The company that John worked for merged with another and he was let go. He then accepted a job in Rochester, New York, with Xerox. Again, they overspent and John began to lie to people about their situation. Helen despised him and his quirky ways, and he grew angry when she attracted the attention of other men. Eventually at Xerox, he was also let go. He had a difficult time finding work and Helen's health was deteriorating. She did not yet know it, but she had syphilis, and her brain tissues were shrinking. She had gotten this disease from her first husband and it was too late for any kind of treatment. Alcohol and pills only aggravated it.
John finally landed another job as vice president and comptroller of the First National Bank of Jersey City in New Jersey. They moved to Westfield in 1965. John asked his mother for the down payment for a mortgage so they could purchase Breeze Knoll, the mansion on Hillside Avenue. Alma readily agreed, on one condition: that she live there with them. For Alma, the rest of her life would be the unhappiest she ever felt. Once she gave power of attorney over her money to her son, she lost everything she had.
The new job lasted only a year. It required social skills and the ability to pull in new business. John was no salesman. Very shortly, he was fired. He faced a huge mortgage and high utility bills, not to mention expenses for the family, with children who were becoming teenagers. Unable to tell Helen, he left the house each morning as if going to work and instead sat in the train station all day, reading the newspaper or a book. He did this for six full months, paying the bills from his mother's account, but never telling her how she stood, financially. He finally found another job, but it was in New York and it paid substantially less. This job, too, only lasted a year. To pay his bills, he took out a second mortgage.
Helen was diagnosed with cerebral atrophy and John was advised to have her institutionalized, but he refused. To escape his troubles, he lost himself in his hobbies: books on military strategy, crime, and weapons. It was at this time that he mentioned to his brother-in-law how easy it would be for a person like him to start another life.
He got yet another job selling mutual funds from his house. Helen continued to drink. John tried to please her by buying her things, but seemed never to meet her approval. He began to sleep in other rooms in the house to avoid her sharp tongue. He prayed to God for answers, for help in some form, but did not get it. To add to his troubles, the social upheavals of the sixties were dissolving society, as he knew it and he felt troubled at every turn. It seemed to him that his life was disintegrating and for a man who needed control, it was a disaster. He began to take a firm hand with his children, trying to force them to obey his rigid rules.
Then Patty began to rebel. She wore the fashions of the time, grew independent, and developed a strong interest in theater. Her father did not know it, but she had also begun to take drugs and had developed an interest in the occult. She sensed that her father did not like her and they had frequent conflicts at home.
Then on November 5, 1971, John List gathered his children together after dinner. In the kitchen, he told them that they must prepare to die and asked if they preferred to be buried or cremated. They were shocked, but managed to say they preferred to be buried. Without another word, he walked out. Patty and John both believed that their father intended to kill them...and soon.