NEWARK — John E. List, a former Sunday school teacher who was on the run for more than 17 years after killing his family in 1971, has died while serving a life term for their murders, authorities said Monday. He was 82.
Someone from the town wanted to hang him, hang him high.
“String him up,” he said.
I did not want to string him up. I wanted to speak with him for a minute first and try to find out what it was that made him do it.
“What made you do it,” I’d ask.
I would ask, and he would tell me.
After I found out what made him do it, after he told me what is was that made him do it, I would write it down. When I wrote it down, I would try and remember exactly what he said, what his words were, what his exact words were word for word and not the words I thought he said or perhaps really should have said because they would have made what he said that much more clear. No, I would write down his words, exactly what he said, word for word, exactly as he had said it. But if I could not remember exactly what his words were, I would do my best to keep the essence of what he had said intact.
After I wrote it all down, I would read it over and over again. As I read, I would concentrate on the man, my interview with the man in the cell, the interview where I asked him why he did it and what was going through his head when he did it and so on and so forth. I would read and concentrate and as I read I might notice some things I got wrong, subtle nuances I failed to capture, or things I just plain forgot. Reading what I had written over and over again in this fashion will serve, with each pass through what I had written, to bring the two versions further into line. I would read what I had written as many times as necessary to ensure that what I had written was faithful to what the man had said and the environment in which he had said it.
At his point I would have full convergence and a factual story. I would have a record of why the man did what he did and why he did it, why he said that he did it, and if he had to do it all over again what he would do differently. I would know that if he could change one thing, any one thing at all, what this one thing was. I would know something about this man and what he might have become if he had changed this one thing, if in fact he had wanted to change one thing at all.