Every October I have flash backs to the night my parents dropped me off for an audition.
The house was on the North side of Westfield, New Jersey which doesn’t mean anything to folks who don’t live in Westfield. Sandwiched between Route 22 and the railroad tracks that separate the North side from the South side are secluded neighborhoods with fancy names. None were gated when I was growing up. Thinking back, that’s odd, right? The wealthy all live in gated communities now. Although not mansions like you see in the movies, these homes were much larger than the average home. Most had spectacular architecture. Victorians, yes. Many of those. But the Tudors were my favorite.
And it was a stunning Tudor laid back nestled in the trees with soft lightening that I had been invited to one evening in October 1971 to audition to be the piano accompanist to a theatrical performance. I was not at that time able to blurt out from the depths of my mind what I was sensing, but years later the label for what I sensed back then came tumbling out as a friend from work and my mother and I watched live as John List was arrested on June 1, 1989. I’ll type that label in a minute or so.
I rang the doorbell after walking up a few steps into a portico off a circular drive. Remember back then most homes were rather modest with short driveways but this house was not one of those. The woman that answered was dressed normally. I say that because there were no signals to set off an alarm but everything else about her gave me the willies.
There was a man in the room and his name was Edwin Illiano. He was flamboyant but toned down from what you’d expect these days. Illiano was the drama coach for a small theater group that had been recently formed. My late piano teacher, Paul Kueter, a concert pianist I might add, had recommended me to Iliano and made arrangements for the audition. I’ll skip to the chase. I wasn’t hired and it was a paying gig.
I was instructed to sit in a large chair facing the lady [whose name I could never remember until it was in the newspaper] – Barbara Sheridan – [one of the drama coaches and Iliano’s COMPANION, Westfield Leader March 29, 1990] on my left and Iliano on my right. It was a huge room with a loft and staircase that descended on the far right of the room. From where I sat I could see up into the loft where there were doors that must have gone to rooms. There was a piano in the room but I was oddly enough not asked to audition.
Instead, these two odd characters drilled me with questions and at one point, burned into my memory, or to quote the crackpot, Christine Blasey Ford, “Indelible in the Hippocampus”, was the moment when the woman gushed “OH you must meet” and Iliano stood and said, yes, here comes my PROTOGE. I had glimpsed a wraith at the top of the stairs and this skinny, what I thought was a druggie, descended the stairs with a blank look on her face as these two adults just fawned over her.
Now back in 1971, I had read enough Mika Waltari and Hans Van Loon, and Shakespeare, plus I had seen enough film noire to have alarm bells go off. I did want the job. It was going to pay well ($7 an hour) and I was only 17. But I also had that feeling portrayed in the song Hotel California where the singer is racing for the exit.
Hi. Blah blah OH you two are in the same class (12th grade). Mmm, never saw this skinny kid before and I’m in honors classes but smile, the job pays well.
The girl, whose name I didn’t even pick up on, just looked at me and then went back upstairs.
Wait, that’s odd, right?
What was really odd was I felt like the girl had a cloud or veil or shadow or something engulfing her. My entire being wanted to be as far away from her as I could get.
I have one of those faces that is very expressive – or so I’m told – so I think the reason I wasn’t hired was I had waves of utter revulsion and horror washing over my face as I tried to do a fake smile.
My parents picked me up and I remember saying that the people were creepy.
When the news hit that a family in town was found brutally murdered, and a manhunt was on the way for the head of the household, one John List, I shrugged it off. I didn’t know a Patti List and went about my business. Not that everyone in town wasn’t buzzing and yes we all drove by the house which would eventually get torched. But I just didn’t think I had ever met her. None of my friends had either. There were over 700 students in my graduating class and I just had never encountered this girl. Plus, as I would later find out, she ran with a bad crowd.
The horror of what happened in my hometown really ruined Christmas that year. But again, I just didn’t think I had met Patti UNTIL Edwin Illiano was on the news when List was arrested in 1989. I freaked out. I slowly began to wake up to the fact that I had met Patti List about two weeks or less prior to her father shooting her in the jaw with an antique .22 caliber pistol!
THE second I saw that slimy drama wannabe, I leapt off the couch screaming MÉNAGE À TROIS, which triggered one of my mother’s rage attacks. My colleague looked on in horror – both at the viciousness my mother could exude and my utter horror that I had actually met this creep and his protégé! And that sick, sick feeling I got from the woman in whose home I had sat that night!
Over the years I would see what was in the news about the murders. Then in preparing to write this blog post about sensing DEATH on Illiano’s protégé, I Googled just her name and drama club and freaked out yet again! In 1991, Illiano made a FILM that got restored and uploaded to YouTube!
I was right. Something sick was going on and luckily, I escaped unscathed.
In the film, Illiano RE-ENACTS having sex not only with Patti but with at least two other “girls” in the Drama Club. OMG WHO DOES THAT? And he had the “actress” portraying Patti read sexual fantasies from her diary, create black magic rituals, and use drugs. Absent from the tittering on soft porn film was ANY mention of Barbara Sheridan which I found odd.
