How could a man murder the five people closest to him, then begin a new life?


When the police went into the mansion on 7 December 1971, organ music was playing on the intercom system.

It was like something from an old, scary movie. Only what they found was terrifyingly real.

The dead bodies of the List family were lined up on the floor of the ballroom.

Helen List, 46, her children Patricia, 16, John, 15, Frederick, 13, and mother-in-law Alma, 85, had all been shot dead.

When they searched the house, the police found a note from Helen’s husband John List to his church pastor.

In over five pages, he wrote of how he saw evil in the world, and that he’d ended the lives of his family to save their souls.

His face had also been cut out of the family photos.

PA Photos

List’s car was eventually discovered at Kennedy International Airport in nearby New York.

But investigators found no trace of accountant List, 46, in the US or overseas. He’d completely vanished.

With no recent photos of the missing man, the manhunt soon dried up. It seemed he’d got away with murdering his own family.

Eighteen years passed before, in 1989, the crime was recounted in TV show America’s Most Wanted.

The broadcast featured an age-progressed clay bust, sculpted to look how John List might appear now. It was a long shot, but it was hoped it might just throw up some leads.

Incredibly, it did…

A woman claimed her former neighbour Robert Clark looked just like the bust.

Investigators went to Clark’s house and confronted his wife.

It turned out Clark was an accountant she’d met at church. Officers found Clark at his office, and fingerprints soon revealed his true identity – John List.

As a fugitive, he’d lived quietly in Virginia and Denver for years, and had remarried.

A reporter points to a bullet hole in the kitchen (Photo: Getty Images)

He’d begun a new life…

His old family was nothing but a distant memory. Now they’d come back to haunt him.

But what turned respectable family man List into a killer?

Born in September 1925, John List was the only child of strict, religious parents.

After serving in the Army as a laboratory technician during World War II, he went on to train as an accountant.

In 1951, he married Helen and the couple had three children.

List worked hard to provide for his family. They moved to Westfield, New Jersey, in 1965, lived in an 18-room mansion with marble fireplaces and an elegant ballroom.

List appeared to be a model of suburban success. The family went to church each week, but kept to themselves.

However, behind the extravagant mansion doors, List’s life was beginning to crumble…

He’d lost his job at a nearby bank, and also a succession of subsequent jobs.

By 1971, he was still leaving the house every day but, though his family didn’t realise, he was out of work, unable to pay the bills.

He spent his days at the train station, reading and napping.

In interviews after his arrest, List claimed he felt ashamed he couldn’t provide for his family.

To him, that was a fate worse than death. So he’d made the terrible decision to kill them.

The family home (Photo: Getty Images)

On 9 November 1971, after the kids had gone to school, List shot his wife in the back of the head as she sat in the kitchen.

Next, he went upstairs and shot his mother, who was staying with them, then made phone calls to tell people the family were going to stay with Helen’s mother.

It was all part of his sickening plan to cover up his crime.

Stopping for lunch, chillingly, he ate at the same table at which he’d killed wife Helen.

When Patricia and Frederick arrived home from school, List was waiting. Shooting his two children dead, he then went to watch young John play football.

On the way home, the boy had no idea that he was being driven to his death.

Back at the house, List shot him numerous times in the chest, making sure he was dead.

After laying out the bodies, List left a note and cut his own face out of photos, to make it hard for police to recognise him.

He even left his car at the airport as a false lead, taking a bus into the city and travelling overland to Denver.

It wasn’t until a month later that the bodies of the List family were found when neighbours had become suspicious that lights in the house were always on.

List became a wanted man.

Incredibly, he’d built a whole new life as Robert Clark, nearly 2,000 miles away. In 1985, he remarried, but his new wife knew absolutely nothing about his previous existence.

Four years later, it all came to an end for List. His past caught up with him and he was arrested.

The following year, John List appeared in court charged with the murders of his family.

His defence claimed a mental defect had caused him to carry out the shootings.

But prosecutors argued List was cold and calculating, planning the murders down to the smallest details.

Many believed he wanted to get rid of his family because they were a financial burden.

List was convicted of the murders and sentenced to five life terms.

In 2008, aged 82, John List died of pneumonia.

The man who’d managed to bury his crime for 18 years had almost got away with murder.

But no matter how hard he tried, in the end List couldn’t escape his past and the family he tried callously to abandon there.