Updated:
Original:
Year
1971
Month Day
November 09

A Sunday school teacher murders his family and goes undercover for 18 years

John Emil List slaughters his entire family in their Westfield, New Jersey, home and then disappears. Though police quickly identified List as the most likely suspect in the murders, it took 18 years for them to locate him and close the case.

John List was an outwardly normal and successful father. A Sunday school teacher and Boy Scout troop leader, List was a strict disciplinarian who insisted his children follow extremely rigid rules.

On November 9, seemingly out of the blue, List shot his mother Alma (above her lefteye),his wife Helen (in the side of the head), and two older children in the back of their heads; he shot his youngest child, a son, several times in the chest and face. He thenleft the murder weapon alongside their carefully laid-out corpses. List had methodically devised a plan so that the bodies would not be discovered for quite a while, cancelling newspaper, milk, and mail delivery to his home in the days leading up to the murder. He then called the children’s schools to say that the family was going to visit a sick relative out of town. By the time authorities discovered the bodies, List had vanished without a trace.

Local law enforcement officials had essentially given up looking for List when the television show America’s Most Wanted began airing in the late 1980s. After a segment about the List murders aired on May 21, 1989, calls began flooding in. Although most of them proved to be unhelpful, one viewer claimed that John List was living in Virginia under the alias Robert Clark.

Indeed, List had assumed a false identity, relocated to the South, and remarried. In 1989, he was returned to New Jersey to face charges for the death of his family. The following year, he was convicted of five counts of murder and received five consecutive life sentences.

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us!

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Sartre renounces communists

The French philosopher and author Jean-Paul Sartre–long an admirer of the Soviet Union–denounces both the USSR and its communist system following the brutal Soviet invasion of Hungary. Jean-Paul Sartre, born in Paris in 1905, was a leading exponent of existentialism, a ...read more

Nazis launch Kristallnacht

On this day in 1938, in an event that would foreshadow the Holocaust, German Nazis launch a campaign of terror against Jewish people and their homes and businesses in Germany and Austria. The violence, which continued through November 10 and was later dubbed “Kristallnacht,” or ...read more

Antiwar protestor sets himself afire

In the second such antiwar incident within a week, Roger Allen LaPorte, a 22-year-old member of the Catholic Worker movement, immolates himself in front of the United Nations headquarters in New York. Before dying the next day, LaPorte declared, “I’m against wars, all wars. I ...read more

East Germany opens the Berlin Wall

East German officials today opened the Berlin Wall, allowing travel from East to West Berlin. The following day, celebrating Germans began to tear the wall down.  One of the ugliest and most infamous symbols of the Cold War was soon reduced to rubble that was quickly snatched up ...read more

Burnside assumes command

On this day in 1862, General Ambrose Burnside assumes command of the Union Army of the Potomac following the removal of George B. McClellan. McClellan waswell likedby many soldiers, andhad a loyal following among some in the command structure.However, others detested him, and his ...read more