Where Is John List Now? ‘The Watcher’ Murderer Is Based on a Real Killer Who Made a New Identity After Killing His Family

John List, "The Watcher"
Photo: Eric Liebowitz/Netflix.

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If you’re familiar with the true story about the “Boogeyman of Westfield,” you may be wondering where John List is now and how his case inspired the character John Graff in The Watcher.

John Emil List is a convicted murderer who killed his mother, wife and three children in Westfield, New Jersey, before he fled the crime scene and lived more than 18 years under a new identity (and with a new wife) in a different state. He was the inspiration for the character John Graff from Netflix’s 2022 miniseries, The Watcher, which is based on a 2018 New York Magazine article of the same name about Derek and Maria Broaddus, a married couple who move into their dream home in Westfield, New Jersey, only to find themselves stalked by a mysterious letter writer who went by the pseudonym “The Watcher.” (The couple are named Dean and Nora Braddock in The Watcher.)  WARNING: SPOILER: In The Watcher, John Graff is an accountant who moved into The Watcher house at 657 Boulevard with his mother, wife and two children before the Braddocks. While living there, Graff also receives letters from The Watcher, who harasses him about his family issues and his recent firing from his job. Graff’s mental state deteriorates so much that he murders each of his family members before leaving their bodies in the house for neighbors to find weeks later.

While John List, who inspired Graff, didn’t live at 657 Boulevard and committed his crimes long before the Broaddus family moved into the home, there are a lot of similarities between his case and Graff’s. So where is John List now and what is the true story about his murders? Read on for what we know about where John List is now and how his real case is much more chilling than what was told in The Watcher.

Who is John List and what is the true story of The Watcher murders?

"The Watcher"

Image: Eric Liebowitz/Netflix.

Who is John List? List was the inspiration for William “Bill” Webster, also known as John Graff, in The Watcher. List, a devout Lutheran and a Sunday school teacher, moved to Westfield, New Jersey—the same town where The Watcher house is—in 1965 after he accepted a job as the vice president and comptroller at a bank in Jersey City, New Jersey. He lived at 431 Hillside Avenue with his wife, Helen Morris Taylor; mother, Alma Barbara Florence List; and two children: daughter Patricia, and sons Frederick and John. List’s home, a 19-room Victorian mansion named Breeze Knoll, was about two miles from The Watcher house at 657 Boulevard. List’s father, John Frederick List Sr., died in 1944, seven years before he married Helen on December 1, 1951. List and Helen met in 1950 while he was stationed at Fort Eustis in Virginia as a second lieutenant. Helen, a widow of an infantry officer killed in action in the Korean War, lived nearby with her daughter, Brenda. Brenda left List and Helen’s household in 1960 after she got married—11 years before List’s eventual murders.

On November 9, 1971, List murdered his whole family—including his mother, wife and two children—using a 9mm Steyr 1912 semi-automatic handgun and his father’s Colt .22 caliber revolver. While Patricia, Frederick and John were at school, List killed Helen, who was 46 at the time, by shooting her in the back of the head. He then killed Alma, who was 84, by shooting her above the left eye. When Patricia, who was 16, and Frederick, who was 13, came home from school, List also killed them both by shooting them in the back of their heads. List then made lunch for himself before he drove to the bank to close his and his mother’s bank accounts. He then drove to Westfield High School to watch John, who was 15 at the time, play in a soccer game. List shot and killed John as he drove him home from the soccer game. Evidence showed that List shot John repeatedly because he kept misfiring as his eldest son attempted to defend himself.

List put the bodies of his wife and children in sleeping bags and moved them to his home’s ballroom. He moved his mother’s body to her apartment in the attic of his home. List also cleaned the crime scenes and removed his pictures from all the family photographs in the house. He tuned a radio to a religious station before he left the home. In a five-page letter to his pastor, which was found on the desk of List’s study after his murders, List wrote that he saw too much evil in the world and killed his family to save their souls.

The murders weren’t discovered until almost a month later on December 7, 1971, because of letters List sent to his children’s schools and jobs claiming they would be out of town for a few weeks visiting their sick maternal grandmother in North Carolina. The children’s grandmother, who was Helen’s mother, was, in fact, sick. She had a trip planned to Westfield, New Jersey, around the time of the murders, but cancelled because of her illness. List later told officials that, had his mother-in-law been able to make the trip, she would’ve been his sixth murder. The murders also weren’t discovered for almost a month because of the family’s reclusiveness from other neighbors. List also stopped milk, mail and newspaper deliveries.  Neighbors called the police to check on the family after they noticed lights remained on in the house day and the night, with no one apparently at home. After the light bulbs started to burn out one by one, neighbors called the police, who entered through an unlocked window leading to the basement, where the bodies were discovered.

