SERIAL killer John List who massacred his entire family before disappearing and living a secret double life for 18 years left a chilling note confessing to his evil crimes.
In November 1971, List murdered his wife, mother, and three children at their mansion in Westfield, New Jersey, where their bodies lay undiscovered for a month.
Police investigators who finally found the bodies were greeted with a truly horrific scene.
List’s wife Helen, 46; his daughter Patricia, 16; and sons John, 15, and Frederick, 13, were laid out on sleeping bags in the house’s ballroom.
Upstairs, the body of his 84-year-old mother Almas was found. All five victims had been shot in the head, with his eldest son John receiving 10 gunshot wounds.
Before leaving the house, List had cut his face out of every family photograph and destroyed his passport, so that police would not have a picture of him to use in their manhunt.
The only evidence of List’s existence was a chilling five-page letter he left behind, confessing to the horrific slaughter and attempting to justify his crimes.
Addressed to his pastor, supposed devout Lutheran List claimed he had murdered his family “so they could go to heaven”.
The letter, which wouldn’t be publicly released for almost 20 years, starts with an apology to Reverend Eugene A Rehwinkel for “adding to his workload”.
He blamed the murders on his financial difficulties and feared his family would forsake their religion.
“After it was all over I said some prayers for them all – from the hymn book,” he wrote. “That was the least I could do.”
He also claimed that God could have helped him, “but apparently he saw fit not to answer my prayers”.
List had been laid off from his accounting job several months before the murders, but rather than face the shame of telling anyone, he would get dressed for work every day, drive to the train station and sit in his car reading the paper for hours until returning home.
Sickeningly, the father-of-three tried to justify his crimes in the letter, by claiming he was saving their souls.
“I know that many will only look at the additional years that they could have lived but if finally they were no longer Christians what would be gained,” he wrote.
“Also, I’m sure many will say, ‘How could anyone do such a horrible thing.’ – My only answer is it isn’t easy and was only done after much thought.”
I’m sure many will say, ‘How could anyone do such a horrible thing’
The letter was dated November 9, 1971, but List said he had originally planned to slaughter his family eight days earlier on All Saints’ Day.
This was because he said, it would be “an appropriate day for them to get to heaven”.
But he said he decided against this day as his travel plans were delayed.
It was this line in the letter that would prove to be the crucial nail in List’s coffin at his trial some 18 years later.
After he was finally captured, List’s lawyers attempted to argue in court that he couldn’t be tried for murder because of his mental state at the time.
But this line proved that he had been calculating and methodical in his plans, laying out a preferred date for the murders.
List added that he was struggling for money and couldn’t afford the upkeep on Breeze Knoll, the expansive 19-room mansion he had bought several years earlier for $50,000 (£42k) – around $464k (£390k) in today’s money.
“True we could have gone bankrupt and maybe gone on welfare,” he admitted – but said he feared the effects of poverty on his children.
He also worried about his wife’s refusal to attend church anymore, and his daughter’s aspirations to become an actress.
Friends say in the year before her murder, Patricia had become obsessed with witchcraft, describing herself as a witch, in a move that would have horrified her father.
One former pal Rhonda described how List had once snapped at her in front of his daughter, calling her: “A b***h as well as a witch.”
Her former drama coach Ed Seredaki told the new NJ.com true-crime podcast Father Wants Us Dead how Patricia said her father had made wills for them in the months before his family’s murders, asking his children if they would like to be cremated.
Another friend Susan said Patricia had told her shortly before her death: “I have a feeling within me that something bad is going to happen.”
Rhonda insists that Patricia knew her father wanted her and her brothers dead, and that List seemed “happier” in the weeks before the murders.
In his confession note, List blamed the murders entirely on his financial situation and his family’s loss of faith.
“If any one of these had been the condition we might have pulled through but this was just too much,” he wrote. “At least I’m certain that all have gone to heaven now.”
He then discussed the “final arrangements” for his family, asking for them to be cremated and the funeral costs kept low.
In a shockingly cold afterthought, he added: “P.S. Mother is in the hallway in the attic-3rd floor. She was too heavy to move.”
ON THE RUN
Despite a massive manhunt, List remained free for the next 18 years, living in Denver, Colorado under a new name, where he eventually met his second wife Delores.
Former Wall Street Journal reporter Joe Sharkey, who wrote a book Death Sentence about the List house murders, believes List was able to go on the run for so long due to both local police and broader FBI incompetence.
Speaking to The Sun Online from his home in Arizona, he said authorities should have realised List would resurface in another Lutheran church.
“They [the FBI] were afraid to approach churches,” he said. “They were afraid to rattle the bushes in religious communities.
“That’s where they would have found him pretty quickly.”
He was finally captured after his story was featured on an episode of America’s Most Wanted, and a former neighbour recognised the man she knew as Robert C Clarke as John List.
Even after being convicted of murder, List refused to take responsibility for his crimes.
Addressing the jury following his life sentence, he said: “I wish to inform the court that I remain truly sorry for the tragedy that happened in 1971.
“I feel that due to my mental state at the time, I was unaccountable for what happened. I ask all those who were affected by this for their forgiveness, your understanding, and your prayers. Thank you.”
He would eventually die in March 2008 of pneumonia at the age of 82.
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