John List Murdered His Family, Then Disappeared For 18 years

John List murdered his wife, mother, and three children on November 9, 1971. After that, he made a sandwich, drove to the bank, and vanished for the next 18 years.

John List appeared to be an amazing husband,father and the “perfect” son to his mother. To support his family, he worked as an accountant at a nearby bank. He lived in a 19-room New Jersey estate with his mother, wife, and three children. Their house had a ballroom, marble fireplaces, and a Tiffany skylight.

In 1965, List and his family were the epitome of the American dream. They were pious Lutherans who went to church every Sunday and List taught Sunday school. On the surface, everything appeared to be in perfect. But nothing was actually the way it looked.

At the age of 46, John List lost his position at the bank in 1971. Jobs after that didn’t work out. He couldn’t stand informing his family of his financial loss.

A view of the List family home in Westfield, New Jersey.

As a result, he spent his days reading the newspaper at the railway station and secretly stealing money from his mother’s bank accounts to pay the mortgage. He refused to apply for aid since it would cause him great disgrace in the society and contradict the self-sufficiency values he learnt at his father’s knee.

It’s difficult to believe that the answer he came up with would have been more acceptable to his father, but John List would later remark that it seemed like the only alternative to him: murdering his mother, wife, and children.

John List shot and killed 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 one day in late 1971.

They were shot one by one in a calculated manner. Helen was the first List dropped the kids off at school and then shot her in the kitchen where she was sipping her morning coffee. Then he walked upstairs to his mother’s room and murdered her in her bed.

When Patricia came home from school, he shot her, followed by Frederick, his youngest son. He prepared himself a sandwich, closed his bank accounts, and attended a high school soccer game to support his sole surviving son, John. He drove him home before shooting him in the chest.

The bodies of John List’s wife and three teenage children were discovered in the ballroom

In the ballroom, John List placed the bodies of his family members on top of sleeping bags, then wrote a note to his pastor, whom he believed would understand. Faced with a world full of evil and poverty, he feared his family would turn away from God; this was the only way to secure their safe arrival in heaven.

He was not, however, willing to bear the consequences of his conduct on this plane. He cleaned the crime scenes and used scissors to delete his image from every photo in the mansion to confuse the cops.

He canceled all deliveries and contacted his children’s schools to let their teachers know the family would be on vacation for a few weeks. He turned on the lights and the radio, leaving religious hymns playing in the house’s empty rooms.

He slept at the mansion where his family was murdered, then walked away the next morning, never to be seen again.

John List’s note requesting that his children be excused from school. He explained that they were traveling to North Carolina to see a sick cousin.

After a month, neighbors began to think something was amiss with the List home because of the constantly glowing lights and empty windows.

On December 7, 1971, when police entered the house in Westfield, New Jersey, they heard organ music streamed through the intercom system. They also discovered a five-page note from John List, in which he explained that the bloodied dead on the ballroom floor were his family members, who had been executed in an act of kindness. He had saved the souls of those he cared about.

His car was discovered parked at Kennedy International Airport in New York City by the FBI, but he was never found.

After 18 years

Let’s fast forward to 1989, which is 18 years later. Prosecutors in New Jersey had devised a strategy.

They commissioned Frank Bender, a forensic artist, to sculpt a physical bust of John List as he could have aged. He was given a hawk nose, grizzled brows, and horn-rimmed glasses by Bender. According to psychologists, List would wear the same spectacles he wore as a younger man to remind him of happier times.

Frank Bender uses old photographs to a sculpture image of John List.

It was a brilliant portrayal of John List. On May 21, 1989, when America’s Most Wanted aired the narrative of the John List killings, Frank Bender’s sculpture was seen by 22 million people. Tips poured in from all across the world.

One tip came from a woman in Richmond, Virginia, who noticed that her next-door neighbor, Robert Clark, looked suspiciously like the bust. According to the tip, her next-door neighbor was likewise an accountant who went to church.

Clark’s wife was interviewed by authorities at his house. The 18-year-old mystery was finally solved thanks to her story.

List had allegedly changed his name and relocated to Colorado under the alias Robert Clark. When he moved to Richmond, he kept the alias because it worked.

The Arrest And Trial

On June 1, 1989, police in Virginia apprehended the killer John List, just nine days after his case was featured on America’s Most Wanted.

Defense lawyers claimed that List suffered from PTSD as a result of his military duty in World War II and Korea during his 1990 trial. Expert psychologists believed List was going through a mid-life crisis, but it was no reason for killing five people, as the prosecution pointed out.

John List was found guilty by a jury and sentenced to five life sentences in a New Jersey prison.

List said in a 2002 interview with Connie Chung that he didn’t kill himself after murdering his own family because he believed it would prohibit him from entering heaven. List only desired to be reunited with his wife, mother, and children in the afterlife, where he believed no pain or suffering would exist.

John List, who was 82 years old at the time of his death, died in prison in 2008.

Several months after the deaths, the mansion where John List and his family lived in New Jersey burned down. The cause of the fire was never discovered, and a new house was built on the site years later.

Residents of Westfield are still haunted by the murders. Parents informed a reporter in New Jersey in 2008 that their children will not walk by the property, and that they do not even want to live on the same street.


6 thoughts on “John List Murdered His Family, Then Disappeared For 18 years

  • June 10, 2022 at 2:29 pm

    Amazing what we humans can do to each other in the name of god.

    • June 13, 2022 at 10:07 pm

      Amazing how we humans can justify horrible acts period. No point in blaming God, if you don’t believe in God.

  • June 13, 2022 at 12:20 pm

    very clever man he was. but karma is a bitch, He got the punishment too for the crime he did.

  • June 13, 2022 at 10:03 pm

    He didn’t even realize that he worshipped the opinion of others more than he did any God.

  • July 2, 2022 at 5:33 pm

    That was disturbing to read.


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