After losing his job at the bank in 1971, John List secretly started withdrawing money from his mother’s bank account to pay his mortgage. Eventually, the stress from hiding his money problems from his wife, children and mother got too much and he believed he only had one option.
On November 9th, 1971 List started his day off by murdering his wife Helen whilst she was having her morning coffee and then he murdered his mother Alma whilst she was in bed at their family home in Westfield, New Jersey. He then waited until his daughter Patricia and youngest son Fredrick got home from school and he murdered both of them also.
After the murders, List made himself lunch and then went to the bank where he withdrew all the money from his and his mothers account before closing both accounts. Then he went to watch his eldest son John Jr play in his high school soccer game, he then drove his son home and murdered him also. All 5 murders were committed with a 9mm Steyr 1912 semi-automatic handgun.
List moved all of the bodies into another room of the home, cleaned the crime scene, cut his face out of every photo in the home, wrote a 5-page letter to his pastor which explained that he had killed his family because he had seen “too much evil in the world” and he wanted to “save their souls”, he also wrote numerous letters that he sent to his children’s school and their places of work to explain why they would be absent and then he cancelled the milk, mail and newspaper deliveries.
After Last spent the night asleep in the house where he murdered his family, he turned every light on in the house and had religious hymns playing in every room in the house through the intercom system and then Last disappeared for the next 18 years.
After a month neighbours became suspicious and reported their suspicions to the police and on December 7th, 1971 the police entered the Last family mansion and discovered the bodies and letter. The FBI took over the investigation and found John List’s car at Kennedy International Airport in New York, but after that the investigation stalled.
18 years later in 1989 prosecutors in New Jersey came up with a new plan to try and catch John List. They believed that if they got Frank Bender who was an expert in forensic art to create a forensic facial reconstruction sculpture to try and show what he would look like now.
On May 21st, 1989 Bender’s sculpture was shown after the List family murders were shown on America’s Most Wanted, 22 million people saw the episode. This led to numerous tips for the police to sort through including one particular tip that came from a woman in Virginia, she said that her church-going, married neighbour Robert Clark looked a lot like the sculpture. Authorities ended up going to Virginia where they spoke to Robert Clark’s wife.
On June 1st, 1989 nine days after the airing of America’s Most Wanted authorities arrested Robert Clark putting an end to the 18-year question of what happened to John List. It turned out that List had changed his name Robert Clark and moved to Colorado after the murders, since his new alias seem to work he decided to move to Virginia where he met his new wife.
List went on trial in 1990, with his defence attorneys arguing that he was suffering from PTSD at the time of the murders due to his time in the military during World War II and his time in Korea. However, expert psychologists claimed that List was actually going through a mid-life crisis and that that doesn’t justify him murdering his whole family and then being on the run for 18 years.
John List was found guilty of the five murders and sentenced to five life terms in prison. After his trial, he said that he didn’t commit suicide after killing his family because he was worried he wouldn’t get into heaven. List died in prison in 2008 at the age of 82.
Rest In Peace Helen, Alma, Patricia, Fredrick and John Jr.