5 elements to understand … the John List affair, the “American Dupont de Ligonnès”

5 elements to understand … the John List affair, the “American Dupont de Ligonnès”

The List case tells the story of a man who murdered his entire family in cold blood and who, through meticulousness and cunning, managed the feat of starting a new family life during his eighteen-year flight. This affair, which kept America in suspense, bears no resemblance to that of the notorious and no less mysterious Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès.

John List, a common murderer

List was born on September 17, 1925 in Bay City, Michigan. A zealous Lutheran family, wife and children, a career in the army and a respectable bookkeeping education…John List seemed committed to the sobriety of a worldly and enviable life.

In fact, contrary to the ubiquitous cliché about the difficult path and the murderer’s past, this father led a peaceful existence and nothing predestined him for the horror of the events accused of in the investigation.

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In 1965 List received a prestigious position as Head of Accounting and moved with his wife, children and mother to a luxurious mansion with Victorian charm in Breeze Knoll. Happy as a couple and as a father, everything seems to smile in this charming family… But a year later, John List, then 41 years old, was fired for lack of cooperation with his work colleagues.

This job loss causes serious financial problems for the family and marks the beginning of John’s descent into Hell.

A massacre of extreme cold and meticulousness

In 1970, crushed by debt, John first had the evil idea of ​​plotting to murder his family. November 9, 1971 marks the big day for John, who decides to carry out his macabre plan.

Then, at the age of 46, he returned home as he did every day to his vast, opulent home in New Jersey, a remnant of a life spent in ease and joy. On site, his wife Helen, who is the same age, is peacefully enjoying her breakfast. After thirty-eight years of marriage, he shoots her without batting an eyelid. As a widower, he does not want to give in to his morbid pattern and climbs up to his 84-year-old mother Alma on the third floor. He pulls the trigger again.

Before his children come home from school, he drags his wife’s body into the mansion’s ballroom and cleans up behind him so 16-year-old Patricia and her 13-year-old brother Frederick don’t realize what’s happening. Yet he reserves the same fate for them. Without an ounce of guilt or stress, the killer sits at the same table where he shot his wife earlier, prepares a meal, and then heads off to watch his youngest son, who is 15, play football. When they get home after the sports meeting, the father finishes him off and attacks his body by shooting him ten times.

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He then rushed to line up the four bodies in the ballroom, leaving his mother’s upstairs before turning on some music and meticulously cleaning everything.

A new life built on the run

The killings were so well planned that it’s almost a month before anyone realizes there’s a problem. A neighbor called the police. On site, the agents are appalled. The five decomposing corpses of the victims did not leave their places. The music still echoes through the gloomy abode, underscoring the enormity of the scene before their horrified eyes.

The killer’s escape was perfect, no detail had been left out. Thanks to his tricks, he manages to escape justice for almost 18 years. So John List forges a new identity and remarries before finally being arrested on June 1, 1989 in Virginia. John List will be in denial for 6 months, then found guilty of the murders and sentenced to five consecutive life terms. He died in prison from pneumonia in 2008.

Disturbing similarities with the Dupont de Ligonnès affair

The paths and personalities of the two men are strangely similar. This man from Nantes, whose story has fascinated France since 2011, also killed his wife and four children in cold blood.

Just as calculating, the family man also took care of sending letters to his children’s schools and informing his relatives that the family wanted to go abroad. Not to mention the financial problems that hung around his neck and from which he couldn’t get rid of. Today remains this outlier that never ceases to fascinate as it endures over time.

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The similarities with the John E. List case are so striking that some would even believe that Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès was inspired by his American colleague.

Read next: 5 elements to understand… the Dupont De Ligonnès affair

Public morbid fascination with the killer

This affair intrigues the public both by the coldness of the killer and the length of his run. This unhealthy popular curiosity about the killings has led to many films inspired by this massacre. Like the film Le Beau-père Usual Suspects released in the year of the drama and the French TV film La Part du Suspection.

Beyond his death, John List continues to be addressed in these films inspired by his story and the ongoing run around his French counterpart, Dupont de Ligonnès, which continues to attract the general public.