On November 9, 1971, John List killed his wife, his mother, and his three children. Then he made a sandwich, drove to the bank, and disappeared for 18 years.
John List looked like the ideal son, husband, and parent. He worked hard as a bank accountant to help support his family. He lived with his mother, wife, and three children in a 19-room mansion in New Jersey. The house had a ballroom, marble fireplaces, and a Tiffany skylight.
In 1965, List and his family were living the American dream. They were devout Lutherans, so they went to church every Sunday, and List taught Sunday school. At first glance, everything looked great.
John List an Accountant And Mass Murderer
John List lost his job at the bank when he was 46 years old, in 1971. Subsequent jobs didn’t pan out. He couldn’t bring himself to tell his family that he had lost his job.
So, he spent his days at the train station, reading the newspaper and stealing money from his mother’s bank accounts to pay the mortgage. He didn’t want to go on welfare because it would make him look bad in the community and go against the self-sufficiency lessons he learned from his father.
It’s hard to believe that the solution he came up with would have made his father happier, but John List would later say that killing his mother, wife, and children was the only thing that made sense to him.
John List shot and killed his wife Helen, his daughter Patricia, who was 16, his son John, who was 15, his son Frederick, who was 13, and his mother Alma, who was 85.
One by one, they were shot with care. She came first. List sent the kids to school and then shot her as she drank her usual morning coffee in the kitchen. He then went to the third floor and killed his mother while she was sleeping in her bed.
When Patricia came home from school, he killed her. Then he killed the youngest son, Frederick. He made himself a sandwich, closed his bank accounts, and went to John’s high school soccer game to cheer for him. John was the only son he had left. He drove him home, and when they got there, he shot him in the chest.
John List put his family’s bodies on sleeping bags in the ballroom and then wrote a note to his pastor, who he thought would understand. He was afraid that his family would turn away from God because the world was so bad and poor. This was the only way to make sure they would get to heaven safely.
He didn’t want to face the real-world consequences of what he did, though. In order to confuse the police, he cleaned up the crime scenes and cut himself out of every picture in the mansion.
He stopped all deliveries and told the teachers at his kids’ schools that the family would be gone for a few weeks. He turned on the lights and radio and left religious songs playing in the empty rooms of the house.
He spent the night in the mansion where his family was dead. The next morning, he walked out the door and wasn’t seen again for 18 years.
A month went by before the List mansion’s neighbours started to think something was wrong because the lights were always on and the windows were all shut.
When police went into the house in Westfield, New Jersey, on December 7, 1971, they could hear organ music coming from the intercom system. They also found a five-page note from John List that said the bloody bodies on the floor of the ballroom were those of his family members who had been killed out of kindness. He saved the souls of people he cared about.
The FBI found his car parked at New York City’s Kennedy International Airport, but they never did find him. The trail ran out of steam.
18 Years Later
18 years later, it’s 1989. The prosecutors in New Jersey had come up with a plan.
Frank Bender, a skilled forensic artist, made a bust of John List as Bender thought he might have aged. Bender gave him a hawk nose, bushy eyebrows, and glasses with horned edges. Psychologists thought that List wore the same glasses he wore when he was younger to remind himself of better times.
It was a brilliant way to show who John List was. On May 21, 1989, when America’s Most Wanted told the story of the John List killings, 22 million people saw Frank Bender’s sculpture. Tips came in a lot.
A woman in Richmond, Virginia, told police that her next-door neighbour, Robert Clark, looked a lot like the bust. The person who told her said that her neighbour also worked as an accountant and went to church.
The police went to Clark’s house and talked to his wife, whom he had met at a church event. The 18-year-old mystery was solved by what she said.
List had moved to Colorado under the name Robert Clark, but it turned out that he had changed his name. The fake name worked, and when he moved to Richmond, he kept using it.
Trial of John List
John List was caught by police in Virginia on June 1, 1989. This was just nine days after his case was shown on America’s Most Wanted.
At his trial in 1990, lawyers for the defence said that List had PTSD from his time in the military in World War II and Korea. Expert psychologists thought instead that List was going through a midlife crisis, which, as the prosecution pointed out, was not an excuse for killing five innocent people.
A judge gave John List five life sentences in a New Jersey prison after a jury found him guilty.
List told Connie Chung in an interview in 2002 that he didn’t kill himself after killing his own family because he thought that would keep him from going to heaven. List only wanted to see his wife, mother, and kids again in the afterlife, where he thought there would be no more pain or suffering.
In 2008, John List, who was 82 years old, died in prison.
A few months after the murders, John List and his family’s mansion in New Jersey burned down. The fire’s cause was never found, and years later, a new house was built on the same land.
People in Westfield still can’t get over the murders. In an interview with a reporter in New Jersey in 2008, parents said that their children won’t walk by that house and don’t even want to live on the same street.
Who could be mad at them?