John List appeared to be the perfect son, husband, and parent. To provide for his family, he worked as a bank accountant. With his mother, wife, and three children, he resided in a 19-room New Jersey mansion with a ballroom, marble fireplaces, and a Tiffany skylight.
John List and his family were exemplars of the American dream. They attended church every Sunday as devout Lutherans, and he even taught Sunday school. Everything appeared to be in order on the surface. On the contrary, there was chaos within.
This is the compelling story of the mass mur*derer who was so ashamed of being broke.
John List, The Banker and Mass Mur*derer
John List lost his job at the bank in 1971, at the age of 46. Subsequent jobs were unsuccessful. He was incapable of telling 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 felt embarrassed to receive welfare.
Later, John List would claim that mur*dering his mother, wife, and children was the only thing that made sense to him.
He fatally sh*ot his wife Helen, his 16-year-old daughter Patricia, his 15-year-old son John, his 13-year-old son Frederick, and his 85-year-old mother Alma.
Individually, they were sho*t. Helen arrived first. List sent the children to school before shooting her while she drank her morning coffee. Then he proceeded to the third floor, where he mur*dered his mother in her bed.
He mur*dered Patricia upon her return from school, followed by the youngest son, Frederick. He made himself a sandwich, closed his bank accounts, and attended John’s high school soccer game to cheer for his only surviving son. When they arrived at his residence, he sh*ot him in the chest.
John List placed the bodies of his family members on top of sleeping bags in the ballroom before writing a note to his pastor, whom he believed would comprehend. He feared that his family would abandon God because the world was so terrible and impoverished. This was the only way to guarantee their safe passage to heaven.
However, he did not want to face the real-world consequences of his actions. To mislead the police, he cleaned up the crime scenes and removed himself from every photograph in the mansion.
He cancelled all deliveries and notified the teachers at his children’s schools that the family would be on vacation for a few weeks. He turned on the lights and radio and played religious music in the house’s empty rooms.
He slept in the mansion where his family had perished. The following morning, he left and was not seen again for 18 years.
A month passed before the List mansion’s neighbours began to suspect something was amiss due to the constant illumination and closed windows.
When police entered the Westfield, New Jersey, residence on December 7, 1971, they heard organ music emanating from the intercom system. They also saw John List’s five-page note explaining that he ki*lled them out of compassion. That he had saved the souls of his loved ones.
The FBI discovered his vehicle parked at Kennedy International Airport in New York City, but they were unable to locate him.
After Eighteen Years
The New Jersey prosecutors had devised a plan.
Frank Bender, a talented forensic artist, sculpted a bust of John List as he believed List would have aged.
It was a brilliant portrayal of John List. When America’s Most Wanted aired the story of the John List mu*rders on May 21, 1989, and when Frank Benders’s book was published, tips began to pour in.
A woman in Richmond, Virginia, who believed her next-door neighbour Robert Clark bore a striking resemblance to the bust, provided one tip. She added that he was a certified public accountant and attended church.
The police interviewed Clark’s wife, whom he had met at a church event, at his residence. The 18-year-old hunt came to an end after the visit.
It turned out that List, who had moved to Colorado under the name Robert Clark, had changed his name. The alias was effective, and he maintained it when he moved to Richmond.
John List Arrest, Trial and Convictions
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 1990 trial, defence attorneys claimed that List suffered from PTSD due to his service in World War II and Korea. According to expert psychologists, List was experiencing a midlife crisis, which, as the prosecution pointed out, was not an excuse for kil*ling five innocent people.
After a jury found John List guilty, a judge sentenced him to five terms of life imprisonment in a New Jersey prison.
List stated in a 2002 interview that he didn’t ki*ll himself after mu*rdering his family because he believed that would prevent him from entering heaven. List desired only to reunite with his wife, mother, and children in the afterlife, where he believed there would be no pain or suffering.
John List, who was 82 years old, passed away in prison in 2008.