Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

John List

Thirty Years Later

Connie Chung in 2002
Connie Chung in 2002

It seemed that once he was in prison, he might be forgotten, yet in March 2002, television journalist Connie Chung interviewed John List for ABC's evening magazine show, "Downtown." It was promoted as the first time in 30 years that List had spoken about the murder of his wife, three, children and mother. While that was true, List had been a fugitive for 18 of those years. He was 63 when he was captured in 1989 with the help of a tip called in to America's Most Wanted, so that made him around 76 when he sat for the interview. The way he shuffled into the room and slurred his words as he responded to questions gave the impression that he was much older. He'd lost most of his hair and appeared to have trouble with his teeth.

While much of the program was a recounting of the crimes, List did speak about what he had done. He described shooting his wife as he came up on her from behind while she ate toast at the kitchen table. After he dragged her body to the ballroom and cleaned up the blood, he sat down at that same table and had lunch. "I was hungry," he said defensively. "That was just the way it was." He also kissed his mother before shooting her.

Psychiatrist Steven Simmering, who had evaluated List while he was in prison, mentioned that something was missing in him with regard to relationships, and that he was probably more angry at his family than he'd ever admitted. Some of the murders had involved overkill, although List explained that overkill as the release of tension "after I'd completed my assignment."

"Assignment?" asked Chung.

"Well, my self assignment."

Asked why he had not just killed himself when he saw debt mounting up, he explained that suicide barred him from heaven. He had a better chance of going to heaven if he murdered his family and then sought forgiveness. In fact, he fully expected not only to see all of them in heaven but that they'd have either forgiven him or would not know about the "tragedy that had happened," as he'd put it in his trial statement to the judge. He suspected they would all get along as before.

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