America’s most wanted killer John List remains an infamous bogeyman in his hometown of Michigan

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BAY CITY, MI – Before killing his mother, wife and three teenage children at his 19-room New Jersey mansion, John E. List began life in Bay City. Fifty years after the massacre of his family, List’s specter hangs over his hometown.

Visit the Facebook page “Memories of Bay City”And you’ll see hundreds of comments from people over the past few years, sharing apocryphal stories of List’s formative years.

“My father put a roof [the Lists’] home, ”wrote a visitor to the page. “He remembered John, all neat and tidy, sitting on the porch steps every day, watching the neighborhood kids play. He was not allowed to play with them. My dad thought his mom didn’t want him to get dirty. He really felt sorry for him.

“My grandmother went to the same church and got to know him briefly,” wrote another visitor. “All she said was he was a weird duck!”

“Bay City will never escape its infamy,” added another commentator.

In the curious space formed by real crime evolving into urban legend and folklore, List exists as a bogeyman in the flesh, both in his hometown and where he committed his brutal crimes. . In a broader sense, the legacy of the “Family Annihilator” continues to occupy the American conscience and its macabre fascination with infamous killers and the most taboo crimes.

As a forensic psychologist Dr Clarissa Cole writes: “Before List, ‘Family Annihilator’ was not a term that many people heard of or used, but after… no one could go back.

List was born September 17, 1925 to John F. and Alma M. List. At the time, her father was 66 and her mother 38. He did not have full-blooded siblings but had a paternal half-brother and a half-sister.

The Lists lived at 1808 S. Wenona St. on the city’s West Side, with the Patriarch owning a grocery store at 216 Salzburg Ave. List’s namesake father died in 1944 at the age of 85.

The year before his father’s death, List graduated from Bay City Central High School. He was apparently not popular in high school, having only a handful of friends.

“He was right there,” a former List classmate said in a 1971 Bay City Times article. “He never projected himself. He was still in the background. “

The article was published the month after List killed his five family members and fled. On November 9, 1971, List committed the five-fold murder using a 9mm semi-automatic handgun and a .22 caliber revolver. He began by shooting his wife Helen List, 46, and mother Alma List, 84, at their Victorian mansion in Westfield, New Jersey, known as Breeze Knoll.

When his 16-year-old daughter Patricia M. List and 13-year-old son Frederick M. List returned from school, he also shot them. He then prepared for lunch, went to a bank to close his wife and mother’s accounts, canceled mail and milk deliveries, and informed his children’s schools that the children would be absent. for an extended period of time because the family had to care for a sick relative in another condition.

With those tasks completed, List went to high school under her 15-year-old son, John F. List Jr. to watch him play in a football game. At the end of the game, List brought his son home, where he also killed him. Young List fought back against his father, but ended up with 10 gunshot wounds to his face and chest.

List left her mother’s body in her attic apartment in the mansion and placed the bodies of his wife and children on sleeping bags in the ballroom.

The five bodies were not discovered until December 7, 1971. Apparently, when the police entered the house, music was still playing on an intercom.

Left at the scene was a five-page letter written by List for his pastor, in which he attempted to explain what had led him to methodically kill his loved ones. A deeply religious Lutheran who had been a Sunday school teacher, List wrote that financial hardship was part of his motivation, along with his fear that his family would stray from his Christian faith.

“At least I’m sure everyone’s gone to Heaven now. If things had continued who knows if that would be the case, ”List wrote in the letter, a whose transcript can be read here. “I know many will only look at the extra years that [the victims] could have lived, but if they were no longer Christians, what would we gain? Plus, I’m sure many will say, “How can anyone do such a horrible thing?” – My only answer is that it is not easy and that it was only done after careful consideration.

On December 10, 1971, The Times ran an article after List’s car was found at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City. He would go on the run for 18 years before being arrested in Virginia after America’s Most Wanted aired a segment on him in 1989.

The article describes Fred List, the 50-year-old son of List’s half-brother, as List’s closest living relative and godfather to John F. List Jr.

“We have always had a lot of respect for humans. I just can’t believe he was capable of something like that, ”said Fred List at the time. He mentioned that List, during a visit to Bay City, spoke about the pressure at work with his job Xerox Corp., where he worked in Rochester, New York. List and his family moved to New Jersey after serving as vice president of a bank. Later, losing that job shortly before the massacre apparently plunged List into murderous despair.

The article says that eight former Classmates of List were contacted, though none have particularly vivid memories of him.

“I remember him as a very nice, calm guy,” said Dr FT Meisel, one of those former peers. “Just a simple acquaintance. I don’t know if he had a lot of friends.

Said to have been studious and a perfect gentleman with academic qualities, List was not known to participate in clubs, sports or other extracurricular activities.

“He had about four or five close friends,” said Robert Foley, another classmate who was then a pharmacist at Alpena. He added that List was not “a carpenter”.

After graduating from high school, List enlisted in the United States military, then earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration and a master’s degree in accounting from the University of Michigan. In a military fort in Virginia, List met his future wife, Helen, the widow of a soldier killed in the Korean War. The couple married in Baltimore in December 1951.

Hiding from the aftermath of his family’s murders, List took on the pseudonym Robert P. Clark and remarried. He first settled in Denver, Colorado, and accepted a position as an accountant. He and his wife moved to Midlothian, Va., In February 1988, where he held another position as an accountant.

When America’s Most Wanted aired a segment on List’s case – featuring an aging clay bust – one of her former neighbors in Denver acknowledged it and notified authorities. Two weeks after the episode aired, law enforcement arrested List in Richmond.

The following year, a New Jersey jury found List guilty of five counts of first degree murder, for which he was sentenced to five consecutive life sentences.

In a 2002 interview along with Connie Chung, List said he hid the loss of his bank job from his family, leaving the house every morning to have them assume he went to work. Believing he was a dud who couldn’t support his family and foreclosure was looming, he said he decided to kill his family to keep them from losing their faith.

“I finally decided the only way to save them was to kill them,” List said.

His faith, however, prevented him from ending his life.

“It was my belief that if you kill yourself you won’t go to Heaven,” he said. “So I finally got to the point where I felt I could kill them. Hopefully they would go to heaven, and then maybe I would have a chance to confess my sins to God later and get forgiveness.

List died in prison of complications from pneumonia at the age of 82 on March 21, 2008. Perhaps rightly or oddly for such a religious man, the date marked Good Friday.

Over the decades, List has been the inspiration for several performances in crime television series and in the 1987 horror film starring Terry O’Quinn, “The Stepfather”. List was more literally portrayed in the 1993 TV movie “Judgment Day: The John List Story”, played by actor Robert Blake, who, ironically, was later acquitted on charges of killing his own wife.

Nine months after the murders, the Breeze Knoll mansion was razed in an alleged arson attack.

The bodies of List’s wife and children were buried at Fairview Cemetery in Westfield. The body of her mother, Alma List, was transported to Michigan, where she was buried at Saint Lorrenz Lutheran Cemetery in Frankenmuth.

List’s body has not been claimed.

For those looking to dive into a book on the subject, there is “Righteous Carnage: The Westfield Murder List“By authors Timothy B. Benford and James P. Johnson, published in 1991. More recent work includes”Collateral Damage: The Story of John’s List“By Austin Goodrich, published in 2006, and”Death penalty: the story of the John List murdersBy Joe Sharkey, published in 2017.

Read more:

Little Girl Lost: Conviction of Bay City-born John List 19 years after killing his family proves cold cases can be solved

The legend of John List: a horror story that will never end

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