Sunday, December 9, 2007


I'll be signing copies of My Father Was a Gangster: The Jim Vaus Story in two locations this week:

  • Tuesday, December 11, 7 pm, at the Highland County Public Library in Monterey, Virginia.
  • Saturday, December 15, 1-3 pm, at Barnes & Noble Booksellers in Harrisonburg, Virginia.

Friday, November 2, 2007

The Book Is Here!

My Father Was a Gangster: The Jim Vaus Story is now in print! As any author can tell you, the most exciting moment in the process of writing a book is seeing it in print, between two covers, for the first time. And that moment was no less exciting with my second book.

The quality of the printing of the book itself--photos, text and cover--is top notch. My hat is off to Believe Books--and when you see the front cover you will know that hat is a fedora!

You can order your copy today from Amazon, Believe Books, CBD or your favorite bookstore. If you would like a signed copy send a $20 check to:

Will Vaus Ministries
P. O. Box 581
Monterey VA 24465

and be sure to write "Gangster Book" in the memo!

Friday, September 21, 2007

Luis Palau Endorsement

Just in--this endorsement from Luis Palau for My Father Was a Gangster:

Jim Vaus’ story of crime and salvation is a glorious testimony to the redemptive power of Christ. As told by his son Will, Jim’s journey from rebellious youth to wiretapper to servant of God seems a drama straight from a Hollywood script. Jim Vaus left a legacy of service to his Lord and love for his family that is both compelling and inspiring.

Luis Palau, President
Luis Palau Evangelistic Association

Saturday, August 11, 2007


My Father Was a Gangster: The Jim Vaus Story is now available for pre-order from your local bookstore or:
Christian Book Distributor
Faith Works Online

Here is a brief description of the book from one of the online booksellers:

One of the most fascinating conversion stories of the 20th century, My Father Was a Gangster tells the dramatic life story of Jim Vaus, the former associate of crime syndicate boss Mickey Cohen. Rarely, if ever, has there been another story of a gangster who turned so radically from a life of organized crime to a life focused on leading others to Christ. In this book, son Will Vaus tells the inside story of his father’s nefarious life in the syndicate and describes how close his father came to being caught for devising a scheme that was later said to have been the inspiration for the movie, The Sting. Just before carrying out his plan, Jim Vaus was persuaded to drop into the famous Billy Graham tent meetings taking place in Los Angeles in 1949, and almost against his own will, found himself compelled to “walk the sawdust trail” to the front of the gathering and along with hundreds of others, give his life to Christ. The author then describes the dramatic transformation that took place in his father’s life as he makes amends for his many wrongs and sets his course on a new life that is honoring to God and that brings many others into the Kingdom. This story has been recounted in Time Magazine, Life Magazine and Reader’s Digest and was chronicled in a motion picture, The Wiretapper. Now it is told from a son’s perspective, a son who watched his father go on to live an exemplary life, dedicated to saving others from falling victim to the life of crime that had sought to destroy him.

Release date: November 10, 2007

Interestingly enough, the release date of November 10 was a very important date in my father's life. But you will have to wait for the book to learn more about that . . .

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Believe Books

Those who don't work in the publishing field might be surprised to know how little publishers and authors see of each other face to face. So much work is accomplished through the Internet these days that in-person meetings are no longer required to see a book through from contract to publication.

That being said, I had the special privilege of meeting the president of Believe Books, Dianne Haskett, last week in Washington, D. C. We discussed many exciting aspects of promotion for my forthcoming book, most of which I cannot share here. But the big news I can divulge is that the target date for publication is November 2007! Significantly, this book will be published around the time of what would have been my parents' 60th wedding anniversary, and the publication will coincide with the 58th anniversary of my father's life-changing decision on November 6, 1949.

I think Dianne and I both felt God's hand on this project as we sat together overlooking Washington and the capitol dome and as we prayed for the Lord to use this book to touch many lives with the love of Christ.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Mystery Photo

When I began searching for a photo of my father to use on the cover of the book, I came across this one. At the time, I had no idea where the photo had been taken. Then, by the miracle of the Internet, I discovered that this was an Associated Press photo. In paying for the right to use this photo on the cover of the book I also received this caption:


Suddenly I realized what had been a mystery photo was actually documentation of one of the greatest turning points in my father's life. More on that in the book . . .

Saturday, June 30, 2007

One Life Touched . . .

Jeannette Clift George, that wonderful actress who was nominated for a Golden Globe award for her performance as Corrie ten Boom in The Hiding Place, has written a delightful endorsement of My Father Was a Gangster: The Jim Vaus Story. . . .

