tv Forensic Files CNN January 3, 2015 9:30pm-10:01pm PST
this is how art and science led to his capture. the list family lived in this large victorian home in the quiet affluent town of westfield, new jersey. john list was a 46-year-old accountant. he and his wife helen had been married for almost 20 years. they had three children, 16-year-old patricia, 15-year-old john and 13-year-old freddy. john list's elderly mother alma also lived with the family in her own separate apartment on the third floor. the list children attended local schools and were all active and popular. john list was a devout lutheran and taught sunday school. in the fall of 1971, the list house stood empty.
the family was away visiting a sick relative. but when a month went by with no signs of activity, neighbors grew suspicious and decided to call the police. >> they felt that something was wrong and asked us to check the house, which we did. >> when police arrived, they entered the house through an unlocked window. the house was cold and there were no signs of activity. but they heard music. >> like a funeral dirge type music that was very disturbing to the officers who were in there. >> the police also noticed the faint smell of decomposing flesh. they found the source in the ballroom. four bodies, each lying on a blood soaked sleeping bag lined up neatly side by side. the victims were identified as helen list and her three children. all had been shot to death at close range. police noticed a blood trail on the floor indicating that helen and the children were shot in the kitchen, then dragged into the ballroom.
in the kitchen police found bags full of blood soaked paper towels and a bloody mop, evidence that the killer cleaned up after the murders. police searched the rest of the house. upstairs on the third floor they made another chilling discovery, a fifth body. 84-year-old alma list, she had been shot in the head. in the den, police found two guns and a letter addressed to the pastor of the local church that the list family attended. >> i know that what has been done is wrong. i'm sure many will say, how can anyone do such a horrible thing. mother is in the hallway in the attic. >> the letter was not only a confession but an explanation. it was signed by john list. list had recently lost a lucrative banking job was having money problems and feared his
family would have to go on welfare. and he had other concerns. as a devout christian, list feared that his family was turning away from a christian life and would eventually stop going to church. he disapproved of his daughter's growing interest in an acting career, a profession he considered to be immoral. in the mind of john list, there was only one place he could send his family to save their souls. >> at least i'm certain they have all gone to heaven now. >> the letter provided some details of the murders. that it took longer for his oldest son john to die. he was riveted with bullets until list was satisfied the child was dead. >> john got hurt more because he seemed to struggle longer.
>> john list's confession also described his last moments alone with his family. >> i said some prayers for them all from the hymn book. that was the least i could do. >> when news of the murders broke, neighbors told police that the mild mannered accountant was an odd reclusive man with very few friends. two days after the bodies were discovered, police found list's abandoned car in a parking lot at jfk airport in new york. the date on the parking voucher was november 10th, but there was no evidence that list had taken a flight. but police knew wherever list was he had a one month head start. sea captain: there's a narratorstorm cominhe storm narrator: that whipped through the turbine which poured... surplus energy into the plant which generously lowered its price and tipped off the house
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office, every post office and to the law enforcement agencies across the country. >> a ballistics report confirmed that the two guns found in john list's desk were the weapons used to kill his family. autopsies revealed that the victims had been shot in the head. the victims had been dead about a month when their bodies were discovered. but where was john list? >> there had been two schools of thought. one was that he had committed suicide after committing the homicides and the other was that he was living out somewhere around the midwest. >> once in a while you get a a list citing that they saw a guy in alabama who looked like john list because the fbi kept information. >> john emile list would elude authorities for 18 frustrating years, despite efforts by investigators to keep the murdered case alive through the media. >> we would call the newspapers and we would insist that they keep it alive on the fifth anniversary, the sixth
anniversary, the 15th anniversary. we kept it alive. >> then detectives had an idea. >> tonight on "america's most wanted." >> the television show "america's most wanted" has led to the capture of some of the fbi's most celebrated fugitives by generating phone tips from viewers. >> i thought this might be an interesting case for them to take on. >> if we were successful in getting the list case aired, someone out there would recognize him and make that telephone call. >> detectives convinced "america's most wanted" to do an episode on the john list murders, despite the fact that the case was almost two decades old. >> i said this is a guy that i would like to see caught and we decided to do john list. >> but there was a problem. at the end of each episode viewers see a photograph of the wanted person. but the most recent photo of john list had been taken years
before the murders. what would he look like almost 20 years later? the john list murder case would not enter the highly specialized world of forensic sculpting. >> i had been involved in the battle for missing children's rights for years since the murder of my son in 1981, and i had come across frank bender over the years as a renowned forensic reconstruction artist. >> forensic sculptor frank bender reconstructs faces to help police track down aging fugitives or identify decomposed bodies. part art, part science, part intuition. >> i work with physical anthropologists, i work with dentists, pathologists, detectives. >> "america's most wanted" asked frank bender to add 18 years to the face of john list.
all he had to work with were some old photographs. computers can age a face, but bender's old fashioned hands on technique gives the forensic bust a personal touch. >> a lot of the computers nowadays will just add like five wrinkles because they're eight years older. sometimes you can actually look better after a few years if you took care of yourself. >> to look at john list the individual, bender needed a psychological profile of the killer. >> i get into the head of a person. in a sense i want to become that person while i'm working on the fugitive. i want to feel like that person. i want to know everything about that person. >> he called on the help of forensic psychologist richard walter. together sculptor and psychologist would predict would john list would age. bender and walter poured over newspaper articles and photographs to analyze the man behind the murders. they researched his strict upbringing by german parents.
