabling the kidnapped woman to escape. He is convinced that two of the three men he wounded drove to northern Wisconsin in April 2006 for retribution.
Van Meter considers himself a realist, and he knows that his story sounds farfetched, to say the least. In 2008, he was found guilty of filing a false police report and obstructing an officer, receiving a sentence of one year probation. He did have at least one high profile supporter, though, in former FBI bureau chief Ted Gunderson. Gunderson, who Van Meter described as a good friend is most famous for handling the investigations of Marilyn Monroe’s suicide and President John F. Kennedy’s assassination during his storied FBI career. With Gunderson’s assistance, Van Meter conducted months of follow-up investigation that, he said, proves his story “beyond the shadow of any doubt.” The details of that investigation, and Van Meter’s current leads that indicate that the cult he happened upon in California in 2004 has additional
links to organized crime, are alluded to in the book.
Gunderson was so sure of Van Meter’s story that he wrote the forward of the book, including the following passage:
“Criminal history is littered with the broken lives and reputations of men who were wrongfully persecuted for doing the right thing. One such man is John ‘Homer’ Van Meter, who had the intelligent audacity to defy the questionable conduct of police investigators in two states, and suffered unconscionable prosecution in his effort to protect the lives and welfare of other innocent people involved in a dangerous situation.”
In the years that have followed the incident, fate hasn’t necessarily been kind to Van Meter. In February 2010, the Town of Newbold home he shared with his wife, retired teacher Darlene Machtan, was lost in a house fire. Van Meter suffered severe burns in an attempt to save the couple’s pet dogs (two of their three perished), and spent several weeks in the burn ward of a Duluth, Minn. hospital. Van Meter has fully recovered from his burns, and is once again logging.
“I think I’ll likely work until I drop dead,” said Van Meter. “I love being outside in nature, and working with my hands. It’s where I belong.”
Van Meter has also always been a writer, as The Dreaming Time is actually his eighth novel-length manuscript. His seven previous books are, he explained, a mix of realism and imaginative fiction, many telling vivid but violent stories.
They are a bit reminiscent of Van Meter’s namesake, Homer V. Van Meter, who was a childhood friend and sidekick of notorious gangster John Dillinger. Homer V. Van Meter, a cousin of John “Homer” Van Meter’s father, was part of Dillenger’s gang infamous for their year-long crime spree and violent gun battles with police. Homer V. Van Meter was killed by police in an August, 1934 gun battle at 27 years old.
“I don’t know if it was because I liked to shoot or what, but I got the nickname when I was a little kid, and I hated it for years,” Van Meter admitted. “I guess it eventually grew on me. It’s how everyone around here knows me, now.”
Van Meter knows that, regardless of the hit his character and reputation have taken throughout recent years, he did the right thing in California in 2004, and that he is telling the truth about paying the price for it in his 2006 gun battle. He also said that, if he could go back and do it over, the story would play out generally the same.
“It comes down to doing what you feel is right or running away, and I feel justified in the path I chose,” said Van Meter.
“I didn’t ask for it, but I believe it happened for a reason.