"Like a giant sized Peter Pan, the memory of Jim Vaus will joyfully shadow the future. I am delighted that there is to be a new book about him. I recommend it as the continuing of his work, his echoing story deserves this generation’s full attention. The time I spent with Jim was short but its effect on my life will be long lasting. I first met him when he spoke to a group of Christians active in the business of New York City Theater. He was a champion of Godly newness and our stumbling beginnings responded to the certainty of this wise man who dared to begin and accomplish a new ministry. That ministry would shake up the world’s acceptance of the tawdriness of misguided young people and offer instead the surprising validity of hope. I returned to Houston to work as an actress in the Alley Theater and started a small group Bible study within Houston’s theater community. I asked Jim to come to Houston to speak to a gathering of that group in my home and invited a few guests. Jim’s name and the impact of his work brought a crowd to my house that immediately out distanced the amount of food I had prepared. Jim joined me in the kitchen and laughed at my dilemma as I divided the considered portions and literally watered the cups of soup. My living room was crowded and no comfortable chair was left for our guest of honor. He perched awkwardly on the arm of an undersized sofa and spoke to a wide-eyed group of under fed guests who never noticed the scant service in the midst of the wonderment of Jim’s abundant words. Later I realized how appropriate that evening was. Jim was seldom confined within the expectations of the ordinary and much of his work was spent in undersized accommodations serving those whom society had underfed. God had a special place for Jim. No other ministry served as Jim’s did and in a manner seldom equaled, Jim did not require agreement or fellowship; with or without it . . . he served in obedience to God . . . and that ministering service had and still has performance.

"Many years have passed since that season of my life. I have become the Artistic Director of a Christian Theater that began at a time when I knew no similar ministry offering the pattern of fellowship and scant recognition of its purpose. Now, in our 40th season I see my work as an outcropping of what I learned from Jim: when God calls unto a new ministry we dare not wait for the future to catch up with us. God had a word for Jim: authenticity. I am grateful for the men and women who have illustrated that word in my life. It is a demanding word. Jim was authentic in his faith, authentic in his friendship, authentic in his love for his family, authentic in his humor, authentic in his sorrows and authentic in his joy. That authenticity defined his ministry and reflected the One absolute God in Whom we can trust absolutely."

Jeannette Clift George

Founder & Artistic Director

A.D. Players

Houston, Texas

Friday, June 22, 2007

Remembering Ruth Graham

I am ever so grateful for Ruth Graham. Without a woman like that, who let her husband Billy roam the earth preaching the Gospel, someone like my father might never have committed his life to follow Jesus Christ.

The blessing of being with Ruth only came to me a few times. Back in 1986 I served as a summer intern at her home church in Montreat, North Carolina. Ruth was gracious enough to take time out of her busy life to encourage a young man preparing for Christian ministry. The first time we chatted together was in the car on the way back home from her hair-dresser! We got to talking about our beloved Presbyterian Church. For all of its faults she felt it was important to remain active in the church and thereby try to make it better. Her father, of course, was a medical missionary to China. Growing up on the mission field Ruth never lost that sense of being a missionary in all situations--even being a missionary to her own church.

On another occasion Ruth invited me to her mountain-top, log cabin home for dinner, along with a small group of people from the church. I don't remember all we talked about that night. But I do remember the meal was delicious and Ruth showed far more interest in everyone else at the table than we did in her. She was asking too many questions to let any of us ask her questions about herself. She obviously lived by Paul's maxim: "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves" (Philippians 2:3).

On yet another occasion I had the privilege of sitting with Mr. and Mrs. Graham on their porch, overlooking the beautiful North Carolina mountains. We chatted about so many topics I don't remember them all. And Billy showed that same interest in me that Ruth had. It was very hard for me to get in the questions I wanted to ask him. I especially enjoyed watching how Ruth entered into the conversation. She wasn't afraid to disagree with her husband or make her opinion known on certain topics!

Ruth was also a woman who displayed great compassion towards others. When Ruth heard about my father falling and breaking his hip, back in 1997, she immediately wrote a telegram to let him know that she and Billy would be praying for him.

Later that same year she wrote a delightful letter to my parents congratulating them on their fiftieth wedding anniversary:

"Dear Jim and Alice,

"You are one of the happiest memories we have of the Los Angeles crusade. God did incredible things at Washington and Hill. (To this day I love the smell of sawdust.)

"One of the neat stories I remember was told me by the little night watchman who slept under the platform. One night he heard someone stumbling around among folding chairs and when he called out, 'Who goes there?', the voice replied, 'I just came back to find Jesus.' So the little night watchman led him to Christ.

