1971 Family Killer Breaks Silence

ByABC News
February 20, 2002, 3:20 PM

Feb. 20 -- Thirty years ago, accountant John List methodically murdered his whole family his mother, his wife, and their three children. He says he wanted to spare them the shame of losing their New Jersey mansion and to make sure they got to heaven.

Now, in his first-ever public comments about the 1971 crime, the 76-year-old former Sunday school teacher says he is waiting to be reunited with them in the hereafter.

"I feel when we get to heaven we won't worry about these earthly things. They'll either have forgiven me or won't realize, you know, what happened," List told Downtown's Connie Chung in an interview at the New Jersey State Prison in Trenton, where he is serving five life sentences. "I'm sure that if we recognize each other that we'll like each other's company just as we did here, when times were better."

List left a confession letter at the scene, so police had little doubt as to who was responsible for the killings. But he fled to Colorado, assumed a new name and remarried, managing to elude a nationwide manhunt for 18 years. He was arrested in 1989 after a former neighbor recognized him from a profile on the syndicated TV show America's Most Wanted. He was sentenced to five consecutive life prison terms.

List, who says he remains deeply religious today, acknowledges that his crimes violated one of the Ten Commandments: "Thou shalt not kill."

"I knew it was wrong. As I was doing it I knew it was wrong," he said.

But, during a four-hour interview, he sought to explain how worries that financial hardship would split his family and turn them away from their faith forced him to make a tough decision. "I finally decided the only way to save them from that was to kill them," he said.

Bank Vice President and Sunday School Teacher

In 1965, when List and his family moved to affluent Westfield, N.J., he seemed to be a model of suburban success and propriety. He was vice president and comptroller of a nearby bank, and his family lived in an 18-room mansion with marble fireplaces and an elegant ballroom. They attended church each week with List's mother, a strict Lutheran who lived with them.