A look back at the infamous John List murders
November 9th is a particularly dark day in New Jersey history because it was on that day in 1971 that one of the state’s most infamous crimes took place.
John List, a Westfield accountant, coldly killed his wife, his mother, and his three children before going on the run for 18 years. He shot his wife in the back of the head and his mother through the eye, then reportedly made himself lunch and waited for his two younger children to come home from school; when they did, he shot them, too. He then left to watch his older son play in a soccer game; after the game he took him home and killed him, as well. He then cleaned up the crime scene and meticulously got rid of all pictures of him so the police would not have a current likeness of him. He sent notes to his children’s schools telling them that the children were going out of town to visit their grandmother.
Because of the steps he took, the bodies were not discovered for a month. He wrote a note to his pastor confessing to the crimes at the home. He left the family car at JFK Airport, though there is no evidence he took a flight anywhere and the trial soon grew cold. In actuality he had moved to Denver and assumed a new identity; he got remarried and moved to Virginia.
It wasn’t until Fox TV’s show America’s Most Wanted took an interest in the case that his ruse was discovered. The show employed a forensic artist to approximate what they believed List would look like after aging; a former neighbor in Denver alerted authorities that the man known as Robert Clark looked a lot like that rendering. He was soon tracked down in Virginia where he was living a quiet suburban lifestyle as a church going accountant. He was extradited to New Jersey where he stood trial.
List was convicted of all five murders and sentenced to five life terms in prison. He died in prison in 2008 at age 82. As far as the motive for the heinous crime, it seems to be a combination of money problems (he was $11,000 behind on his mortgage) and his fear that his family was falling away from their faith; he told his pastor he saw too much evil in the world.
The post above reflects the thoughts and observations of New Jersey 101.5 talk show host Bill Doyle. Any opinions expressed are Bill Doyle's own.