John List Biography

(American Mass Murderer)

Birthday: September 17, 1925 (Virgo)

Born In: Bay City, Michigan, United States

John List was an American mass murderer, who became infamous in the 1970s for killing his mother, wife and three children. Born in an extremely strict Lutheran family, John was raised as a single child. Following his high school graduation, he enlisted into the American military and worked as a lab technician. He later completed his master’s degree in accounting and worked as an accountant in the military. He married Helen and raised three children with her, while working as an accountant in many places, such as New York and New Jersey. He settled in New Jersey and took a job at a local bank. He murdered his mother, wife and three children in November 1971, due to financial distress and other issues within the family, and fled. He began living with a new identity in Virginia, where he was spotted by a local and got arrested. He was apprehended 18 years later in 1989 and was sentenced to five terms of life sentence. He died in the prison hospital at the age of 82, in 2008.

Quick Facts

Also Known As: John Emil List

Died At Age: 82


Spouse/Ex-: Delores Miller Clark (m. 1985–1989), Helen List (m. 1951–1971)

father: John Frederick List

mother: Alma List

children: Frederick List, John, Jr. List, Patricia List

Born Country: United States

Murderers American Men

Died on: March 21, 2008

place of death: Trenton, New Jersey, United States

More Facts

education: University Of Michigan, Ann Arbor

Childhood & Early Life

John List was born John Emil List, on September 17, 1925, in Bay City, Michigan, to John Frederick List and Alma Barbara Florence List. He was born as the only child in the highly religious German-American household. His father was a devout Lutheran who also taught at a local Sunday School in Bay City.

John had a very normal childhood and he did not show any signs of psychological troubles. However, he was a loner who was not socially active and had very few friends in school and his locality.

Soon after his high school graduation, he joined the United States Army during the Second World War, where he worked as a laboratory technician.

Following the end of the war, he resumed his studies and enrolled into the University of Michigan, from where he completed his bachelor’s degree in business administration. He later pursued a master’s degree in accounting from the same university and as the Korean War had escalated in 1950, he was recalled by the Army and was commissioned as a second lieutenant, stationed at Fort Eustis in Virginia, where he met his wife Helen.

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Marriage & Family Life

John List met Helen Morris Taylor, a young widow of an American enlisted man who had died in the Korean War. She had a young daughter from her previous marriage. John and Helen began dating and a few months later, Helen revealed to John that she had become pregnant.

John was a strict Lutheran and hence, when he came to know about Helen’s pregnancy, he right away proposed to her for marriage. They got married in December 1951. By then, he was assigned to the finance corps, from where he was discharged in 1952. He later moved to California, and then Detroit, where he worked as an accountant in a local firm.

Eventually, he took a decently paying job with a paper company at Kalamazoo, Michigan, and settled there with his family. The couple had three children together, while Helen’s daughter Brenda left home in 1960 after her marriage.

By the late 1950s, the family was in a good financial situation as John had been promoted to the position of a general supervisor in the company. However, the marriage was not very good. Helen had turned into an alcoholic, which caused them to engage in a lot of fights.

Later, John took a lucrative job at Xerox and moved to New York and lived there with his family for a few years. He later took a job as the vice president at a bank in New Jersey, where the family finally got settled.

Authorities later revealed that John kept lying to his family about his jobs. He had been fired from all his jobs due to his ‘cold’ demeanor and his inability to be social with his co-workers. He was too shy and seemed ‘disinterested’ in talking to even his superiors. Hence, his severe lack of social skills cost him jobs after jobs.

However, he was not ready to disclose his incompetency to his family yet and hence, he left the house every morning, sat on the railway station and read books and newspapers all day. Additionally, the financial burden on the family was increasing, causing him severe psychological distress.

He believed that it was his failure as a man to be unable to provide for his family. He became increasingly depressed. In addition to the financial distress, his eldest daughter wanted to become an actress, which was not acceptable by John owing to his Conservative upbringing. Moreover, his wife was a heavy drinker and she had also contracted Syphilis from her first marriage.

Financial troubles combined with his discontentment with his family over many issues caused severe depression to John, who then decided to take a drastic step to end everything once and for all.

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The Murders

The morning of November 7, 1971 began in a usual fashion. John packed off his children to school and loaded both of his handguns. He then shot both his wife and mother in their heads. He then called his children’s school to grant them leave to visit their grandmother in South Carolina. Afterwards, he dragged his wife’s body to the ballroom and made himself lunch and ate it.

His sixteen years old daughter and 13 years old son returned from the school at noon. Just as the kids entered from the main door, he shot both of them in the heads as well. His middle son, John Jr. who was also his ‘favorite’ suffered the most brutal death. John Sr. drove over to his school and watched him playing in a soccer game. He then drove his son back to the house and emptied both the guns on him, shooting him in his head and chest repeatedly.

Following the gruesome death of his family. John fled the house after putting all the bodies on sleeping bags, turning the house lights on and putting on some classical music.

The family did not have a lot of visitors and it took the neighbours 29 days to notice that something was off in the house. The neighbours called the police when John’s daughter Patricia’s dancing teacher came home to see why Patricia was not coming to the classes. When the police entered the house, on December 7th, the bodies had begun to decompose.

Trial & Imprisonment

After gruesomely murdering his entire family, John List had begun living a normal life again. He had planned the murders so meticulously that even after many years of the incident, the police and FBI found no trace of John.

John had first moved to Michigan, and then to Colorado, where he took an accounting job in Denver. He took a new identity and also joined a Lutheran church, where he met his second wife, Delores Miller. They married in 1985.

In 1989, Fox network broadcasted a TV show titled ‘America’s Most Wanted’, where an episode featured the New Jersey mass murders of John by his family. His picture was also shown on television, which led one of his neighbours to notify the authorities.

John was arrested and extradited to New Jersey. It took John’s fingerprints to match with the military records to convince the authorities that he was John List. John confessed to committing the murders in February 1990.

John was convicted of five counts of first degree murder in April 1990 and was imprisoned with five terms of consecutive life imprisonment. He defended himself saying that he was not mentally stable. But his defence was rejected and he was imprisoned at the New Jersey State Prison. In an interview, he stated that he did not kill himself because suicide prevents one from ‘going to heaven’. He also claimed to be suffering from PTSD.


John List passed away on March 21, 2008, after suffering from pneumonia. He was 82 years old at the time of his demise.

Over the years, the John List murders have been featured in films such as Judgment Day: The John List Story and The Stepfather. He has also appeared on television shows such as Your Worst Nightmare and American Justice.

See the events in life of John List in Chronological Order

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