Notorious AMW Fugitive
John List Dead at 82
When cops saw List, they were shocked. He looked exactly like Frank Bender's bust -- right down to the glasses
John Emil List's capture is one of the most amazing stories in the history of America's Most Wanted. He made headlines in 1971 when he brutally and methodically murdered five of his family members; he earned notoriety during his 18-year run from the law following the terrifying killing spree. But while List's run ended on June 1, 1989 as a direct result of AMW, his story truly came to an ultimate end on Friday, when he died while serving out his sentence.
List died at 2:30 p.m. Friday -- four days after being transported from New Jersey State Prison to the St. Francis Medical Center in Trenton. The cause of his death has yet to be determined. List was 82 years old at the time of his death.
The bust looked great -- but would it work?
A Horrific Crime Scene
Frank Bender used psychology and science in equal parts to build a lifelike bust of List, complete with white hair and a receding hairline, drooping brows and jaw, and thick dark glasses
John List seemed an unlikely murder suspect. He was a college-educated, seemingly successful accountant in Westfield, N.J. who taught Sunday School at his church. But when List lost his job and couldn't pay the bills, family pressure began to mount. Additionally, cops say List believed his family was becoming corrupted by the declining moral standards in the early 1970s.
On November 9, 1971, List came up with a radical solution. Using .22-caliber and 9mm handguns, List systematically executed each member of his family inside his 18-room suburban mansion. He was convicted of shooting his 46-year-old wife, Helen, in the head -- then dragging her into the mansion's ballroom. Then, List shot his mother, 84-year-old Alma, in the head and stuffed her in a closet. And as they arrived home from school, List killed each of his teenage children -- 16-year-old Patricia, 13-year-old Frederick, and 15-year-old John Jr., who fought back and was subsequently shot a disturbing ten times.
A remorseless List then lined his children's bodies up next to their mother's, cleaned up the gruesome scene, and wrote a shocking confession to his pastor. In it, List attempted to justify his actions.
"I wasn't earning anywhere near enough money to support us," he wrote. "Everything I tried seemed to fall to pieces. Please remember me in your prayers. I will need them."
The confession letter had an even more disturbing post script.
"P.S. Mother is in the hallway in the attic. She was too heavy to move," he penned.
After writing the letter, List mopped up the blood and took off -- and for the next 18 years, his whereabouts remained a mystery.
Earning His Spot On America's Most Wanted
On May 21, 1989, John List made his AMW debut -- and AMW history. More than 200 tips came in from all across the country tracking him from Denver, Colo. to Richmond, Va
In 1989, police decided to bring the case to America's Most Wanted -- at the time, a brand new crime show. And AMW decided to do something we had never done before: we asked renowned forensic artist, Frank Bender, to create a bust depicting an elderly John List in hopes it would help the public identify him.
Frank Bender used psychology and science in equal parts to build a lifelike bust of List, complete with grey hair and a receding hairline, drooping brows and jaw, and thick dark glasses. Bender says the glasses were part of a psychological profile he did of List: they gave him the look of confidence and control he'd need to keep up his facade during life on the run. The bust looked great -- but would it work?
On May 21, 1989, John List made his AMW debut -- and AMW history. More than 200 tips came in from all across the country tracking him from Denver, Colo. to Richmond, Va. And in the end, one of those tips led cops straight to List. List became Direct Result Capture #50. When cops saw List, they were shocked. He looked exactly like Frank Bender's bust -- right down to the glasses.
After 18 frustrating years, it only one airing on AMW and eleven days to bring down the elusive fugitive. List's trial drew worldwide attention as the murderer claimed insanity. But the jury didn't buy it. List was sentenced to five consecutive life terms in a N.J. State Prison -- and justice was finally served.
To this day, John List's capture story remains among John Walsh's favorites, and will go down in AMW history as one of our most amazing captures ever.