the lutheran church had been a focus of young john's life. he was an only child and the son of an overly protective domineering mother. list had a masters degree in accounting but lacked social skills and had a history of losing jobs. the psychological profile revealed a man who killed out of anger and retaliation because of his own failure. >> the perpetrator has a history of frustration and feeling entrapped by women. generally women of their own age group or older or women in authority. >> the psychological profile helped reinforce bender's vision of the aging fugitive. >> i had his mouth going down on the corners because of anxiety that i felt he carried with him from committing these crimes. and richard brought out that it wasn't guilt from killing his family, but the anxiety of the
fear of being caught. >> bender also took into account genetics. he looked at photographs of john list's parents and added sagging jowls and a receding hairline to the bust. list had a surgical scar behind his right ear and bender researched how the scar would look as he aged. with the fiberglass bust complete, bender painted the skin and hair and put list in a suit and tie, what he and walter thought list would wear most of the time. but the bust wasn't complete. the final touch would be a pair of glasses. walter was certain list wasn't vain enough to wear contact lenses. and bender predicted list would be wearing a different style of glasses than those he wore at age 46. bender was convinced list would want to hide the fact that he was a failure by wearing glasses
with dark thick frames. >> to look for intelligent were more important than he really was. and this was through the help of richard profile. >> bender looked through dozens of pairs of used glasses and found the perfect pair to use on the bust. the forensic bust was complete. >> tonight on "america's most wanted." >> now tonight's first case. the oldest we've ever pursued on "america's most wanted". >> on sunday night, may 21st, 1989, "america's most wanted" aired the episode on the list murders. in denver, colorado, a family recognized the face of a mass murderer.
if you know anything -- about john list -- >> the night "america's most wanted" revealed the bust of john list, wanda flannery and her daughter were watching from their home in denver, colorado. much to their horror, they saw a striking resemblance between john list and a former neighbor. >> it just all started adding up gradually that he was an accountant and a lutheran, and he had a scar behind his ear.
and he was well put together and a classy dresser. and which the time they got to the sculpture, i was convinced it was him. >> to look at it, you would have known. >> the clincher for me was the glasses and the jowls. >> we said oh, my god, that's bob. bob clarke. >> bob is john list. we've got to call. >> wanda told the fbi that her former neighbor moved to richmond, virginia, and was using the name bob clarke. the fbi closed in, and agents arrested robert peter clarke at the accounting office where he worked in richmond. >> i approached him and i asked him are you mr. clark and he said yes. i said are you john list?
and he says no, i'm robert p. clark. >> but bob clark had a scar behind his right ear and a fingerprint check matched prints on a gun permit application john list had filled out one month before the murders. bob clarke and john list were the same man. >> i said they got him. that was it. they got him. >> amazingly, john list wore the same style glasses that frank bender had used on the forensic bust. >> frank bender was 100% right. the picture of john list when he was captured was put next to the picture of that bust on the front page of the new york times. john list had the same exact glasses on that frank bender had put on the forensic bust. it was uncanny. >> it was almost as if the person who did the bust was actually looking at john list
when he did it. >> at john list's trial the story unfolded, of how the mild mannered church going accountant meticulously planned the brutal execution of his entire family. list had lost his job. buckling under the strain of mounting bills and the perceived moral decay of his family, john list made a decision. >> he decided he wanted to do this. this was the only way out and for him to start with a clean slate. that's why he did it. after the children left for school, john list put his plan in motion. he shot his wife in the head at point blank range. he then climbed two flights of stairs and entered his mother's apartment. he left his mother's body upstairs. but placed his wife's body on a sleeping bag and dragged to it the ballroom.
he then cleaned up the blood. later that afternoon as the children arrived home, he murdered each one. the oldest boy, john, put up a struggle and list fired ten times. he dragged the children's bodies to the ball room, lined them up on sleeping bags next to their mother and cleaned up more blood. with the executions over, list said a prayer and then wrote the letter to his pastor confessing to the murders. he lowered the thermostat to slow the bodies' decomposition, turned on the radio to a classical music station, and began his life as a fugitive. before the bodies were even discovered, list made his way to
denver, applied for a new social security number as robert peter clarke. in time he made friends with his neighbor, wanda flannery, rejoined the lutheran church, and married wanda's friend, dolores miller. his new wife never suspected a thing. he said that his old wife died of cancer and that he had no children. >> i do not believe it. i love my husband very deeply. i do not believe this is the same man. >> the couple eventually moved back east to the richmond, virginia area, where list found an accounting job. richard walter's psychological profile accurately predicted almost every aspect of john list's flight from justice. >> what was he doing when they caught him? he was a cpa. he was still a volunteer in the lutheran church. a guy that kills his wife, kills his mother and three kids, he was still the same preacher he was when he killed them years
before. >> nearly 23 years after the brutal murder of his entire family, a jury found john list guilty of five counts of first-degree murder and sentenced him to life in prison. >> john emile list will be eternally synonymous with concepts of selfishness, evil and horror. >> i was just thrilled that the merger then between psychology and sculpture worked. >> it was an invaluable tool in making a determination of how the guy would probably look. and it was just uncanny as to how close the sculpture was to the actual man. >> i really paid attention to i think as much information as i had about john list and what he was about. >> i truly believe it wasn't for frank bender, john list would still be at large.
but finally we brought john list to justice. for more than a year, angry hateful letters were sent to a first grade schoolteacher in a small mountain village in pennsylvania. many were sexual in nature. some threatened violence. when scientists analyzed the letters, they found evidence that the stalker knew a lot about the victim, more than anyone could possibly imagine. in 1993, some hate mail