This family spent their lives on the run from the mob, but no one was chasing

Until the age of 23, Pauline Dakin’s life never made any sense. She knew from childhood that her upbringing was acutely wrong, that her parents kept secrets from her, and that the restless, nomadic lifestyle her family led was unusual. She could never have imagined why. Her story, recently published in her personal memoir, Run Hide Repeat, is a fascinating insight into the nature of paranoia, and a life spent looking over one’s shoulder. Dakin is now a journalist and a lecturer at the University of Halifax, but her bizarre childhood and the strange discoveries she made were weirder than any story she ever covered in her career.

It all began when Dakin was five, and her parents, Warren and Ruth, separated. Warren was allegedly a violent alcoholic, and thus Ruth retained full custody of the kids. She took Pauline and her brother Ted away with her, and they moved to Winnipeg, and later to Saint John, New Brunswick. Her mother never told them why they were moving so erratically: “There was no opportunity to say goodbye, it was just this abrupt, severing of relationships,” Pauline states. “She would only say, ‘I’m sorry, I can’t tell you, when you’re older I will tell you.'”

Every time the three of them were almost settled, Ruth would force them to move again. By the time Pauline was 11 years old, she’d had the distinction of attending six different schools in four year. She completely lost touch with her father. “I knew something bad was happening. I didn’t know what it was, but there was always a sense of something dire that was unspoken … My brother and I would talk about ‘what do you think it is?’ A couple of times we had moved away without telling anybody and turned up thousands of kilometres away and picked up the pieces again,” Pauline explains.

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Although outwardly content with her family’s strange, itinerant existence, Pauline was inwardly troubled and depressed. She had no sense of home or belonging as a result of her mother’s continual roaming. The only constant in their lives appeared to be church minister Stan Sears, who moved with them wherever they moved. It turned out that Ruth Dakin was actually in a relationship with Sears, who she met when he was working as a counsellor at a support group for the family members of alcoholics. Stan became something of a foster father to the two children, and eventually moved in with them. But even his care and affection couldn’t rid them of their disaffection and angst.

Pauline developed anxiety and depression. She suffered from panic attacks as a result of the fear and suspicion that ruled over their lives. On one occasion, she came home to discover that Stan and her mother had thrown out all the food in the refrigerator, explaining that it had all gone bad. But they were even throwing out condiments like ketchup and mustard, and chucking the table salt. Another time, the family decided to take an abrupt hiking excursion in the middle of the school week and stayed in a mountain cabin overnight for no reason. Pauline and her brother had once come home from school and been forced to wash their feet and wear plastic bags over their socks for the rest of the day. The explanations were always vague and inadequate.

When Pauline was 23, her mother decided to come clean and tell the truth about why they moved around so much – about why things had been getting stranger and stranger. Meeting her at an isolated motel, Ruth told her that Stan was on the run from the mob, who had sent out numerous highly-trained assassins to try to kill him and his family. This was why they moved around the country, and why they were terrified of being poisoned. It made sense and explained so much of their strange family history, even if it did shock her to her core.

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Stan told Pauline that he had once counselled a mafia kingpin who wanted to go straight. But when this family learned that he was planning on leaving his criminal life, they had him killed, and decided that Stan knew too much. When Stan began a relationship with Ruth, the mobsters decided that she and her children were fair targets too. Stan had secretly entered into witness protection, and thereby passed through the threshold into a shadowy and clandestine state of being which he dubbed the “Weird World”.

In the weird world, you were never completely certain who was your friend and who was your ally. Everyone was a potential hitman or law enforcement agent. As a man on the run, there were secret communities for people like Stan. These were towns or villages where those who’d been targeted by the mafia could go into protective custody, one of which he referred to as the “Place of Hope”. Stan had even placed a small transmitter on Pauline’s car, so that the “good guys” could follow her and ensure she was safe, as well as a transistor radio so that Pauline could send a call for help if she felt threatened.

Pauline soon felt powerless and terrified, and her mental health worsened as a result of finding that people had been tracking her her whole life. She struggled to make friends, assumed that her phone had been bugged and planned exit strategies whenever she found herself somewhere new. The secret agents seemed to be all-present and all-knowing. They were even capable of killing people, and replacing them with perfect doppelgängers.

These doubles, Stan claimed, carefully studied home videos to learn their targets’ mannerisms, and employed plastic surgeons and make-up artists to disguise themselves. Pauline and her mother would receive letters from those outside the bubble of the Weird World from time to time: people they had left behind, like her father and godfather. But it all seemed so over-elaborate. Pauline was at war with herself, and she was starting to notice inconsistencies.

After a period of turmoil, Pauline decided she needed concrete proof that the Weird World existed. She lied to her mother and Stan, telling her that someone had tried to break into her house. They told her that the made-up burglars had been picked up coming out of her house by the “good guys”. Dakin was devastated. All the years she’d spent moving from place to place, all the fear she’d struggled with, all the sleepless nights… It had all been for nothing. She’d never been in any danger at all. Stan wasn’t on the run. He was insane, and suffered from an all-encompassing paranoid delusion, one that was so intricate and deep-seated that it was impossible to convince him otherwise.

In a sad case of folie a deux, it seemed that Ruth now shared her partner’s delusion. No matter how hard Pauline argued, she couldn’t make her mother understand that Stan was lying to her, and the two women didn’t properly reconcile until much later. Even on her deathbed, Ruth was convinced Stan was telling the truth. Stan’s psychosis never abated.

 

“It was difficult to forgive Stan,” Pauline stated in a recent interview. “I was angry with him for a long time until I discovered that he’d suffered from a medical condition called delusional disorder. Once I realised he hadn’t meant to manipulate or deceive us it was like a weight falling off. Forgiveness is really freedom. For some time I also struggled to forgive myself for believing Stan’s story. But as an old friend said to me recently, I chose to believe people I loved and trusted, leading with my heart instead of my head.” However, she also added: “I feel very sad for my mother … She had such a difficult life and she was vulnerable to Stan, mostly because he was a gentle, caring guy – too bad he had this terrible delusion. But I also feel sad for myself and my brother – two little kids whose lives were hijacked.”

As unhappy as many of Pauline’s experiences were, it’s incredibly brave of her to have the guts to share her story with the world, and at least now she has managed to find a way to break through the lies and live her life without fear.