Witness: List Announced Murder of Family Before Disappearing
DANIEL J. WAKIN
Mar. 27, 1990
ELIZABETH, N.J. (AP) _ John E. List told his family he planned to kill them before his wife, mother and three children were slain at their mansion and he disappeared for 18 years, a witness testified Monday.
The hearing on evidence in List's murder trial also saw the first public release of a note in which he implied he killed his family because he couldn't support them and because he knew ''they would all be Christians.''
The witness, drama teacher Edwin Illiano, said List's 16-year-old daughter, Patricia, mentioned the threat as he was driving her home from rehearsal at a municipal drama society in 1971.
''The father had announced to the family that he was going to murder the entire family,'' Illiano testified. He said the girl was sobbing and near hysteria.
After the teen-ager began missing rehearsals that November, Illiano began driving by the List home. He said he told List's pastor and former Police Chief James Moran, now retired, of his concern, but was not taken seriously.
On Dec. 7, police found the family members' bullet-riddled bodies. That was about a month after Illiano learned of the threat, he said outside court.
Defense attorney Elijah L. Miller Jr. has moved to exclude evidence collected from List's 18-room mansion in the New York City suburb of Westfield, arguing the home was entered illegally.
Evidence in contention includes a note dated Nov. 9, 1971, and left for List's mother-in-law, Eva Morris, and an insurance associate.
''By now no doubt you know what has happened to Helen and the children. I'm very sorry that it had to happen,'' List, a devout church-going Sunday school teacher and accountant, wrote Mrs. Morris.
''But because of a number of reasons I couldn't see any other solution,'' he said. ''I just couldn't support them anymore and I didn't want them to go into poverty. Also, at this time I know that they would all be Christians. I couldn't be sure of that in the future as the children grow up.''
He signed it, ''with my sincere sympathies, John E. List.''
Superior Court Judge William L'E. Wertheimer is expected to decide on Miller's motions before opening arguments scheduled for Friday.
Miller apparently called Illiano as a witness because he contradicted police testimony that officers entered the house first out of concern for the safety of List's 85-year-old mother, Alma.
Illiano had goine to the house that night with a fellow drama group member out of concern for Patricia List.
''With one fluid movement I opened the window and entered the house,'' he said. He said he was followed by police. However, in a statement to police Dec. 8, 1971, he said the officers went first.
Illiano explained the discrepancy by saying he was anxious ''to get out of there.''
Illiano was preceded by retired Westfield police Detective Robert J. Bell, who led the murder investigation.
Bell identified five notes taped to file cabinet and desk drawers addressed to List's insurance agent, the estate's administrator and his Lutheran pastor, Eugene Rehwinkel.
Bell also said there were notes written on lined yellow paper that included notes to the children's schools explaining that the family had to leave town.
The detective said a .22-caliber pistol and a 9mm automatic were found in a desk drawer.
Retired patrolman George Zhelesnick testified earlier that he was sent to the home after neighbors expressed concern about Alma List and a suspicious car in the driveway. The car turned out to be Illiano's.
The former policeman said he found an unlocked dining-room window after circling the house.
He said he entered the house, followed by his partners and two friends of Patricia List.
''It was at that time I saw what appeared to be four bodies lying on the floor,'' Zhelesnick recalled.
He said he radioed for help and went back to search the rest of the home.
He and partner Charles Haller found Alma List's body in a third-floor storage room.
List was arrested last June in the Richmond, Va., suburb of Midlothian, where he had been living as Robert Clark.
He has maintained that he is innocent because of his mental condition at the time of the killings.