NEWARK, N.J. (AP) _ A man wanted since 1971 in the shooting death of his wife, 85-year-old mother and three children has been arrested, authorities said today.

John List was arrested in Richmond, Va., Westfield Police Chief Anthony Scutti said. His case was featured last weekend on the network television program ''America's Most Wanted.'' Since the broadcast, tips have been coming in to police headquarters, Scutti said.

''From what I understand he's denying it, but they've checked his fingerprints and it's postive,'' Scutti said.

FBI Agent Drucilla Wells declined to give details of List's arrest until an afternoon news conference in Newark.

On the night of Dec. 7, 1971, neighbors noticed that light bulbs were going out in the List's Westfield home. For a month, no one had heard anything from the List family - Patricia, 16, John Jr. 15, Frederick, 13, List's 45-year-old wife, Helen, and his mother Alma.

The city's former police chief, James Moran, said he expected List to be caught only after the case became nationally known through television or the newspapers. Moran said he still carries a wanted poster of List with him.

''I'll gladly tear it up now,'' he said.