Since 1890
March 21, 2008: John List, Westfield Murderer, Dead at 82
MURDERER...John List murdered his wife, Helen, 46, (right); his mother, Alma, 84, (not shown); and his three children, (left to right), Patty, 16; John, 15; and Fred, 13, on November 9, 1971 in Westfield.

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The List Murders Stun Westfield In 1971
By Kathy Halverson, February 17, 2001 For The Westfield Leader and The Times

It was right out of a horror movie – or the type of terrible crime that could only happen elsewhere. But not in Westfield, N.J. Not in 1971.

In mid-December, the people of Westfield - and indeed, the entire metropolitan New York City area - awoke to newspaper headlines of the massacre of an entire family in the affluent, upper-income community.

Well, almost an entire family: The dead included Helen List, her mother-in-law Alma List, and Helen’s three teen-age children, Patty, John Jr., and Frederick. But one person was missing: John List, the head of the household, a tall, no-nonsense, often taciturn and personally foreboding accountant.

Police quickly zeroed in on John List as the killer. He had, it subsequently turned out, left a three-page letter to his minister admitting the crime.

The killings had taken place a month earlier, in November. But List was nowhere to be found. Days, weeks, and then years went by. The Westfield Police Department, however, refused to put the case down. Bernard Tracy, who was later to become the department’s chief, continuously explored every lead he could muster. Still, John List was not caught for 18 years, and only then because of the help of a national TV show – "America’s Most Wanted."

What drove this middle-aged, college educated, churchgoing man to commit such a terrible crime? He was in deep financial trouble. He couldn’t make mortgage payments. His wife , terribly ill, had contacted syphilis from her first husband, who had died in World War II. List wandered the streets because he had lost his job. . And he refused to accept "welfare," even if that meant saving his family.

List was originally from Bay City, Michigan. He moved his family to Westfield in the mid-1960s. John bought an 18-room mansion (complete with a ballroom) on Hillside Avenue. To finance the purchase, John has his mother Alma sell her house in Bay City, and move to Westfield. The house was never fully furnished.

John was a devoted churchgoer, but except for his mother, the rest of his family showed far less interest. His daughter, Patty, was active in local theater. There were rumors she was dabbling in witchcraft, which was somewhat in vogue with young people in the late 1960s and 1970s – a time of psychedelic music and anti-establishment rhetoric by young people.

John lost his job. Proud to a fault, he refused to inform his family. He would tell them he was going to work – and would then stay at the Westfield train station until it was time to "come home." On Nov. 9, 1971, John had the milk delivery and mail stopped. He told the schools he was taking the family on an emergency trip to visit Helen’s "sick mother" in North Carolina. He then shot his wife at the breakfast table, walked up to the third floor and shot his mother. He went back downstairs and dragged his wife into the empty ballroom.

In the afternoon, he picked his daughter up from school. He killed her when they .arrived home. He shot the two boys when they each came home in the afternoon. All were dragged into the ballroom.

John ate dinner and retired to bed. He disappeared the next morning. It would later be discovered that he had taken trains to Michigan and then Denver, where he took the alias "Robert Clark." In Colorado, he married a women he met at his local church.
When police finally entered the List mansion to discover the bodies, they found church-like music being played on the intercom.

The FBI caught up with John in 1989 through an anonymous tip. By then he was living in Virginia. The neighbor had watched an episode of "America’s Most Wanted," which featured a sculptured engraving of what John List probably looked like years after the murders. List, a fan of the show, had missed that episode.

Extradited to New Jersey, List was convicted and is now serving a life sentence at Trenton State Prison.

The List case still baffles criminologists. So many questions remain, from the big ones – "How could he do it?" – to smaller details, such as, "What happened to the family’s dog, Tinkerbelle?" The List house mysteriously burned down sometime after the murders. Along with the fire went perhaps the biggest irony of all: The glass ceiling in the empty ball room was a signed Tiffany original. That alone would likely have paid off all of John List’s debts. - End

Editor's Note: Sadly, the reach of John List's horror seems to have no end. On December 18, 2012: The author of this article, Katherine Halverson, committed Murder and Suicide.

By Ryan Hutchins and Seth Augenstein/The Star-Ledger

SCOTCH PLAINS — A mother enmeshed in a custody dispute locked her 3-year-old son, the family dog and herself in a bedroom at her Scotch Plains home and set the room ablaze, killing all inside, authorities said Wednesday.

Katherine Halverson, 32, and Jeremy Scott McDonald Jr., just four months past his third birthday, died in the Tuesday evening fire. A photo of the boy was posted hours earlier on Halverson’s Facebook page. He wore a red and blue striped sweater and a Santa hat. He was a sweetheart of a child, neighbors said.

"He was always so happy and bubbly and he’d say things to you like he was giving you a speech. You’d just have to pretend you understood him," said Barbara Parry, who lives in the other half of the duplex on Church Road and was the first to report the fire. "Such a beautiful little boy."

Halverson started the fire sometime around 7 p.m., locking herself, the boy and the dog inside the bedroom, then placing rags in front of the door, said Scotch Plains Police Chief Brian Mahoney. She doused the rags with an accelerant then lit a match, he said.

Parry said she called 911 at 7:17 p.m., after seeing smoke billow from the duplex attic. It wasn’t long before firefighters arrived and extinguished the flames, Mahoney said.

It was too late.

Even though the fire hadn’t reached the ceiling, the smoke had filled the room and left its occupants unconscious, he said. The boy and his mother were taken to Overlook Medical Center in Summit, where they were pronounced dead. Both died of smoke inhalation, autopsies found.

Halverson left behind no suicide note and no indications why she decided to kill her son and herself, said Theodore Romankow, the Union County prosecutor.

But it was clear from the look of the house, which she also shared with her mother, that Halverson was "someone who suffered from a mental condition," Romankow said. He would not elaborate on his statement.

Halverson’s mother was at work at the time of the fire, authorities said.

Halverson was involved in a custody dispute recently, Mahoney said, without providing additional details.

Two law enforcement officials say Halverson appeared in state Superior Court earlier Tuesday for a custody hearing. The officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss family court matters, would not reveal if any ruling had been made by the judge, or if Halverson had been upset about the hearing, but they said the proceeding is a component of the investigation.

The Westfield Leader & The Scotch Plains-Fanwood TIMES
PO Box 250, 251 North Ave. West, Westfield, NJ 07091
Tel 908 232-4407; fax 908 232-0473 contact
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