Unspeakable Times
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Selfish Kills: Family Annihilator John List, His Double Life And Dubious Motives

Updated June 14, 2019 55.9k views14 items

What are family annihilators? They're mass murderers like John List, a deeply religious husband and father who coldly and systematically murdered his entire family, including his wife, elderly mother, and three teenage children. He then left their lifeless bodies in the sprawling New Jersey mansion he was on the brink of losing to foreclosure. After committing familicide, family annihilator John List fled the crime scene, but not before writing a five-page note he left at the house to explain his motives for the brutal slayings.

List, having killed his wife, children, and mother, headed west, setting up an entirely new life for himself, even finding another woman to build a home with in Colorado. For nearly two decades, the family annihilator got away with murder, despite continuous efforts by law enforcement to apprehend him. However, when a program about his crimes aired in 1989, someone recognized the mass murderer, bringing List's life as a fugitive to an abrupt end.

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  • He And His Wife Were Having A Lot Of Marital Problems

    On top of his financial worries and his concerns about what he thought of as his family's slide into immorality, List was also having a lot of problems with his wife of 20 years, Helen. In addition to the normal issues married couples struggle with, the Lists had to contend with the fact that Helen had contracted syphilis from her first husband and she had passed the sexually transmitted disease on to John. Helen kept her illness hidden from John, a deeply religious man. He was devastated when he learned about his wife's disease and her deception.

    Syphilis caused Helen to experience a number of psychological and physical issues, and she was hospitalized multiple times due to complications caused by the illness. In order to cope with the symptoms, Helen allegedly drank heavily, abused tranquilizers, and stayed in bed for long periods of time, all of which caused a great deal of turmoil in the List marriage.

  • The Bodies Of His Family Weren't Found For A Month

    List went to great lengths to delay the discovery of his family's corpses: in between killing his mother and wife and murdering his children, he canceled services to his home and told the post office, neighbors, and officials at his kids' schools that the entire family was going to North Carolina to visit his sick mother-in-law. Consequently, the bodies of his wife, mother, and three children weren't discovered for a month, giving List plenty of time to flee the area before anyone realized he'd killed every member of his family.

    After committing the murders, List fled the mansion, which was close to being foreclosed upon, left his car at a New York airport to throw off the authorities, and traveled by bus into Manhattan. By the time his family's corpses were found, List was already in Denver, CO, having traveled there by train from New York to start his new life.

  • His Neighbors Became Suspicious When Lights Started Burning Out

    Despite List telling everyone he and his family were going on an extended trip to North Carolina, people became concerned when they noticed the lights in the mansion burning out one by one. Sixteen-year-old Patty List's drama teacher became concerned because of her extended absence from school, and a neighbor across the street became concerned when they realized the lights were constantly on. Eventually someone called law enforcement officers to investigate, and when officers entered the home, they were confronted by a horrifying scene: in the ballroom, the bodies of Helen List and her three teenage children had been placed in sleeping bags, lined up side by side.

    Before leaving the house, the family's patriarch had set organ music to play throughout the intercom system, making the setting particularly eerie. When investigators searched the house for List's mother Alma, they found the elderly woman's dead body in the attic, the place where she'd been shot in the back of the head after receiving a kiss from her son. According to the confession List had left behind, he hadn't placed his mother's corpse in the ballroom because her lifeless body was too heavy to move.

  • He Assumed A New Identity

    After murdering his family, List spent the night in the mansion with the dead bodies, and the next morning he abandoned his car at JFK Airport, took a bus into New York City, and caught a train to Colorado. In Denver, he started a new life using the name was Robert P. Clark, and he worked first as a cook and then as an accountant.

    The mass murderer was an active member in his local Lutheran church, and in 1985 he married his second wife, Delores. Eventually, the couple moved to Richmond, VA, and Delores had no idea her husband was using a fake name, much less that he had murdered his entire family.