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Famous Like Me > Actor > L > John List

Profile of John List on Famous Like Me

Name: John List  
Also Know As:
Date of Birth: 17th September 1925
Place of Birth: Bay City, Michigan, USA
Profession: Actor
From Wikipedia, the free Encyclopedia

This page should not be confused with that of economist John List of the University of Chicago.

John Emil List (born September 17, 1925 in Bay City, Michigan) is a mass murderer from Westfield, New Jersey. On November 9, 1971 he murdered his mother, three children, and his wife, and then disappeared. A fugitive from justice for eighteen years, he was ultimately apprehended on June 1, 1989 while living under the pseudonym Robert Peter "Bob" Clark, after the story of the murders was broadcast on the television program America's Most Wanted.


Investigations revealed that he had been suffering from financial problems due to losing his job as an accountant, heavy expenses related to his fancy house and family problems caused by his wife's mental illness. It was determined later that most of his financial problems could have been solved by selling the expensive Tiffany & Co. glass ceiling inside his living room.

After killing his family, List wrote a letter to his pastor explaining his motives: He felt that the 1970s were a sinful time, and that his family was beginning to succumb to temptation, especially his daughter, who expressed interest in an acting career, an occupation that List viewed as being particularly corrupt and linked to Satan. He told his pastor that by killing his family before they had the opportunity to renounce their religion, he was saving their souls and sending them directly to Heaven. Most criminal profilers asked to analyze List--including John E. Douglas-- have concluded that List came up with this motive in order to put his own mind at ease and rationalize murdering his own family to lessen his own stress.

Family history

List was described as an aloof, cold man with few friends. He was the only child of strict German parents. His mother in particular was very domineering and overprotective. He was a devout member of the Lutheran church and taught Sunday school. List served in the Army during World War II and later was given an ROTC commission as an Army Lieutenant. He earned a masters degree in accounting. List's lack of social skills, however, caused him many problems. He had a history of losing jobs.


He killed his family members one by one and dragged their bodies on sleeping bags into the ballroom of his house. He claimed he even prayed over them before leaving and beginning his life as a fugitive. The List case quickly became the most infamous in the history of the state of New Jersey and a nationwide manhunt was launched. The bodies were not discovered for a month, giving List a headstart. The police checked out hundreds of leads without results.

America's Most Wanted

The authorities approached the producers of the show because many fugitives had been captured due to viewer's telephone calls. It was the oldest case they had ever featured. The television program included an age-rendered clay bust which looked very similar to List, even though he had been missing for 18 years.

The man who created the bust of the aging fugitive was forensic artist Frank Bender. Bender had previously had great success in helping to capture aging fugitives and identify decomposed bodies by creating these sculptures. Bender's work was part art, part forensic science and part instinct. To imagine what an aging List would look like, he consulted a forensic psychologist and created a psychological profile of this man. He looked at photographs of List's parents and predicted what he would look like as he aged. He gave him a receding hairline and sagging jaws. Bender was particularly lauded for one final touch he added to his completed artwork. It was a pair of glasses. Bender professed that List would not be vain enough to wear contact lenses. However, he said List would have worn a pair of glasses different than those he wore before the murders. He said they would be a pair with dark thick frames. Bender and the psychologist theorized that List would do this to "hide" in a sense. He would want to disguise the fact that he was a failure and appear more important then he really was. When List was arrested, he was wearing the exact type of glasses.


On June 1, 1989 List was arrested while living under the pseudonym Robert Peter "Bob" Clark. He was identified by a friend who had seen the television feature. In the 18 years since List committed his crimes he had been living in Denver, Colorado and Richmond, Virginia, where he remarried and started a new life and a career as an accountant. On April 12, 1990 he was convicted in a New Jersey court of five counts of first-degree murder, and on May 1 was sentenced to five life terms in prison. List has never expressed any remorse for his crimes.


John Walsh, the host of America's Most Wanted, called Bender's work the most brilliant example of detective work that he had ever seen. To this day, Walsh keeps Bender's bust in a place of honor in his office.


  • List is the basis for the elusive character of Keyser Soze in The Usual Suspects.
  • Jerry Blake, the title character in The Stepfather, is also based on List.


  • Righteous Carnage: The List Murders
  • Death Sentence: The Inside Story of the John List Murders

This content from Wikipedia is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article John List