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The List Murders…

This is an account of one of the most infamous murder cases in all of New Jersey.

Forty years ago this month, John List, age 46, applied for a firearms registration for home protection.

Two months earlier, his 16 year old daughter Pat has been picked up by the police for walking the streets after midnight and smoking. John’s wife, Helen, no longer went to church. John was sure that the family was going straight to hell.

Their home in Westfield, New Jersey was a nineteen room, three story Victorian mansion and the most expensive home in the neighborhood. In December, 1971, a neighbor noticed that the List house had all of its light on for quite a while. It appeared abandoned to her, and she notified the police.

The officers entered the house through an unlocked window. There was church music playing loudly through an intercom system. The furniture was gone. There were dark stains on the kitchen floor and on the wall of the pantry. As they walked through the house, a terrible smell got stronger, and the police officers followed it into the ballroom of the house. Near the fireplace, they found four bodies, placed side by side on Boy Scout sleeping bags. The bodies had rags over their faces, and there were trails of blood from where they had been dragged from other parts of the house. Pat List’s drama coach identified the bodies as Helen and her three children – daughter Pat, son John Jr., age 15, and son Frederick, age 13. Helen and Pat had both been shot in the head. John, Jr., had been shot multiple times in the chest and face.

The body of John List’s mother, Alma, was found in the attic. She also had a rag on her face, and had been shot above the left eye.

The police officers discovered a note taped to a filing cabinet with keys to the drawer which revealed two guns. Also inside the drawer was a large envelope addressed to the pastor of the List’s church. Inside were the List’s financial records. Another note was found explaining that he didn’t want his family to experience poverty and that he wanted their souls to remain pure in the future. A five page confession was written by John List to his pastor, explaining how the family had turned away from God.

List’s car was located at Kennedy Airport in long term parking with a voucher dated November 10th, and his passport was missing from the house.

List was indicted on five counts of murder and on fleeing a crime scene across state lines by a grand jury in absentia.

The search for John List lasted 18 years.

List had changed his name to Robert Clark and worked as a cook at a hotel. He joined a church and fell in love and married a woman named Delores. By 1985, things started to fall apart. He lost his job and his position as a Sunday school teacher, and Delores started to talk about leaving him. Their dog was beaten to death outside their gate.

Their neighbor, Wanda Flannery, got to know the “Clarks” pretty well. She liked to read tabloids, and, in 1987, read an article about John List in the World Weekly News. She recognized his picture, and told Delores about her suspicions. Delores tossed the paper out without saying anything to her husband. The couple soon moved to another city.

Jeffrey Paul Hummel was a police detective who had worked on the List case. In 1988, he saw a new television program, America’s Most Wanted, and asked Captain Frank Marranca to bring the List case to the show. The show aired on May 21, 1989 and was seen by about 22 million viewers.

List and Delores had gone to a church social that evening so they missed the show. But their old neighbor, Wanda Flannery, was watching. She had her son-in-law call the phone number on the show and gave them the Clark’s new name and address in Virginia.

When police got to the Clark’s home, Delores told them that Bob was at work. They showed her the photographs of List. Bob was arrested at his place of business.

List pleaded not guilty and his bail was set at $1 million. On April 12, 1990, List was found guilty on all counts. He was given five consecutive life terms in prison.

In March, 2002, List was interviewed by Connie Chung for ABC’s evening magazine show “Downtown.” He said that he felt that he had a better chance of going to heaven if he murdered his family and sought forgiveness rather than just killed himself. He fully expected to see his family in heaven again.

List died of pneumonia in prison on March 21, 2008 at the age of 82.

Union County’s Famous Graves

Hillside Cemetery at 1401 Woodland Avenue in Scotch Plains was originally purchased as farm land and then later turned over to a non-profit group as a cemetery. It is the final resting place of Mary Eleanor Wilkins Freeman (1852-1930) who was a Massachusetts born author and the first recipient of the William Dean Howells Medal for Distinction in Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. One of her more famous writings was Collected Ghost Stories, containing supernatural stories such as “The Shadows on the Wall” and “The Lost Ghost.”

Hillside Cemetery is also the final resting place of actor Dudley Moore, famous for his 1981 film Arthur.

William Nelson Runyon, the 50th NJ Governor, is also interred at Hillside, along with several US Congressmen.

Eli Long (1837-1900) was a Civil War Union Major General who is interred at Hillside Cemetery. Also interred at Hillside is Julian Scott (1846-1901) who was a Drummer boy for Third Vermont Infantry and is a Civil War Congressional Medal of Honor Recipient.  The main gallery at Johnson State College, in Johnson, Vermont, is named in Julian Scott’s honor.

Fairview Cemetery in Westfield was founded in 1868 and is the final resting place of Virginia Apgar, famous for developing the Apgar Score system to test the health of a newborn. Joseph Collins, also interred at Fairview Cemetery, played for the New York Yankees from 1948 through 1957, including seven World Series competitions.  Claydes Smith, guitarist for Kool and the Gang, died in 2006 and is interred at Fairview as well.

The Fairview Cemetery’s most notorious residents are the Lists.  Frederick, Helen, John, and Patricia List were all killed by John Emil List who disappeared for 18 years before being captured and sentenced to life in prison.

Evergreen Cemetery and Crematory  on North Broad Street in Hillside is the final resting place of Civil War Union Brevet Brigadier General James Bomford and of Civil War Congressional Medal of Honor Recipients William Brant, Jr., Rufus King,  and James Madison Drake.  Adoniram Judson Clark, a Civil War Union Army Officer who commanded Battery B of the New Jersey Light Artillery is also buried there, as is Civil War Union Army Officer Adolphus Johnson, who commanded the 1st New Jersey Militia.  Civil War Union Army Officer Luther Martin served as the Captain of Company D in the 11th New Jersey Infantry is buried at Evergreen as well.

Seven United States Congress men are also interred at Evergreen Cemetery.

Novelist and poet, Newark born Stephen Crane died at the age of 28 and is interred at Evergreen Cemetery. He is perhaps best known for his novel The Red Badge of Courage about a young Union soldier named Henry Fleming.  Crane himself had never fought in battle.

Author Barton Wood Currie, who wrote the story of Peary’s polar expeditions, is also buried at Evergreen.

Mary Mapes Dodge, author of Hans Brinker, the Silver Skates, died in 1905 and was buried at Evergreen. Edward Stratemeyer, author of The Bobbsey Twins is also buried at Evergreen.

Hazelwood Cemetery on Lake Avenue in Rahway is the final resting place of Civil War Union Brevet Major General Harvey Brown.

Rahway Cemetery on Saint Georges Avenue in Rahway is the final resting place of two Civil War Union Army Officers.  Walter Bramhall commanded the 6th Battery of the New York Independent Volunteer Light Artillery and John Cladek served as Colonel of the 35th New Jersey Volunteer Infantry.

Rahway Cemetery is also the final resting place of one unknown woman who was the victim of a Victorian murder mystery.  She was in her early 20s with blue eyes and brown hair when her unidentified body was found early in the morning of March 25, 1887 in the mud on Rahway’s Central Avenue.  Her throat had been slashed and her face had been beaten.  When she was killed, she was wearing a feather trimmed green dress and carrying a basket of eggs.  No one ever came forward to identify the mystery woman or to provide any information.

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