It’s amazing what kind of secrets a person can harbor from those around them. While presenting an exterior that looks no different from anyone else, there are those among us who hide their true monstrous nature.
On a fateful November day, a quiet and banal community would learn this lesson the hard way…Regret…
The Lists were an unremarkable family. John, the son of devout Lutherans, joined the US Army and served as a laboratory technician during World War II. After the war, he earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration and a master’s degree in accounting.
When List was recalled to service during the Korean War, he met a woman named Helen. She was the widow of an infantry officer that had recently been killed in action. The two began a relationship and were married just about one year after they’d met…
After List’s second tour with the Army ended the next year, he and Helen relocated to Detroit, where List took a job at a paper company. There, they would have three children, Patricia, John Jr., and Frederick. Over the next few years, the family would move a couple more times as List took ever better accounting jobs.
Ultimately, the Lists settled in Westfield, New Jersey where John had taken a job as the vice president and comptroller of a bank in nearby Jersey City. They’d purchased a massive 19-room Victorian mansion and moved in along with List’s mother Alma…
In Westfield, the Lists were fairly reclusive. Other than working and teaching Sunday school John hardly socialized with anyone. Helen was similarly solitary. Because of her alcoholism, she largely stayed home, drinking alone.
The larger world wouldn’t know the List family existed were it not for some neighbors noticing that the lights in their home were gradually burning out one by one. It was already a bit unusual that they had left the lights on in the first place. According to notes John had sent to the children’s schools and part time jobs, the family had left in early November to visit Helen’s mother in North Carolina for a few weeks…
Answering a concerned neighbor’s call on December 7th, police entered the Lists palatial home. When they opened the door, they heard religious organ music playing over the house’s intercom system. They found the bodies of Helen and her three teenaged children zipped up in sleeping bags in the mansion’s ballroom and the body of Alma in her attic apartment. The only body missing was John List’s.
Spotless Crime Scene
Upon investigation of the home, police found a meticulously cleaned crime scene. Conspicuously, John had been carefully cut out of every single family photograph. On the desk in John’s study, police found a five page letter addressed to the pastor of their church. In it, John wrote that he saw too much evil in the world and that he had ended the lives of his family in order to save their souls…
In Cold Blood
Nearly a month earlier, on November 9th, John list had taken his 9mm semi-automatic handgun and his father’s .22 caliber revolver and coolly and methodically murdered his entire family. While his children were at school, he shot his wife in the back of the head, then shot his mother in the face. When 16-year-old Patricia and 13-year-old Frederick got home, he shot each of them in the back of the head.
I Could Eat
Astoundingly, List then made a lunch for himself and ate it right there in the home where he’d just murdered 4 family members. He got in his car and drove to his bank, where he closed his and his mother’s bank accounts, then drove to John Jr.’s high school to watch him play in a soccer game. After the game, he drove his son home, where he shot him repeatedly in the chest and face…
Police found John’s car parked in a parking lot at the John F. Kennedy airport in New York City. There was no record of a John List taking a flight in the recent past but it was possible that he’d travelled under an assumed name.
The police across multiple jurisdictions and the FBI began an international manhunt for the man responsible for one of the most sensational multiple-murders in history. They ran down hundreds of leads but, partially because all reliable photographs of List had been destroyed, they had no success…
For nearly two decades, it seemed as if List would never be brought to justice for his heinous crimes. Then in 1989, 18 years after the murders, investigators asked the producers of the brand new TV show “America’s Most Wanted” to take a look at the case. They agreed to help and brought in a forensic sculptor to create a bust of what List might look like after the time had passed.
The sculptor studied the most up to date photographs they could find of List and imagined what he would look like after his face had sagged with time. He produced a sculpture, still wearing the same horn-rimmed glasses. When 22 million people saw that sculpture on tv, the authorities got a call…
Looks Just Like Him
The call came from a woman in Denver, Colorado. She thought the sculpture on TV was the spitting image of a neighbor of hers that had recently moved to Virginia. Her neighbor, named Robert Clark wore horn-rimmed glasses, attended a local Lutheran church, and worked as an accountant.
We Got Him
When FBI agents went to “Clark’s” home in Virginia, his stunned wife answered the door. She had met her husband just over a year ago and had no idea about his past. List was arrested in his office later that day…
Keeping Up the Lie
For months, List maintained that he was Robert Clark and had no knowledge of John List or his crimes. It was only when presented with irrefutable evidence, including a fingerprint match with List’s military records, and then with evidence found at the crime scene, that he would confess his identity.
The FBI would later piece together what List had done after he killed his family. He’d travelled by train around the country, eventually settling in Denver where he started going by Bob Clark. He joined the church and took an accounting job with a paper company and, after he’d met Delores Miller at a church function, married her and moved to Virginia…
At his trial, List testified that he’d lost his banking job and, to avoid humiliation, spent each workday reading the paper at a local train station. He skimmed money from his mother’s bank account to pay the bills. As his wife’s health rapidly deteriorated due to her alcoholism and secret, untreated syphilis, she became more and more abusive toward him. He chose to kill his family and send their souls to heaven rather than accept welfare.
Nearly 20 years after he’d killed his family, List was convicted of on all 5 counts of first degree murder. Later in life, he expressed remorse for his crimes, saying “I wish I had never done what I did,” he said. “I’ve regretted my action and prayed for forgiveness ever since.” While serving out his life sentence, List died in prison at the age of 82.