"God certainly has had His hand on your lives and the lives of your three sons. What an incredible ministry you have had and are now having as people see how a Christian handles Parkinsons. Bill does not shake much but he does have some hilarious memory lapses.

"Did I ever tell you the day after Daddy was buried the family was gathered around Mother in their home when the phone rang. I answered it. It was Mickey Cohen on the other end of the line. He simply said, 'Please give your mother my darndest condolences.' I loved it. And God certainly gave her 'His darndest condolences.'

"Have a happy celebration together. It has been a blessing just to count you among our dearest friends.

"Our love to you both

Ruth (for Bill too)"

Now, I am sure, the angels in heaven are having a celebration of Ruth's homecoming. But we who are left behind here on earth will certainly miss her, until we too get to go home.

My thoughts and prayers, alike with the thoughts and prayers of many around the world, are with the Graham family at this time, and especially with Billy. May the Lord comfort them all as only He can.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

More Stuff

Here is another bit of memorabilia . . . a creative invitation to one of my father's speaking engagements back in the 1950's. And here's the flip side . . .

During the past few days I have been selecting photographs for the inside of the book. There is no final decision yet about how many photos will be included. Narrowing the choices down to a manageable size has been a Herculean effort. I have hundreds if not thousands of photos of my father's life tucked away in the nooks and crannies of my house. Consequently I have far fewer nooks and crannies. Perhaps in some upcoming blogs I will share some photos that may not make it into the book. . .

Saturday, June 2, 2007


No, this is not a photograph of my typewriter. It was the typewriter belonging to Sheldon Vanauken, one of my favorite authors. It is, in fact, the machine on which he typed his bestselling book, A Severe Mercy.

I can't imagine writing a book on a typewriter, let alone writing a book in long-hand. I have seen the manuscript of A Severe Mercy. It was quite a sight to behold. The typing looked much like the typed letters I received from Vanauken during the last year of his life--with his neatly penned notes to himself, or to his editor, in the margins. I think Van liked writing on his typewriter. Whereas C. S. Lewis liked writing with pen and ink. By this method he penned six or seven words at a time, then he had a moment to think about what he was writing and craft his next phrase while dipping the pen in the ink again. Well, I'm sure I'll never be as good a writer as C. S. Lewis, partly because I will never use that method of writing.

I like my computer. I like word processing programs. It took my father many years to convince me of the value of computers; I'm rather a stick-in-the-mud for a man of my era. It takes me a while to latch on to new-fangled things and ideas, if ever I do. But now I like computers. Lewis thought the sound of a typewriter was distracting to the mind of the writer. To me it becomes helpful background noise. I don't even think about the sound, except for right now while I am writing about it!

One reason I really can't imagine writing a book on a typewriter, or by the pen and ink method, is because of all the work that goes into editing. I guess if you are a genius like C. S. Lewis you don't have to worry about that. I have read that he seldom made corrections once he set pen to paper. If you are looking for evidence of this you might want to view his original manuscript of The Screwtape Letters at The New York Public Library. For my part, I am quite happy to edit my writing with a word processor; being able to cut and paste so easily is a heaven-sent gift for a writer.

All that to say, I haven't written any blogs recently because I have been working on editing My Father Was a Gangster. The book is coming along well, shaping up nicely with the help of my editor at Believe Books, and hopefully it will be in print later this year. I'll keep you posted on that. . . .

Saturday, May 26, 2007

And Another

My Father Was a Gangster: The Jim Vaus Story is a powerful reminder of how God reaches into the lives of the most unlikely people, redeems them from a destructive way of life and makes them powerful instruments of His Gospel in ministry. It is refreshing to see the story told again by Will Vaus, Jim’s son.

I remember well the first biography and the subsequent movie, The Wiretapper. As it touched my life then, so I trust this story will touch many lives today.

John Guest
Senior Pastor
Christ Church at Grove Farm
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Monday, May 21, 2007

Another Endorsement

Here is a new endorsement of the book which I just received today. . . .

"My Father Was a Gangster: The Jim Vaus Story is an intriguing narrative of one of the most colorful, most complex and most fascinating characters of recent times. Written by his son, Will, the book illustrates vividly how the transforming power of faith in Christ can dramatically change the life of the most seasoned criminal. The reader will find it difficult to put the book down."

Armand M. Nicholi, Jr. M. D.
Professor of Psychiatry
Harvard Medical School
Author of The Question of God

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Destroying Evidence?

My mother just sent me the above-pictured newspaper article. It is taken from the Los Angeles Mirror (May 6, 1949). The caption under the photo reads:

Apparent attempt to destroy evidence.

