November 9, 1971
Westfield, New Jersey
John List murders his wife, mother, and 3 children to spare them the shame of losing their 19-room mansion and to save their souls
List had been an accountant and had amassed a small fortune over his career but, shortly before the murders, had come into financial difficulties due to losing his job. He feared he would lose the family’s house, a 19-room Victorian mansion, and also believed his family was straying from God.
While the children were at school, List shot his wife Helen (46) in the back of the head and his mother Alma (84) above her left eye. When his children Patricia (16) and Frederick (13) returned from school, he shot both in the back of the head. List then made himself lunch, emptied his and his mother’s bank accounts, and watched his son John Jr. (15) play soccer before driving him home and shooting him as well. John Jr. was shot 10 times in the face and chest.
List placed the bodies of his wife and children in sleeping bags and dragged them into the house’s ballroom. His mother’s body was left in the attic because after found it too heavy to drag. He sent notes to the children’s school’s informing them the kids would be absent for 2 weeks for a vacation, cleaned the crime scenes, carefully removed himself from every family photograph, turned on a radio to a religious station, left a note explaining his reason for the murders, and fled.
Because the Lists were reclusive and due to the notes List sent to the schools about the children’s absences, the bodies of the family were not discovered until almost a month later on December 7. Neighbors became suspicious when the lights in the home were left on day and night, and as the bulbs began to burn out one by one, the police were called.
Though police knew List was the murderer and conducted a high-profile manhunt, they were unable to find him. Eighteen years later, an episode of America’s Most Wanted aired featuring the List family murders. Within 2 weeks, List was arrested in Virginia, convicted of murder, and sentenced to 5 life sentenced in 1990. List died of complications of pneumonia at the age of 82 on March 21, 2008.