Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

John List

The Killing Begins

The List Family portrait
The List Family portrait

List watched the milkman drive away and then made his move. The first to go was Helen. She came into the kitchen in a red satin teddy and robe to get something to eat. List left his first floor office and came up to her from behind as she sat looking out the window. He raised his 1912 Steyr 9 mm. automatic about 18 inches from her head, and shot her in the jaw. She hit the table and then fell to the floor and died instantly, blood gushing from her wound. The toast she was eating jammed in the back of her throat. It is likely that she had caught a glimpse of him as he raised the gun. List fired several more shots into the wall beyond the table. One bullet ricocheted into the adjoining room.

While Helen lay on the linoleum floor, List went up the back stairs to the third floor, and without knocking, he entered his mother's apartment. He surprised her in the kitchen. She was holding a plate, waiting for some toast to pop up from the toaster. She was startled by his intrusion and asked him what the noise was that she had heard downstairs. In response, he shot her point-blank over the left eye, and then shot two more bullets into the wall, apparently from an automatic reflex. (It is also possible that he shot at her, missed, and she tried to run from him, but he caught her and shot her in the face.) His intent had been to take her downstairs, but she was a large woman and too heavy for him to move very far. He pushed her onto a carpet runner and shoved her into the storage area. Her knees had snapped from the way she had fallen. He tried to clean the floor with dampened newspaper and a towel.

Then List went back down and dragged Helen by the feet down the center hall and into the ballroom. He left a 40-foot trail of blood. He took three Boy Scout sleeping bags and opened two of them up side-by-side. Then he laid one perpendicular to these two, and on this he placed Helen's corpse, face down. He covered her with a bath towel and placed a kitchen towel on her head. As with his mother, he attempted to clean up the trail of blood. It was at this point that he realized his own clothing was soaked in the blood of his victims.

He went into his wife's bedroomwhich he did not share with herand sat on the unmade bed, wiping his bloodstained hands on the sheets. Then he went into the bathroom and vomited, leaving a bloody palm print on the toilet lid. Afterward, he showered and changed into a fresh business suit and tie, leaving his soiled clothing and spattered shoes in a pile in the bedroom.

The next step was to leave a message for his boss that he could not attend the meeting and did not know when he could reschedule, because he was taking the family to North Carolina to see their mother's mother, who was very ill. (She was in fact ill, which had prevented her from making a planned trip there and becoming a sixth victim.) He wrote notes to the children's schools and after-school places of employment with the same message.

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