On November 9, 1971 an unimaginable crime took place in Westfield, New Jersey. 46 year old John Emil List killed all members of his family, including his mother, his wife and their three children. After the murders, John List assumed false identity and avoided justice for almost 18 years. He was apprehended in 1989, sentenced to five consecutive life terms and died of pneumonia in jail in 2008.
John List Murders
John List was born on September 17, 1925 in Bay City, Michigan. He was a devoted church man, even teaching Sunday school to children. He was an only child, and served in World War II. When he left the military, he got a degree in business from the University of Michigan, and became an accountant. In 1951, John List met his wife Helen whom he married shortly thereafter.
On November 9, 1971, while his children were at school, John List shot dead his wife Helen, who was 45 at time of murder. To spare his mother from grief she’d experience knowing that her son was a murderer, John then turned his gun on the 84 year old woman and shot her dead too.
When his daughter, 16 year old Patricia and his younger son, 13 year old Frederick returned home from school, John List greeted them with a gunshot to the back of their heads, killing them instantly.
His older son, 15 year old John Junior was playing a soccer game after school so John Senior had himself a meal and drove to watch his son play. After the game they drove home together and once inside, John List also shot his older son in the back of the head but it didn’t kill him. Seeing him twitch on the floor in a seizure, father riddled his older son’s body with 10 bullets to finally silence him for good.
Crime Scene Clean Up
To carry out the murders, John List used his father’s automatic 9mm gun and his own 22 caliber hand gun.
Once his entire family was dead, the murderer cleaned up the crime scene, turned on all the lights and the radio, washed the dishes and put them in the strainer. Afterwards he proceeded to write a letter to his pastor, telling him of the murders and the evidence but not before writing notes to the school his children attended, informing them that they would be in North Carolina for some time.
John List had also canceled the mail and other services that could bring anyone to the house, which ensured that it would be a few days if not weeks before anyone notices that something was amiss. He then cleaned out his and his mother’s bank accounts and fled. His car was found at the airport, but there was no record of him taking a flight.
John List had lost his job, and felt that his family could not forsake their lavish life style. He was deeply in debt, owing over $10,000 on his house and more on wife’s medication for advanced dementia caused by Syphilis. He hid the fact that he was unemployed from the family by leaving every day for work and spending the time sitting at a local train station.
For some time, in order to take care of piling bills, he skimmed money from his mother’s bank account. He could not bear the thought of going on welfare and as the time alone pretending he’s at work kept driving him crazy, he decided to act. John also could not come to terms with his daughter renouncing the church and turning to wicca and pot smoking. He needed to save her soul and what better way to save a child’s soul than by murdering her? Even if she’s your own daughter – at least that’s what John List was thinking.
Life on the Run and Arrest
After murdering his family, John List assumed the identity Robert “Bob” Clark, moved to Colorado and in 1985, married divorcee Delores Miller. Remarried and with other children, John was faced with financial trouble again.
On June 1, 1989, nearly 18 years after murdering his whole family, John List was arrested as Bob Clark while working as an accountant in Richmond, Virginia after a neighbor ratted him out. He was in detention for 8 months and 15 days before admitting his true identity.
On April 12, 1990, a New Jersey court convicted John List of five counts of first-degree murder. On May 1, judge sentenced him to five consecutive terms of life imprisonment. He would serve his term until his death on March 21, 2008. He was 82 years old.
John List never expressed any remorse for his murders. When asked why he killed all his family members but did not take his own life, he said he wanted to go to heaven to reunite with his family and suicide would bar him from it.
Many thanks to Best Gore member GeneX for pictures and assistance with the story: