Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

John List

Profile of the Killer

John Emil List was born in Bay City, Michigan on September 17, 1925. His father, John Frederick, was 64, a quarter of a century older than his wife, Alma. They had been married a year. Of German descent, they belonged to the German Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod. They lived in a Victorian house in which they rented out the upstairs apartment. John slept in the parlor, and had no privacy or space for his personal effects. He learned to be neat, and to always put his things away so he could blend into the background.

John's father only dealt with him through his wife, referring to him as "the boy." He was expected to behave, excel at school, and uphold the faith of their church. John rarely spent any time with his father, who was considered the neighborhood crank. His father, who ran a local store, apparently disliked children.

John's mother protected him, and brought him into her social life, which centered on the church. Since his father was a church trustee and its treasurer, Alma urged her son to follow in his footsteps. Most nights, they read the Bible together, a practice John kept up until he murdered her.

Alma List
Alma List

Alma feared that John might get sick, so she watched him constantly, keeping him dressed up to stay warm and dry. He was not allowed to go out and play with the other boys. In other words, she smothered him, giving him the impression that the world beyond her was a dangerous place. For most of his childhood, he accepted this.

In high school, John made some friends, but had no girlfriends. After graduating, and over his mother's protests, he enlisted in the Army. A year later, in 1944, his father died and he went home to attend the funeral. People noticed that he showed no signs of grief. Already he seemed cold and unmoved.

He was then shipped overseas to the Pacific, but the war was over before he had a chance to see much action. He came home with an interest in firearms and a new acquisition, an Austrian Steyr pistol, that nearly three decades later, he would use on his own family.

Alma urged John to go into accounting for his career after the war. It was a respected, stable joband safe. He attended the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. One of his classmates was named Robert Clark, and John remembered him well enough to later adopt his name as an alias, though Clark could not recall ever having met him. Alma visited once a month, and they would go out to dinner and attend church services together. They liked to read and discuss the Bible.

He graduated with a bachelor's degree in business administration, and with his ROTC service, he became a second lieutenant in the Army reserve. He went on the get an MBA. Just as he was starting a job, he was called into service for the Korean War. Once again, he saw no action and he ended up stationed in Virginia.

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