Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

John List


John List, 1970
John List, 1970

Dr. Ehrenberg, a Union County medical examiner, arrived. When he examined John, Jr., he suspected the kid had put up a fight. He had been shot eight or nine times.

Looking more closely at the bodies, there was apparent disintegration of the fingers and toes, and small maggots had begun their work. The bodies were bloated.

A neighbor, a doctor, came in to identify the bodies and he mentioned that there was one member of the family who was not present: the children's father, John List.

While the officers talked over what they knew of the man, a discovery was made in what appeared to be an office. On the filing cabinet were taped a group of notes, each addressed to a separate person. One told of the location of keys to the file and urged the finder of the note to contact the proper authorities. In the top drawer were two guns, a 9-mm. automatic and a .22-caliber pistol, and some ammunition. These were impounded and tagged.

Inside the desk was a large manila envelope addressed to the pastor of List's church, Eugene A. Rehwinkel. Inside were checkbooks, bankbooks, insurance policies, and tax records. There was also a book that showed List's accumulating debts, five notes, and a long letter. He expressed condolences to family members, gave advice to associates, and wrote out final arrangements for his murdered family.

On November 9th, 1971, List had written a note to the principal of Patty's school, saying she would be out for a few days. Another similar note was written to the other schools. To his boss, he wrote, "I'm sorry that it all had to end this way but with so little income I just couldn't go on keeping the family together. And I didn't want them to experience poverty." He made the same excuse to Helen's mother, the children's maternal grandmother. He also mentioned that he could not be sure that their souls would remain pure in the future, giving the impression that he believed he had killed them for their own good. To save his own mother from anguish, he had killed her, too.

To his pastor, he scrawled a five-page confession, which provided the whole story in detail of how he had done this grisly deed. He said his wife was sick and had been turning away from God. His daughter was doing the same. He had prayed for guidance, but God had not answered him. He feared that the conditions of the world would be harmful to his children's souls as they reached adulthood. Insisting that he had taken care to ensure that their deaths were not painful, List mentioned that John had put up a fight but had not suffered long. Then List had gotten on his knees and prayed for each one.

He gave detailed instructions for cremation, with services that would ensure a quick passage to heaven. He was grateful that they all had died as Christians. Then, in a postscript, he added, "Mother is in the attic. She was too heavy to move."

It was time to search the house more thoroughly to piece together what had happened on that gruesome day.

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