This was just one of many times my father, Jim Vaus, appeared in the newspapers in connection with his boss, Mickey Cohen. The apparent attempt to destroy evidence was actually faked by my father. The reason: Cohen was trying to frame a police officer by the name of E. V. Jackson, who was causing his "pal", Harry Meltzer, trouble. The outcome of this whole mess was an interesting one. The rest of the story will be told . . . you guessed it . . . in my forthcoming book!

Saturday, May 12, 2007


I often come across interesting memorabilia related to my father, Jim Vaus, on the Internet. I think the poster above was recently being auctioned on e-bay. It is an advertisement for a speaking engagement in Chicago on July 27, 1952--immediately following the Republican and Democratic National Conventions that same year, also in Chicago. In light of the relatively placid time in America's history ushered in with the election of Eisenhower in 1952, the question posed by the poster: "Are we electing our last president?" seems rather ironic.

But this poster reminded me once again of the amazing power of God which led my father from criminal pardon by a president (Truman) to speaking about Christ at the Chicago Convention Campaign to over 10,000 people in just a matter of a few years. Of course there will be more of an explanation of how that happened in my forthcoming book. . . .

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Mickey As I Knew Him

Here is a photo (by Russ Busby) of Mickey Cohen as I knew him in the early 1970's along with my mother. As you can tell from the photo, Mickey always wore very traditional suits. One funny incident took place the day Mickey joined us on our boat, along with actress Lita Baron. Ms. Baron had talked Mickey into wearing white (something he never did) since she thought it would be appropriate for a day out on the Pacific Ocean. Mickey's all-white outfit included new white shoes. While Mickey was on the boat he kicked his shoes off, his feet swelled, and so he couldn't get the shoes back on. Mickey, being somewhat disabled at that time in his life, had to be lifted up and carried off our boat!

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Flamboyant Five-Five Fireplug

Mickey Cohen ran a Hollywood haberdashery as his front business, and he looked like it. At one time Cohen had 200 suits, each tailor-made at $300 a piece. But the haberdashery was just a front for Mickey's real business--a bookmaking enterprise he inherited from Bugsey Siegel. And that inheritance did not come without a fight. Siegel's death led to what was known as the Battle of Sunset Strip. And that is where my father came into the picture. But to learn more about that you will have to wait for the book to come out. . . .

Friday, May 4, 2007

The Hat

My father worked for the infamous Hollywood gangster, Mickey Cohen, during the late 1940's. Despite the fact that my father quit organized crime in 1949 he and Cohen remained friends. Thus it was that when Cohen got out of jail in 1972 I got to meet him and spend time with him on a number of occasions. Cohen was the epitomy of respectability around women and children. In fact, he gave me a signed photograph addressed to "my little buddy Billy". And around the same time, he gave me the hat pictured above. Mickey had it made especially for me by Joy Lord Hatter of New York, with my name inscribed. Perhaps in a future blog I'll share a photo of Mickey in his own famed fedora.

Monday, April 30, 2007

A Word from England

Several weeks ago I had an e-mail from someone in England asking about my father. This person had just seen the movie about my father's life, Wiretapper, at a local vintage film show. When this person told me Maurice Rowlandson was the person showing the film I said, "I recognize that name!"

Maurice Rowlandson worked for Billy Graham in England for many years and so I decided to e-mail Mr. Rowlandson and let him know that "the son of the wiretapper" was alive and kicking. He graciously wrote back to me and a brief correspondence has ensued. In the midst of that correspondence I sent Mr. Rowlandson a photo in my possession, a photo of my father taken in England during evangelistic meetings he held there in the 1950's. Mr. Rowlandson immediately wrote back and was able to tell me the exact location and exact date when the photo was taken. Needless to say, Maurice Rowlandson is a man with a wealth of knowledge who must either have an incredible filing system, memory, or both!

Mr. Rowlandson has read my forthcoming book, My Father Was a Gangster: The Jim Vaus Story, in manuscript, given some very helpful suggestions, and written the following wonderful endorsement:

"I first heard of Jim Vaus shortly after Billy Graham's first Los Angeles Crusade in 1949. It was therefore quite remarkable that I was the one to be selected to organise a programme for him in the British Isles. At the time I was working with the British Evangelical Alliance, and my friend George Wilson (who had been business Manager at Northwestern College when I was there in 1948/9) had asked me to do this.

"We had a remarkable time with Jim and his wife as we took them to church after church where, time and again, he told the story of his conversion. More importantly (for me) he brought with him one of the tiny 'bugging' microphones which he had removed from Mickey Cohen's house, and when he left England, he left it with me. I still have it - and it is a prized possession.

