Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

John List

The Search Begins

Officials believed that List would turn himself in. List himself was sure he would be caught within a week or two. His pastor sent out a message begging his lost congregant to contact him. No one expected that the search for John Emil List, mass murderer, would last 18 years.

Right away, police wondered how a family could be missing for an entire month without the school or church sending anyone to investigate. It turns out that some people had rung the doorbell, but getting no answer, just left. The only person who had cared enough to push it further had been the drama coach. He had asked a friend on the force to investigate much earlier, but lacking evidence of something amiss, had been unable to get any action.

Investigators came up with 150 pieces of evidence from the crime scene in preparation for the prosecution of the killer. Since his passport was missing from the house, they suspected he might have left the country. Even so, a dozen officers, guns ready, kept watch at the funeral service and burial site. Alma was flown to Michigan, but the other four were buried side by side in cheap metal caskets, since there was no money to give them a better funeral. Helen's mother and sister insisted on burial, contrary to what List had specified in his letter. List did not show up.

The FBI published a "wanted" flier that bore List's photo and physical description. They also learned that he suffered from severe hemorrhoids and was badly near-sighted. The fliers were sent to pharmacies and eye doctors all over the country, but they refrained from sending fliers to the Lutheran church. They searched through List's life and discovered that he had rented a private post office box to receive pornography. He had a secret life after all.

It soon became clear that List had simply vanished.

Then nine months after the murders, on August 30, 1972, Breeze Knoll burned down. Numerous kids had been in and out of the notorious abandoned house, but its destruction was not due to their careless sťances. The cause of the fire proved to be the work of an arsonist, a crime that also went unsolved.

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