Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

John List

Psychic Input

The thirteenth anniversary of the monstrous crimes, November 9, 1971, came and went, and suddenly there was renewed interest in the List case. Jeffrey Paul Hummel, a detective assigned to it in 1985, talked about the steps he took in the investigation that, aside from local coverage, have never before been revealed. He worked on the Major Crimes Unit for the prosecutor's office in Union County, New Jersey, and he spent a lot of time learning about List. "Many in law enforcement presumed he (List) was deceased," Hummel said. "However, I maintained he was alive because no evidence had ever surfaced to the contrary." He and an intern reorganized the file.

Hummel was aware that attempts to solicit the help of Lutheran church headquarters had been unsuccessful and that the composite sketch of the age-progressed fugitive had failed to turn up a good lead. Yet because Hummel found the crime so repulsive, he was not satisfied to just give up, so he decided to pursue a rather unorthodox avenue that was neither encouraged or prohibited: He turned to a psychic.

"In May of 1985," he said, "I became aware of a psychic living in Ocean County, New Jersey, identified as Elizabeth Lerner." He heard about the valuable assistance she had offered in previous cases, so he decided to contact her. "Armed with crime scene photos, I spent about two hours with Ms. Lerner, who offered her feelings and impressions while touching the rear side of the photographs." While he received no concrete leads, he did hear some information that in retrospect was surprisingly accurate.

  • She said that List was alive and had not traveled by plane, as presumed from where he'd left his car, but by train or bus. (He had.)
  • There was a new woman in his life and he had some connection with Baltimore, MD. (He had married Delores, his second wife, in Baltimore.)
  • He had fled to the southwest. (He went to Colorado.)
  • There was some significance with Florida or Virginia. (List ended up in Virginia, which is where he was ultimately arrested.)

Ms. Lerner also made a prediction that gave Hummel something to do. List, she said, would visit the family gravesite on his birthday (September 17).

Hummel got permission to conduct surveillance in Westfield's Fairview Cemetery on September 16, 1985. Dressed in dark clothing, he prepared to sit outside all night on a hill overlooking the graves. He was unsuccessful, so he repeated his actions the next night, also to no avail. List did not arrive.

Then Hummel had to quit working on the List case, as he was transferred to a narcotics strike force. However, because he'd been intensely involved in the List case, he asked to be informed of any activity. He heard nothing, but then he saw a few episodes of a new television program, America's Most Wanted, which asked the public for help in tracking fugitives from the law. Conferring with colleagues on the possibilities this show offered to their "cold" case, he brought it to the attention of Captain Frank Marranca, who had taken charge of the Major Crimes Unit in Elizabeth, New Jersey.

"I informed Marranca of my vast interest in the List case," Hummel added, "and of my prior activities, along with those of other law enforcement personnel in our efforts to find List." Marranca said he'd look at the file.

In Westfield, New Jersey, Captain Frank Marranca had inherited the case, now nearly two decades old, with little hope of being solved. He was not as willing to give up on it as Wanda Flannery had been. Something new was on the horizon and he wanted to take advantage.

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