"To me it seemed inevitable that Jim would devote his life to Christian service - and so it was. It was not long before I heard the story of what he was doing and, as a result, he remained on my prayer list for the rest of his life.

"God has many trophies as He works through the proclamation of His word. Through the ministry of Billy Graham in the Los Angeles tent, Jim was one of them. Surely his welcome into heaven must have been accommpanied by the angel choir singing 'Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Lord!'"

April 2007

Thursday, April 26, 2007

What Others Are Saying . . .

Here I am with my friend and fellow evangelist, Steve Russo, way back in 1991 in Palm Springs, California. Steve has graciously written the following endorsement for my forthcoming book:

The story of Jim Vaus needs to be read and shared by this generation. He is a tremendous example of a man who had a dramatic encounter with the living God and whose story has impacted countless lives. Take time to read it, absorb it, and share it.

Steve Russo
International Communicator,
Best-selling Author
Host of the syndicated daily radio program Real Answers

Tuesday, April 24, 2007


The picture above is of me with Leighton Ford in about 1991 or 92. Need I say I was at least 15 years younger and looking a bit thinner then? I'm sure Leighton looks just as good today as he did in this photo.

At any rate, here is the Foreword to my forthcoming book, written by Leighton Ford, brother-in-law of Billy Graham:

It was the fall of 1949 when I first heard the name of Jim Vaus. That September I had enrolled at Wheaton College at the recommendation of Billy Graham who had spoken at a youth rally in Canada that I was leading and told me about his alma mater.

One of the first Sundays at college I went with friends eagerly to hear Billy preach at the church he pastored in Western Springs, Illinois. That Sunday night he left for Los Angeles to begin the evangelistic campaign that would make him first a local, then a national, then an internationally-known evangelist.

The headlines of his extended preaching in Los Angeles excited me and the other young aspiring preachers at Wheaton. We were intrigued not just at the crowds, but the “name” figures who gave their lives to Christ then—the cowboy singer Stuart Hamblen, the Olympic runner and war hero Lou Zamperini, and, most unusual of all, a wiretapper for the gangster Mickey Cohen named Jim Vaus.

Jim was only the name of a kind of “celebrity” then. Later I came to know him as he became a man of God, a lover of young people, a devoted father, a man marked by God’s grace.

Sometimes one who has been dramatically converted is described as a “trophy of grace.” Does that conjure up the image of a glass-covered cabinet in heaven where Jesus proudly displays the “trophies” he has won? Hardly.

What matters to the Lord (and should to us) is when someone who has come to faith in Christ, famous or ordinary, becomes a “letter from Christ”, to use Paul’s metaphor—one in whom the marks of Christ are seen.

Jim Vaus, as I came to know him, was such a “letter.”

He was a good-sized letter, a big, towering giant of a man who also exuded the loving gentleness of his Lord.

He was a fun-loving letter. My wife Jeanie and I learned how he loved practical jokes when at our wedding (where her brother Billy officiated) Jim hinted that as a reformed wiretapper he was going to use his skills to “bug” our honeymoon hotel!

Most of all, he was a God-loving and people-loving letter. After his conversion Jim became a kind of evangelical “celebrity”, traveling from city to city to give his testimony. But that was not enough.

He became a letter from Christ to gang members in the heart of New York City, moving into the ghetto to reach hard-core youngsters, sharing with them in word and deed and presence the love of Christ that changed his life.

And Jim was a long-lasting letter to those in his family who knew him best. His son Will was also called to ministry, and it was my joy to have Will associated for a time with our own ministry of evangelism and leadership training. Will is a second-generation letter from Christ.

So Jim was, and is still in heaven, a letter worth God’s writing. And this book is worth your reading. It is a story that needs to be told, remembered, and one that leads us to praise the God of grace who met Jim Vaus in that canvas cathedral in Los Angeles, and is still ready to enter and transform lives today.

Leighton Ford
Leighton Ford Ministries
Charlotte, North Carolina

Sunday, April 22, 2007

The Cover

Here is a brief description of my next book, soon to be published by Believe Books:

One of the most fascinating conversion stories of the 20th century, My Father Was a Gangster tells the dramatic life story of Jim Vaus, former associate of crime syndicate boss Mickey Cohen. In this book, son Will Vaus tells the inside story of his father’s nefarious activities in organized crime and describes how close his father came to losing his life in a “Sting” operation. The author then describes the dramatic transformation that took place in his father’s life as a result of attending the 1949 Billy Graham meetings in Los Angeles.

This story has been recounted in Time, Life and Reader’s Digest, and was chronicled in a motion picture, The Wiretapper. Now it is told from a son’s perspective, a son who watched his father reach juvenile delinquents across America with the same message of hope that changed his own life.