A man’s true role in a family is to take care of and protect the other members. In times of danger, women and children are naturally prompted to look up to the man to shield them from whatever it is that threatens their lives. In the case of the family of John List, however, the mass murderer that took away their lives and made headlines all across the world was perpetrated by the man who was to protect them – John himself. John List was a devout Lutheran and a Sunday school teacher with a Master’s degree in accounting who went on to serve in the U.S. Army before working for a private firm. We take a look at List’s life and facts about the gruesome murder he committed.
1. He Methodically Murdered his Entire Immediate Family
On the 9th of November 1971, John List used both his semi-automatic handgun and his late father’s revolver to methodically kill the entire members of his immediate family that included his mother Alma, 84, wife Helen, 46, daughter Patricia, 16, elder son John Jr., 15 and younger son Frederick, 13.
After his children had gone to school, List first shot his wife in the back of the head before shooting his mother just above the left eye. He sat at home and waited for his daughter and younger son to return from school before shooting each of them in the back of the head. He proceeded to make himself lunch before driving to the bank to close his account and that of his mother’s. After doing so, List drove himself to Westfield High School where his eldest son was playing soccer. He cheered his boy on and drove him home afterward only to then shoot him in the chest and face. As the story goes, John Jr. tried to resist so his father shot him repeatedly until he was sure the boy was dead.
2. List Changed His Identity, Re-married, and Eluded Justice For 18 Years
After committing the heinous crimes, John List cleaned up the various crime scenes and carefully cut out his face from every picture in the house. He proceeded to tune the house radio to a religious station before departing. It took about a month for the murders to be discovered because List had informed the children’s schools that the family would be traveling for some weeks. The fact that they were reclusive and did not socialize further played a role in the murders not being discovered early.
To mislead the authorities, List parked the family vehicle at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City and returned to New Jersey to travel by train to Michigan, and then Colorado. The former director of accounting services at Xerox settled in Denver and took an accounting job under the alias of Robert Peter “Bob” Clark. Between 1979 and 1986, he worked as the controller of a paper box manufacturer. During that time, he joined a Lutheran congregation and married one of its members, Army PX clerk, Delores Miller in 1985. In 1988, the couple left Colorado for Virginia where he continued to work as an accountant.
3. He Denied Being John List
In 1989, 18 years after the murders had gone unsolved and the FBI had placed him on the most wanted list, an age-progressed clay bust of John List was featured on the Fox television program America’s Most Wanted. A former neighbor in Denver recognized the profile on the program and alerted the police who arrested him on the 1st of June 1989.
Upon his arrest, List stood by his alias and denied being the murderer for several months until he was faced with irrefutable evidence that included a fingerprint match from his time in the army. He eventually confessed to being who he was in February 1990.
4. He Suffered from Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder
During his trial, a court-appointed psychiatrist testified that John List suffered from an obsessive-compulsive personality disorder. But despite his plea of being in poor mental state, he was held accountable for his actions and convicted of five counts of first-degree murder. He was then sentenced to five terms of life imprisonment, the maximum penalty permissible by law at the time.
5. He Denied Direct Responsibility For his Actions and Appealed the Judgement
Following his sentencing, John List appealed his conviction on the grounds that he had been impaired by post-traumatic stress disorder due to his military service. He further argued that the five-page letter he left in his house after committing the murders was inadmissible evidence because it was confidential communication between him and his pastor.
A federal appeals court rejected both arguments and List remained in prison until he died of complications from pneumonia in March 2008, aged 82.
List’s Reason For The Murders
During his trial, John List revealed that he was in deep financial problems in 1971 after losing his job as vice president and comptroller at the Jersey City bank. He said he opted to not share this with his family as he spent his day reading newspapers at the Westfield train station before coming home in the evening. He further revealed that he was frustrated in his marriage as his wife was an alcoholic and emotional abuser who hid that she had untreated tertiary syphilis from both her physicians and husband until she physically deteriorated.
According to List, he said he was left with only two options; accept welfare or kill his family and send their souls to Heaven. He ended up choosing the latter because the former would expose him to ridicule and violate his father’s teachings of a man being the protector of the family.