Breeze Knoll: The John List Murder House

image from: notes.andrewromano.net

image from: notes.andrewromano.net

One of the most confounding crimes of the 1970’s was the List family murders.

On November 9, 1971, John List shot and killed his wife, mother and three children in the house (pictured above) at 431 Hillside Avenue in Westfield, New Jersey. He left their bodies neatly lined up on Boy Scout sleeping bags in the grand ballroom.

image from: blog.mlive.com

image from: blog.mlive.com

He tuned the PA system on to a gospel music station and quietly slipped away into history. Almost.

The murders were so meticulously planned that the bodies were not even found until a month after the victims were killed. By that time, John List was long gone with a new identity.

As fate would have it, the tenacious John Walsh (love that guy) and the good folks at America’s Most Wanted, profiled the John List murders on one of their first shows in 1989. The national airing of the story led to the arrest of John List, who had been living under an alias in Denver, Colorado, then Richmond Virginia. List had been a fugitive for 18 years. He had been living right under the radar, working in his trade of accounting, and even getting remarried.

image from: themindofaserialkiller.tumblr.com

image from: themindofaserialkiller.tumblr.com

John List was tried and convicted in 1990 and died in prison in 2008. You can read more about the details of the crime and capture of John List here.

The List family home still captivates, all these years later, even though it no longer exists.

That’s right. The home on the hill known as “Breeze Knoll” sat vacant for nine months after the tragic murders until it mysteriously burned down to the ground in late August of 1972. The fire was ruled an arson but no suspect has ever been charged.

Image courtesy of: Chris Eline

Image courtesy of: Chris Eline

image from: notes.andrewromano.net

image from: notes.andrewromano.net

The large Victorian era mansion had nineteen rooms over three stories and was said to be the most expensive house in the neighborhood. One of the defining features of Breeze Knoll was the grand ballroom which featured a massive stained glass skylight rumored to be a Tiffany original worth more than $100,000.

The ballroom and skylight were visible in this 1971 aerial shot:

image from: skcentral.com

image from: skcentral.com

Unfortunately, all we have to remember of the interior are some grainy old crime scene photos, as often is the case with these old homes pre-digital camera age. [One of the reasons I started the Crime Scene Houses category on my website was to preserve some of these photos in one place]

image from: skcentral.com

image from: skcentral.com

I hesitate to show dead body photos on my blog but the one below is one of the few photos on record that gives us a peek at the grand ballroom of the List house and the herringbone floors:

image from: tea-and-skeletons.tumblr.com

image from: tea-and-skeletons.tumblr.com

It is chilling to see how John List left the bodies of his wife and 3 children arranged on the ballroom floor, their heads covered with towels and bodies cushioned on boy scout sleeping bags.

A reader sent me this picture from the crime scene photos which shows the floor pattern up close:

image courtesy of: Chris Eline

image courtesy of: Chris Eline

The burning of this historic house was a shame, but in the end, it was probably a good thing for the neighborhood in terms of moving on with life.

The lot was sold in 1974 and a new 3,900 square foot house was erected on the exact same spot as Breeze Knoll.

Here’s the house that was built in 1974 on the site of John List’s former house:

image from: morbidnewjersey.com

image from: morbidnewjersey.com

According to Zillow, the property last sold in 2004 forĀ $2,250,000.

The new brick house bears a ghostly resemblance to the original house in the way it is situated on the ridge of the hill:

image from: www.nj.com

image from: www.nj.com

There aren’t many photos left of Breeze Knoll, so if anyone out there can find anymore pictures of the John List house, please share!

 

Sources:

morbidnewjersey.com

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_List

http://www.crimelibrary.com/notorious_murders/family/list/1.html

http://www.zillow.com/homedetails/431-Hillside-Ave-Westfield-NJ-07090/40085127_zpid/

 

Special thanks to Chris Eline for sharing some rare photos of the John List house with me!

30 Comments

  • Sandi says:

    The house they built looks so similar to the one that burned. Fire places on both ends, the porch, it really looks like it has just been remolded. Thanks for the story, I’m going to read more about it.
    Sandi

  • Sue says:

    Creepy is right for sure Sarah. I’m so glad List got caught. I am trying to imagine his new wife when she found out who he was.

  • livewire1965 says:

    Great post as always,I had forgot about Mr. List

  • Deanne Tepen says:

    Love this & all your posts! So glad you’re back! I’m totally house crazy too! What can we do!? I watch abandon houses on you tube, stalk zillow & cruise old neighborhoods for cool houses!

  • SB Smith says:

    I like reading non-fiction crime and remember the library book about List’s murders.
    Amazon has it: “Righteous Carnage: The List Murders”.
    I was so glad America’s Most Wanted resulted in him getting caught.

  • The original home was definitely more beautiful. Would have loved to have just walked thru it.

    • WHS Grad 1973 says:

      No you wouldn’t. I was at the Halloween party at the house a little over a week before the murders. The house had so much bad energy. It was empty because List could not afford the upkeep on a house like that. He was a nasty piece of work. His family were real people to some of us. Patricia was a sweet, lovely girl with some issues resulting from life in such a horrific family — a situation few of us knew about. I have thought about her often in the years since.

      • Marlene says:

        It must feel strange having known the family so well. Please tell us more about them. I recently saw the story of the murders on the ID Channel. They portrayed him as a cold, calculating,rigid, uptight monster and the children as typical teens. Very sad story. They must have been terrified as it was happening.

