John List

John List

John Emil List (September 17 1925 - March 21 2008) was an American convicted mass murderer. On November 9 1971, he murdered his mother, wife and three children in Westfield, New Jersey, and then disappeared. He had planned everything so meticulously that nearly a month passed before anyone noticed that anything was amiss. A fugitive from justice for nearly 18 years, he was finally apprehended on June 1 1989 while living under the pseudonym Robert Peter "Bob" Clark, after the story of his murders was broadcast on "America's Most Wanted". The New Jersey newspaper, the Star Ledger, referred to List as the "bogeyman of Westfield." [ [ "The bogeyman of Westfield, a ghost story that won't end" by Mark Di Ionno, The (Newark, NJ) Star Ledger] ]

After List died in prison on Good Friday of 2008, his body remained unclaimed for several days. [ [ Story not found - ] ]

Family background

Born in Bay City, Michigan, List was the only child of German parents, John Frederick List (1859-1944) and his mother Alma (1887-1971) . He was a devout Lutheran, and taught Sunday school. List served in the Army during World War II and later was given an ROTC commission as a lieutenant. He attended the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where he earned a bachelor's degree in business administration and a master's degree in accounting. List had a history of losing jobs and had accumulated debts that he found increasingly difficult to pay.


List killed his family: his wife, Helen, 45; his children, Patricia, 16, John, Jr., 15, and Frederick, 13; and his 84-year-old mother, Alma. He first shot his wife in the back of the head and his mother once in the left eye, while his children were at school. When Patricia and Frederick came home, they were murdered in the same way. John, Jr., the elder son, was playing in a soccer game that afternoon. List made himself lunch and then drove to watch John play. He brought his son home and then shot him once in the back of the head. List saw John twitch as if he were having a seizure and shot him again. It was later determined that List had shot his elder son ten times.

List then dragged his dead wife and children, on sleeping bags, into the ballroom of the large house. He left his mother's body in her apartment in the attic and stated in a letter to his pastor that "Mother is in the attic. She was too heavy to move." In the letter, List also claimed he had prayed over the bodies before going on the run. The deaths were not discovered for a month, due to the Lists' habit of keeping to themselves. Moreover, List had also sent notes stating that the family would be in North Carolina for several weeks to the children's schools and part-time jobs and had stopped the family's incoming mail at the local post office.

The case quickly became the second most infamous crime in New Jersey history, surpassed only by the legendary kidnapping and murder of the Lindbergh Baby. A nationwide manhunt was launched. The police checked out hundreds of leads without results.

"America's Most Wanted"

In 1989, New Jersey law enforcement approached the producers of the television show "America's Most Wanted" because of that show's track record of fugitive captures. It was the oldest unsolved case the show had ever featured. The broadcast included an age-progressed clay bust, which, as it turned out, looked remarkably similar to List, even though he had been missing for 18 years.

Ironically, List himself had been a fan of the show and had often urged friends and acquaintances to watch it. In an interview, List said he had often wondered whether he would be featured.

The man who sculpted the bust of List was forensic artist Frank Bender, who had successfully captured many aging fugitives and identified decomposed bodies via his art. To imagine what an older List would look like, he consulted forensic psychologist Richard Walter, who created a psychological profile. He looked at photographs of List's parents and predicted his appearance. For example, he gave List a receding hairline and sagging jaws. Bender and Richard Walter were particularly praised for one final touch: a pair of glasses. They theorized that List would want to appear more important than he really was by evoking the intellectual/professional stereotypes associated with wearing glasses. John Walsh, the host of "America's Most Wanted", called Bender's work the most brilliant example of detective work that he had ever seen. To this day, Walsh keeps Bender's bust of List in a place of honor in his office.Fact|date=September 2007


At the time List was at a Richmond, Virginia accounting firm where he worked while living under the pseudonym Robert "Bob" Peter Clark. List had chosen the name because it had belonged to one of his college classmates, who later stated that he had never known List. [cite book|title = Death Sentence: The Inside Story of the John List Murders Joe Sharkey, Signet, 305 pp., ISBN 0-451-16947-6] Prior to his arrest, List had lived in Denver, Colorado and Midlothian, Virginia, where he had remarried and begun a career as an accountant. Upon viewing of the broadcast, a friend of the Clark's recognized that the subject of the profile was that neighbor and contacted the authorities. The police immediately arrived to arrest List who refused to voluntarily surrender, but stood by his alias until his true identity was conclusively proved.

On April 12 1990, List was convicted in a New Jersey court of five counts of first-degree murder. On May 1, he was sentenced to five life terms in prison. List never expressed any remorse for his crimes. During a 2002 interview with Connie Chung, he said he believed he would go to Heaven.


Investigations revealed that prior to the murders, List had been suffering from financial problems after losing his job as an accountant. He had also incurred heavy debt on his expensive house and had dealt with family problems caused by his wife's mental illness, brought on by advanced syphilis that she had contracted from her first husband. [ [ The List Murders Stun Westfield In 1971] By Kathy Halverson, February 17, 2001 For The Westfield Leader and The Times. Accessed June 28 2007] Almost a year after the murders, the List home burned to the ground under mysterious circumstances, on August 30 1972. The fire destroyed the ballroom's glass ceiling, a signed Tiffany original worth over $100,000. It is believed that List did not know of the existence or the worth of that glass ceiling; had he known, the glass could have been sold at a high price to settle his debts.

List was one of the people suspected of being "D. B. Cooper"; his age, facial features, and build were similar to those of the mysterious skyjacker. "Cooper" parachuted from a hijacked airliner with $200,000. From prison, List strenuously denied being Cooper, and the FBI no longer considers him a suspect in that case.

List died from complications of pneumonia, in a Trenton, New Jersey prison, on March 21, 2008. He was 82. [ [ John E. List, 82, Killer of 5 Family Members, Dies - New York Times ] ]

References in popular culture

*The 1987 film "The Stepfather" was loosely based on the List case. [ [ page on "The Stepfather" film] ]
*Robert Blake played List in the 1993 film "Judgment Day: The John List Story". [ [ IMDB page for "Judgment Day: The John List Story"] ] Blake himself would be charged with murdering his wife in 2001.
*Even though the episode was not based on this case, an episode of "Cold Case" referenced John List when a whole family was found murdered and the father was suspected.
*Multiple books recount the murders.
*Christopher McQuarrie, the writer of the 1995 film "The Usual Suspects", used List as the inspiration for character Keyser Söze.
*The 1996 episode of Law & Order entitled "Savior" was based on the John List case. The List case is referred to specifically in both the investigation and the eventual trial.
*The character Bill "D-Fens" Foster (played by Michael Douglas) in the 1993 film "Falling Down" parallels John List's situation of having lost his job yet still goes through the motions of leaving the house daily for a job that doesn't exist. Much like John List, Douglas' character displays an inability to adapt to the reality of his former employer's apparent lack of ability to realize his economic value, despite his inherent personality flaws.


*"Righteous Carnage: The List Murders" Timothy B. Benford and James P. Johnson, iUniverse, 332 pp., ISBN 0-595-00720-1
*"Death Sentence: The Inside Story of the John List Murders" Joe Sharkey, Signet, 305 pp., ISBN 0-451-16947-6
*"Collateral Da


External links

* [ Newspaper articles on John List]
* [ John List, famous murder - The Crime Library]
*findagrave|23085&|name=Alma List

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