Sunday School Teacher Murders His Family – 11/9/1971

US History |


There are two concepts, being a former middle-school teacher that I never thought would go together: a teacher becoming a murderer and killing his own family. Even though in today’s society where some teachers are being charged with possessing child pornography or having sex with their students, the two concepts I stated above have not been reported as happening at present. 

However, on November 9th, 1971 a man named John Emil butchered his own family in their home in Westfield, New Jersey and vanishes without a trace. Even though the Sunday school teacher would quickly be identified by police as their number one suspect in the killings, he would not be apprehended and the case finally closed for eighteen years.

Before these horrific murders happened, List’s appearance publicly was a successful and average father. He was known to be a troop leader for the Boy Scouts as well as school teacher who worked on Sunday’s; John was adamant that his kids obey extremely strict rules that would cast him as being a strict disciplinarian. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary that one would expect what was to come on that fateful day in November.

Without any noticeable reason, List decided to shoot his mother Alma above her left eye; he then proceeded to shoot in the side of her head his wife, Helen and then shot in the back of their heads the two older children. The final murder was of his youngest child who was shot multiple times in the face and chest; afterwards, List carefully displayed the visible dead bodies and putting the murder weapon next to them. Despite seeming like this was carried out by a madman, he had actually devised a methodic plan that would ensure it would take some time before the bodies were found by stopping delivery of the mail, newspaper and milk days before the murder would occur on November 9th. Another element to his plan was notifying the schools his children attended and said the family was going out of town for a few days to visit a sick relative. List disappeared without any traces by the time police had found the victims.

The hope of local police officers in trying to capture List had all but faded away until the late 1980s when America’s Most Wanted television series aired. The episode that showed the List murders aired on May 21st, 1989 in which calls about the case flooded in. Even though the large majority proved not to be useful, one call suggested that John was now residing in Virginia using the name of Robert Clark.

Investigating the tip, it was proven that List did take on a fake identity by remarrying and setting up residence down South. John would now face chargers for killing his family after he was taken back to New Jersey. Later next year, John List was found guilty of committing five murders and was given five consecutive sentence of life imprisonment.

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