Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

John List

"America's Most Wanted"

In 1988, Fox Broadcasting aired a television show about fugitives from serious crimes that enlisted the aid of its viewers to help identify potential suspects. They dramatized the crime and then provided what information they could to assist those who might be living near someone who was wanted for a crime. Each weekly segment soon averaged about six thousand calls. Some of those tips led to arrestsnearly one per broadcast. Marranca decided to get his unsolved case on the air.

America's Most Wanted logo
America's Most Wanted logo

However, the case was too old. The television show initially turned it down. Then the executive producer, Michael Linder, was scheduled to speak at a law enforcement conference, so Marranca went, taking the List files with him. He approached Linder with the case. Linder found it fascinating and ordered a segment on it. It seemed to the detectives the last possible shot they had of ever bringing John List to justice. All of the witnesses were still alive and available.

There was one problem: No one had a recent photo of List. That had been one of the most important factors in other arrests. The one they had of List was 19 years old. Linder knew Frank Bender, a sculptor and photographer in Philadelphia. He was able to use clay to reconstruct faces of decomposed bodies. He might be able to show what List would look like this many years later. He agreed to do a bust for the show.

Bender worked with Richard Walter, a criminal psychologist, on personality characteristics that might show up in his physical features. They figured that since he had lived such a rigid life, he would not have changed that much, aside from being paunchier, with drooping skin. He may have a pronounced receding hairline. He would still have the scar behind his ear. He would still dress conservatively.

Frank Bender with the John List bust in his studio
Frank Bender with the John List bust in his studio

The show aired on May 21, 1989. John Walsh, the program's host, introduced the segment as New Jersey's most famous murder case. The story ran for ten minutes, to an estimated 22 million viewers. If List was out there, someone would have seen him, surely.

List himself generally watched the program, liking the challenge of figuring out the crimes. However, that night, he and Delores went to a church social, so he missed the show.

Wanda Flannery was watching. To her, the bust did not look like Robert Clark, her former neighbor. Nevertheless, she still felt that she had made the right connection. She knew she had to act, if only to save Delores. She had her son-in-law call the phone number provided on the show and give them the Clarks' new address in Virginia.

Over 300 calls came in about the List case that evening, fielded by FBI agents. Barnard Tracy, a Westfield detective, was there, but missed the crucial call. It was sent to the FBI, and then forwarded to the Richmond office.