In September, 1971, walking the streets of Westfield and smoking was grounds for the police to bring you home. That's the lesson Patricia List learned when she was 16. Her father didn't take the offense so lightly - he thought the family was going to hell quickly. Not only had Pat been brought home by the police, his wife Helen no longer went to Church. In October, John List applied for a firearms registration. "For home protection," it said on the application.
The List family lived in a nineteen room, three story Victorian in Westfield, the most expensive one in the neighborhood. In December, a neighbor noticed that all of the lights had been on in the house for a long time. It appeared abandoned to her and she notified the police.
The police officers entered the house through an unlocked window. There was church music playing loudly through an intercom system. All of the furniture was gone and there were dark stains on the kitchen floor and on the wall of the pantry. The police followed a terrible smell into the ballroom.
Near the fireplace, they found four bodies, placed side by side on Boy Scout sleeping bags. The bodies had rags over their faces, and there were trails of blood from where they had been dragged from other parts of the house. Pat List’s drama coach identified the bodies as Helen and her three children – daughter Pat, son John Jr., age 15, and son Frederick, age 13. Helen and Pat had both been shot in the head. John, Jr., had been shot multiple times in the chest and face.
The body of John List’s mother, Alma, was found in the attic. She also had a rag on her face, and had been shot above the left eye.
There was a note taped to a filing cabinet with keys to the drawer which revealed two guns. Also inside the drawer was a large envelope addressed to the pastor of the List’s church. Inside were the List’s financial records. A five page confession was written by John List who explained that he didn’t want his family to experience poverty and that he wanted their souls to remain pure in the future.
List’s car was located at Kennedy Airport in long term parking with a voucher dated November 10th.His passport was missing from the house.
List was indicted on five counts of murder and on fleeing a crime scene across state lines by a grand jury in absentia.
The search for John List lasted 18 years.
List had changed his name to Robert Clark and worked as a cook at a hotel. He joined a church and fell in love and married a woman named Delores. By 1985, things started to fall apart. He lost his job and his position as a Sunday school teacher, and Delores started to talk about leaving him.
The List case was aired on America’s Most Wanted on May 21, 1989 and was seen by about 22 million viewers.
List and Delores had gone to a church social that evening so they missed the show. But an old neighbor was watching. She had her son-in-law call the phone number on the show and gave them the Clark’s new name and address in Virginia.
When police got to the Clark’s home, Delores told them that Bob was at work. They showed her the photographs of List. Bob was arrested at his place of business.
List pleaded not guilty and his bail was set at $1 million. On April 12, 1990, List was found guilty on all counts. He was given five consecutive life terms in prison.
In March, 2002, List was interviewed by Connie Chung for ABC’s evening magazine show “Downtown.” He said that he felt that he had a better chance of going to heaven if he murdered his family and sought forgiveness rather than just killed himself. He fully expected to see his family in heaven again.
List died of pneumonia in prison on March 21, 2008 at the age of 82.