Given that few violent crimes had been recorded in Westfield since 1963, a nationwide hunt was launched to find List, though officials had no photographs of him as all pictures of him in the home had been destroyed. Police found List’s car parked at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City, though police found no evidence that he boarded a flight. Meanwhile, Alma’s body was flown to Frankenmuth, Michigan, where it was buried at Saint Lorenz Lutheran Cemetery, while Helen, Patricia, Frederick and John were buried at Fairview Cemetery in Westfield. List’s home remained empty until was destroyed in a fire in August 1972, nine months after the murder. The fire was ruled as an arson, though the case remains unsolved with no suspects. A new house was built on the lot in 1974.

How was John List caught?

"The Watcher"

Image: Eric Liebowitz/Netflix.

How was John List caught? After the murders, List traveled by train from New Jersey to Michigan in 1972. He then went to Colorado, where he settled in Denver in early 1972 and took an accounting job under the name Robert Peter “Bob” Clark, which was inspired by one of his college classmates. (The real Bob Clark later claimed that he never knew List.) List then worked as a comptroller at a paper box manufacturer outside of Denver from 1979 to 1986. He married Delores Miller, an Army PX clerk he met church, in 1985. The couple moved into a house in the Brandermill neighborhood of Midlothian, Virginia, in 1988, where List took a job as an accountant at the accounting firm, Maddrea, Joyner, Kirkham & Woody.

List was arrested on June 1, 1989, at his accounting firm in Richmond, Virginia, after a former neighbor from Denver, recognized him in an episode of FOX’s America’s Most Wanted that aired in May 1989. Though the show didn’t include a photo of List, it did include an age-progressed clay bust sculpted by a forensic artist that bore a close resemblance to List’s real appearance. List was extradited to Union County, New Jersey, where he continued to stand by his alias as Robert Peter “Bob” Clark. He confessed his true identity on February 16, 1990, after his fingerprint matched with List’s military records, as well as evidence found at the crime scene of the murders.

Where is John List now?

The Watcher

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Where is John List now? During the trial, List testified that he murdered his family because of financial issues caused caused by the loss of his job. He claimed that he was laid off from his job after the Jersey City bank worked at closed. To keep the layoff a secret from his family, List got dressed and left his home each morning around the time he would go to work. Instead, he would spend the day at job interviews or at the Westfield train station, where he read newspapers until it was time to come home. To support his family, List diverted money from his mother’s bank account to pay his house’s mortgage, as well as encouraged his children to find part-time jobs to teach them about responsibility when, in actuality, it was to help their family financially. As their financial issues continued, List, who was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive personality disorder by a court-appointed psychiatrist, testified that he only saw two options: accept a welfare program or kill his family and send their souls to heaven. List testified that welfare wasn’t an acceptable option because it would expose his financial issues to his family and go against the religious lessons he learned from his father, who was also a devout Lutheran Sunday school teacher, about caring and protecting his family.

List was convicted of five counts of first degree murder on April 12, 1990. At his sentencing hearing, List asked the judge for lenience because of his mental state at the time of the murders. “I feel that because of my mental state at the time, I was unaccountable for what happened. I ask all affected by this for their forgiveness, understanding and prayer,” he said in court. The judge denied his request and sentenced him to the maximum permissible penalty at the time: five terms of life imprisonment to be served consecutively. “After 18 years, five months and 22 days, it is now time for the voices of Helen, Alma, Patricia, Frederick and John F. List to rise from the grave,” the judge said.

List died on March 21, 2008. He was 82 years old. He died at the St. Francis Medical Center in Trenton, New Jersey, from complications related to pneumonia. List was taken to the medical center from the New Jersey State Prison four days before his death. Since his death, List’s story has been the inspiration for many documentaries and TV and movie episodes, including Netflix’s 2022 TV miniseries, The Watcher, in which John Mantello plays a character based on List named John Graff. Like List, Graff was an accountant, a devout member of the Lutheran church and murdered his wife, children and mother before leaving the house with a radio playing religious music and an alibi that would cause the bodies of his family to go undiscovered for several weeks.

The Watcher is available to stream on Netflix.

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