  • Chris says:

    Your facts are a little off here. He did not turn up the AC, in fact he turned the heat way down. This is an interesting blog site though. I recently passed by the street while passing through Westfield NJ.
    I was researching this a few yrs back and visited the newspaper office. I have some random shots of the interior & exterior. All color. How can we post here?

  • Annie Camp says:

    Ooohh, I LOVE your blog! I didn’t think there was anyone else out there with the same growing fetish that I have — and there’s even a name for it – so I’m a housie. I feel like I’ve just stumbled upon a twelve step type meeting for folks like me, and now everything’s going to be okay…

  • sybilsheadlesscat says:

    what a weird coincidence-the replacement house DOES look eerily similar to the original home that burned down years ago! too weird. does it have a ballroom like the ordinal home did? would love to know. boy that list guy was way weird too-i mean fucking come on-who mows their lawn in a suit and tie-FOR REAL NOW! nobody i know.the sad thing is that patty list told several people her father was going to kill them all and then make it look like they had to take a family trip somewhere and noone would miss them till it was too late and it happened just like she said.tragic’ tragic sick and sad.

  • June D Waggoner says:

    Is it true that there was a previous murder in this house? I hear it was only a year prior to the List family murders…. Do you know if that is true?

  • April says:

    I don’t know if you can answer this but the one question I had after hearing the whole story about John List is probably strange because it has little to do with the actual story. I looked everywhere and can’t find the answer. Here goes. How did John List change his social security number? This is bugging me. They made it seem like he did this with little or no effort at all.

    • housecrazy says:

      That’s a good question April….. I’m guessing it was easier to do back in those days. He probably just found a name on a grave and……

    • List probably bought it from somebody selling SSN’s, birth certificates, green cards, fake IDs etc. I’d bought a fake ID in 1980ish from “this one guy” I’d heard about word-of-mouth. List probably got away with it longer because there wasn’t much of a digital trail.

    • Carli says:

      Someone asked about fake IDs. Back then people could assume another identity so easily. Where I used to work in NJ the secretary was telling me how people with bad credit would drive thru a cemetery and just choose a new name and that was in the 80s! So it must’ve been easy to get a new SSN and identity in the early 70s.

      I first saw this case on AMW and could not believe how accurate the forensic sculptor was when they caught List. People with List’s background really scare me. He was a loner, had a succession of jobs because he didn’t have any social skills. He never allowed his children to socialize much either. All red flags. Colleges began to look for this type of behavior years ago too on applications. They want to see a well rounded person who volunteers, works, not one who just gets good grades.

      I was searching for the original house today and came upon this page and some others. I wouldn’t want to live in the original house had it survived. Also, I would not have built the new one in the same spot. I would’ve moved it back or forward but not in the same location. 19 rooms?! I can only imagine the upkeep on a home that large. The electric bills alone! And the property tax too!

  • Tina from NJ says:

    I read many books about John List. But he wrote one himself while in prison. It don’t think the book was ever edited as it had horrible typos which made it very annoying to read. But anyway, I bought it as soon as it came out and he explained how he got is identity. You can read it there. If I remember correctly, he took it from an old friend from the military whom he knew died. An interesting thing about his book as opposed to others written about him is that he never blamed his wife. All other books claimed that his wife’s mental problems and desire to live in a huge house beyond their means had a big part in his “calculated breakdown” (as others do.) He blames almost the whole thing on PTSD.

    • housecrazy says:

      Fascinating Tina…. I didn’t know he had written a book

    • Chris says:

      John List didn’t write a book. He published it through his friend John Goodrich that he served with in the military. He wrote letters to the author which in turn were used as fill for the book. It is a bizarre account which does come from John’s own twisted mind. He only expressed superficial remorse for his actions.The book was published while he was serving time in NJ.

      Another interesting book written about List is called Switching Heads. Its an account of the List case from the funeral parlor that handled the bodies. The book was good, but loaded with errors too.

  • Idalie says:

    I am absolutley impressed with this story. I recently found out about it on forensic files and how americas most wanted were the onesbto catch him. I have a question for who ever can answer it…does anyone knowmif Americas most wanted still comes on tv ?

    • Sarah says:

      I don’t know if America’s Most wanted airs anymore – I’m pretty sure that show ended because John Walsh now does a similar show on CNN called The Hunted.

  • Getty Images has some interior shots with no dead bodies. There’s quite an ornate arch and fireplace niche. There’s also some unfortunate kitchen linoleum. The kitschy ’50s pool table’s kinda cute but extremely clashes with the herringbone floor.

  • Funbud says:

    One of the “true crime” books about the List murders has a photo or two of the house when it was first built in the early 1900s. The ballroom doubled as an art gallery in those days. The descendants of the original owner lived nearby (I think in the converted carriage house) and they loaned a family photo album of the house to the Lists when they first moved in and had hopes of restoring the house. Such a sad story.

  • Marry Reeves says:

    The skylight John List left his family’s bodies under in the grand ballroom was made by Louis Comfort Tiffany. When the house burned nine months later they found the fragments. The solution to John List’s perceived money problems that he killed his family over was above the bodies of his murdered wife and children, it was worth $100,000. How ironic, apparently he truly could not do anything right!

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