Serial killer John List who slaughtered his entire family before disappearing and living a secret double life for 18 years has left a chilling note as he confesses to his evil crimes.
In November 1971, List murdered his wife, mother, and three children at their Westfield, New Jersey mansion, where their bodies lay undiscovered for a month.
Police investigators who eventually found the bodies were met with a truly gruesome scene.
List’s wife, Helen, 46; his daughter Patricia, 16; and her sons John, 15, and Frederick, 13, lay on sleeping bags in the home’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 out his face from every family photo and destroyed his passport, so the police wouldn’t have a photo 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 massacre and attempting to justify his crimes.
Addressed to his pastor, the supposedly pious Lutheran List claimed he had murdered his family “so they could get to heaven”.
The letter, which would not be made public for nearly 20 years, begins with an apology to the Reverend Eugene A Rehwinkel for “increasing his workload”.
He blamed the murders on his financial difficulties and feared his family would abandon their religion.
“After it was all over, I said a few prayers for them all – from the hymnal,” he wrote. “It 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 fired from his job as an accountant several months before the murders, but rather than be ashamed to tell anyone, he dressed for work every day, went to the train station and sat still. in his car reading the paper for hours until he got home.
Sickeningly, the father-of-three attempted to justify his crimes in the letter, claiming he was saving their souls.
“I know many will only look at the extra years they could have lived but if ultimately they were no longer Christians what would be gained,” he wrote.
“Also, I’m sure many will say, ‘How could someone do such a horrible thing.’ – My only answer is that it is not easy and it was only done after careful consideration.”
I’m sure many will say, ‘How could someone do such a horrible thing’
The letter was dated November 9, 1971, but List said he originally planned to massacre his family eight days earlier on All Saints’ Day.
This is because he said it would be “a fitting day for them to go to heaven”.
But he said he decided against it because his travel plans had been delayed.
It was this line of the letter that turned out 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 could not be tried for murder due to his mental state at the time.
But this line proved that he had been calculating and methodical in his plans, setting a preferred date for the murders.
List added that he was struggling for money and could not afford the upkeep of Breeze Knoll, the sprawling 19-room mansion he bought several years earlier for $50,000 (£42,000) – around $464,000 (£390,000) in today’s money.
“It’s true that we could have gone bankrupt and maybe been on welfare,” he admitted, but said he feared the effects of poverty on his children.
He also worried about his wife’s refusal to go to church and his daughter’s aspirations to become an actress.
Friends say the year before her murder, Patricia had become obsessed with witchcraft, describing herself as a witch, in a move that reportedly horrified her father.
A former pal Rhonda described how List once slammed her in front of her daughter, calling her, “A bitch as well as a witch.”
Her former drama coach Ed Seredaki told NJ.com’s new true-crime podcast Father Wants Us Dead how Patricia said her father made wills for them in the months leading up to his family’s murders, asking his children if they would like to be cremated.
Another friend, Susan, said Patricia told her shortly before her death: “I have a feeling inside 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 leading up to the murders.
In his confession note, List blamed the murders entirely on his financial situation and his family’s loss of faith.
“If any of them had been the condition we could have walked through, but it was just too much,” he wrote. “At least I’m sure they’ve all gone to heaven now.”
He then discussed “final arrangements” for his family, asking that they be cremated and funeral costs reduced.
In a shockingly cold afterthought, he added: ‘PS Mother is in the attic hallway on the 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 Death Sentence book about the List house murders, believes List was able to flee for so long due to both local police incompetence and the FBI.
Speaking to The Sun Online from his home in Arizona, he said authorities should have realized List would resurface at another Lutheran church.
“They [the FBI] were afraid to approach churches,” he said. “They were afraid to shake the bushes in religious communities.
“That’s where they would have found him pretty quickly.”
He was eventually captured after his story was featured on an episode of America’s Most Wanted, and a former neighbor recognized 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 after his life sentence, he said: “I wish to inform the court that I remain truly sorry for the tragedy that occurred in 1971.
“I believe that due to my mental state at the time, I was not responsible for what happened. I ask everyone affected by this for their forgiveness, understanding and prayers. Thanks.”
He will eventually die in March 2008 of pneumonia at the age of 82.