John List (September 17, 1925 – March 21, 2008) was an American mass murderer who, on November 9, 1971, murdered his mother, three children and his wife in their sparsely furnished 18-room mansion in Westfield, New Jersey, and then disappeared.
He had planned everything so meticulously that nearly a month had passed before anyone noticed that anything was amiss. A fugitive from justice for eighteen years, he was ultimately apprehended on June 1, 1989 while living under the pseudonym Robert Peter "Bob" Clark, after the story of the murders was broadcast on the television program America's Most Wanted.
List was found guilty and sentenced to five terms of life imprisonment, dying in prison custody in 2008 at age 82.
List was described as an aloof, cold man with few friends. He was the only child of strict German parents. His mother in particular was very domineering and overprotective. He was a devout member of the Lutheran church and taught Sunday school. List served in the Army during World War II and later was given an ROTC commission as an Army Lieutenant.
He attended University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where he earned a bachelors degree in business administration and a masters degree in accounting. List's lack of social skills, however, caused him many problems. He had a history of losing jobs.
List killed his family: his wife, Helen, 45; his children, Patricia, 16, John, Jr., 15, and Frederick, 13; and his 84-year-old mother, Alma. He first shot his wife in the back of the head and his mother once in the left eye, while his children were at school. When Patricia and Frederick came home, they were shot in the back of the head. John, Jr., the elder son, was playing in a soccer game that afternoon. List made himself lunch and then drove to watch John play. He brought his son home and then shot him once in the back of the head. List saw John twitch as if he were having a seizure and shot him again. It was later determined that List had shot his elder son at least ten times.
List then dragged his dead wife and children, on sleeping bags, into the ballroom of his ramshackle 19-room Victorian home. He left his mother's body in her apartment in the attic and stated in a letter to his pastor that "Mother is in the attic. She was too heavy to move." In the letter, List also claimed he had prayed over the bodies before going on the run. The deaths were not discovered for a month, due to the Lists' habit of keeping to themselves. Moreover, List had also sent notes stating that the family would be in North Carolina for several weeks to the children's schools and part-time jobs and had stopped the family's milk, mail and newspaper deliveries.
The case quickly became the second most infamous crime in New Jersey history, surpassed only by the kidnapping and murder of the Lindbergh Baby. A nationwide manhunt for List was launched. His car was found parked at Kennedy Airport, but there was no record of him taking a flight. The police checked out hundreds of leads without results.
Investigations revealed that he had been suffering from financial problems due to losing his job as an accountant, heavy expenses related to his fancy house and family problems caused by his wife's mental illness brought on by advanced syphilis.
After killing his family, List wrote a letter to his pastor, Eugene Rehwinkel of Redeemer Lutheran Church, explaining his motives: He felt that the 1970s were a sinful time, and that his family was beginning to succumb to temptation, especially his daughter, who expressed interest in an acting career, an occupation that List viewed as being particularly corrupt and linked to Satan.
He told his pastor that by killing his family before they had the opportunity to renounce their religion, he was saving their souls and sending them directly to Heaven. Most criminal profilers asked to analyze List--including John E. Douglas-- have concluded that List came up with this motive in order to put his own mind at ease and rationalize murdering his own family to lessen his own stress.
On June 1, 1989, 11 days after his case was broadcast on AMW, List was arrested while living under the pseudonym Robert "Bob" Peter Clark, a name he adopted based on one of his college classmates, who later strangely stated that he never knew of John List. He was identified by a friend who had seen the television feature. In the 18 years since List committed his crimes he had been living in Denver, Colorado and Richmond, Virginia, where he remarried and started a new life and a career as an accountant. On April 12, 1990 he was convicted in a New Jersey court of five counts of first-degree murder, and on May 1 was sentenced to five life terms in prison. List has never expressed any remorse for his crimes, even during an interview with Connie Chung in 2002, and has said he believes he will go to heaven.
List died from complications of pneumonia at age 82 on March 21, 2008, while in prison custody at a Trenton, New Jersey hospital. In announcing his death the Newark, New Jersey, Star-Ledger referred to him as the "boogeyman of Westfield". His body was not immediately claimed, though he was later buried next to his mother in Frankenmuth, Michigan.
- He was at one point suspected of being D. B. Cooper making him to disappear.