You just never know what goes around in someone’s mind or behind closed doors. You may look at someone in admiration because he appears to be such a good and wholesome human being, but deep inside lurks a monster.
John List was an outwardly normal and successful father. A Sunday school teacher and Boy Scout troop leader, List was a strict disciplinarian who insisted his children follow extremely rigid rules.
John Emil List (September 17, 1925 – March 21, 2008) was an American multiple murderer and long-time fugitive. On November 9, 1971, he killed his wife, mother, and three children in their home in Westfield, New Jersey, then disappeared. He had planned the murders so meticulously that nearly a month passed before anyone suspected that anything was amiss.
The larger world had never heard of John Emil List until his neighbors began to wonder why the lights in his family’s house in Westfield, N.J., were going out one by one in the fall of 1971, weeks after anyone had been seen entering or leaving. And the high school drama coach of Mr. List’s daughter had begun to worry about her absence.
On November 9, seemingly out of the blue, List shot his mother Alma (above her left eye),his wife Helen (in the side of the head), and two older children in the back of their heads; he shot his youngest child, a son, several times in the chest and face. He then left the murder weapon alongside their carefully laid-out corpses.
List had methodically devised a plan so that the bodies would not be discovered for quite a while, cancelling newspaper, milk, and mail delivery to his home in the days leading up to the murder. He then called the children’s schools to say that the family was going to visit a sick relative out of town. By the time authorities discovered the bodies, List had vanished without a trace.
When police officers entered the home on Dec. 7, 1971, they heard organ music on an intercom system and found the bodies of Mr. List’s wife, Helen, 46; his daughter, Patricia, 16; his sons John, 15, and Frederick, 13, and his mother, Alma, 85. All had been shot to death.
The police also found a note from Mr. List to his pastor at a Lutheran church where Mr. List sometimes taught Sunday school. Over five pages, Mr. List wrote that he saw too much evil in the world and that he had ended the lives of his wife, mother and children to save their souls.
Local law enforcement officials had essentially given up looking for List when the television show America’s Most Wanted began airing in the late 1980s. After a segment about the List murders aired on May 21, 1989, calls began flooding in. Although most of them proved to be unhelpful, one viewer claimed that John List was living in Virginia under the alias Robert Clark.
On June 1, 1989, 11 days after his case was broadcast on AMW, List was arrested while living under the pseudonym Robert “Bob” Peter Clark, a name he adopted based on one of his college classmates, who later strangely stated that he never knew of John List. He was identified by a friend who had seen the television feature. In the 18 years since List committed his crimes he had been living in Denver, Colorado and Richmond, Virginia, where he remarried and started a new life and a career as an accountant. On April 12, 1990 he was convicted in a New Jersey court of five counts of first-degree murder, and on May 1 was sentenced to five life terms in prison. List has never expressed any remorse for his crimes, even during an interview with Connie Chung in 2002, and has said he believes he will go to heaven.
List died of complications from pneumonia at age 82 on March 21, 2008, while in prison custody at St. Francis Medical Center in Trenton, New Jersey. In reporting his death, the Newark Star-Ledger referred to him as “the bogeyman of Westfield”
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