Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

John List

Straight to Hell

'Breeze Knoll' was a nineteen room, three-story Victorian mansion, and the most expensive house in an upper middle class neighborhood in Westfield, New Jersey. It even had a massive ballroom. John List, 46, lived there with his wife, Helen, 45; his daughter, Patricia, 16; and his two sons, John Jr., 15, and Frederick, 13. His 85 year-old mother, Alma, lived in an apartment in the attic. List was a religious man with an extreme need to keep things under control. He kept everything in its place, barely ever smiled, and even mowed his lawn in a suit and tie. In October of 1971, he applied for a firearms registration, for "home protection." However, he had something altogether different in mind.

Two months before, Pat, his daughter, had been picked up by the police for walking the streets after midnight and smoking. To John List, she was trouble and he was certain she was going straight to hell. That his wife, who no longer went to church, protected her from his anger was a sure indication that things were getting out of hand. In November of 1971 he made the decision to change everything, but it was not until December 7th that anyone realized what he had done.

For the past month a neighbor next to the mansion on 431 Hillside Avenue had noticed all the lights on in the house and thought it was odd. She knew the List family had been away on vacation, but now the lights were apparently burning out. The house had an abandoned appearance, although she spotted a strange car in the driveway on several occasions. She finally decided to notify the police.

Patricia List at 16 years
Patricia List at 16 years

Around the same time, Patty's drama coach, Ed Illiano, had his own concerns, so he decided to check them out. Patty was supposed to be at a rehearsal for an upcoming play and had not even sent him a note to say when she was returning from North Carolina. At one point, not long before she left, she had even told him that her father was going to kill her. He went to the house several times, and finally decided to get the police involved, but they were already on their way. (One account says that he went in, stumbled upon a gruesome scene, and kept it to himself for two days.)

Finding a window unlatched, the officers entered the house. There was no heat so the temperature inside was almost as cold as outside. Clearly no one was there, although they heard music playing loudly over an intercom system. It sounded like something from church. The place seemed barren of furniture, as if the family had moved.

 

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