Rumors of Patti belonging to a coven were rampant. At the trial we learned that “Late Thursday, Miller tried to introduce testimony from the Rev. Eugene Rehwinkel, the family’s pastor in Westfield, that Patricia List had given him a book, ‘The Treasury of Witchcraft.'(1) But Rehwinkel refused to testify about his conversations with Patricia or her father on the grounds that they were confidential talks”. https://www.upi.com/Archives/1990/04/05/Sister-in-law-Accused-family-killer-dominated-by-bedridden-wife/2883639288000/
A few books were written about the murders and I just found an interesting comment.
“But time marches on. The drama workshop was disbanded shortly thereafter, probably due to the notoriety caused by the murders. I graduated high school, went to college, and went about my life. I’ve often thought about Pat over the years, and of course in my memory she is forever sixteen, strutting around a stage in a swimsuit as Stupefyin’ Jones or whispering to me more information than I ever wanted about experimenting with sex with her boyfriend. I think about her swishing around the ballroom at her house in a nearly Elvira-like witch costume, mercifully unaware of how she would be laid out on a sleeping bag in that very room three weeks later. But as the years pass, those thoughts become less frequent”.
I cannot identify “Brilliant Breakfast” but apparently she was one of the “close friends” and she is one of the “guests” at the Halloween party depicted in the 1991 film. Note that the blogger writes “three weeks later”. The party would have been on Saturday or Sunday.
The play was announced in the Thursday, November 11, 2021 edition of the Westfield Leader. No one knew when the paper hit the newsstands that morning, that Patti had been dead for at least 40 hours!
In the creepy 1991 film, one gets the impression that Patti List was the star of the upcoming play but it clearly states that she was a “mere” “understudy”. VERY interesting I must say.
My memory seems to recall that the audition was on a Tuesday after dinner so it was either October 26 or November 2.
Several years ago, I saw a comment on one of the books on Amazon and contacted the writer. She, like the blogger, had been in that drama club and knew Patti; but not well. Both of us were creeped out as we learned over the years that Patti had been in a coven but it didn’t surprise either of us. Oddly enough, my new friend was also interested in ghosts and we used to call each other to chat. I called her the other day to catch up and to ask her if she had discovered the disgusting film. She had not. I then told her about it and we both gagged.
I cannot find a book which mentions Patti belonging to a coven but a keyword search yielded a review of a book about the murder of Jeannette DePalma who was murdered in Springfield, New Jersey adjacent to Westfield in August 1972. I don’t’ recall this murder probably because I was attending college orientation sessions.
Why was this murder rumored to have been a Satanic rite back in 1972 but by 2021 it’s just a case of a stolen handbag and murder?????????
The film Illiano made is super creepy. He portrays himself having a twisted “Lolita” type affair with the late Patti – so my gut wasn’t wrong. There’s a scene where three girls skip around a dimly lit pentagram with candles only to snuff them out when Illiano emerges from a tent so I guess they all went camping? The scenes marked “Lake Blue Heron – Summer 1971” were twisted. Patti watching Illiano peeing on a tree – eeewwww. I can’t believe anyone actually “acted” in this sick film but it confirms my gut feeling. The only mention of this camp that I can find in the local paper is for Girl Scouts and that the camp was in Sparta.
And sure enough, there is a scene where the actress reads from Patti’s diary – a diary that John List was rumored to have read. In it she writes that she thought Illiano was “cute” – barf – and her friends thought she felt that way because, and I quote “I had done too many drugs”. The film also has the diary stating that Patti wanted Illiano for some witchcraft rite – cue Satanic – saying he’d make the PURRFECT warlock. So my gut screaming – this girl is on something – in retrospect was spot on. I don’t believe she was stoned on illegal 1971 marijuana but something a lot more dangerous. I also do not remember her smelling like pot.
All the “official” reports only admit that Patti smoked pot. What I saw that night was not someone who had simply smoked pot. Now that marijuana is legal in Nevada, I’ve seen several people who are heavy smokers. What I saw that night had a very different vibe. In the film, you see her put pills in some drink she then gave Illiano before they had all performed a sex ritual. LSD was popular back then but I’ll never know for sure but I am positive she had just woken up from having taken something and had wandered downstairs just in time so I could be introduced. I may never find proof but I swear those two adults had a VERY unhealthy relationship with that teen.
(1) Oddly enough, in one of the moves across country, I got rid of MY copy of Treasure of Witchcraft. Witchcraft was VERY popular amongst teenage girls in Westfield but I didn’t know anyone that actually did anything with it. I even attended several slumber parties where we performed the exact same parlor game as portrayed in The Craft.
I will confess that the last time I participated in this party game was when I was the one being lifted. My friends screamed when, so they said as they dropped me, I, um, levitated the last couple of inches towards the ceiling on my own. A couple tried to break my fall but I remember “jumping” and landing on my feet. The party came to an abrupt end and I was never invited to another party. Two of my friends became ardent Christians that summer and didn’t want ANYTHING to do with me unless I converted. I still have dreams of levitating up to ceilings but they’re only dreams – I hope.
This a a FANTASTIC blog post with information I never saw before!
In summary, this was the first time that I sensed DEATH on someone. In November 1965, my parents took me on the SS. Oceanic for a cruise from New York (before the dock strikes ruined cruising) to Nassau in the Bahamas. We ended on a glass bottom boat with a family from New Jersey. Their children were around my age and we had a great time spotting sea turtles. The Oceanic was brand new and couldn’t dock near land. We had to take a tender. A much smaller ship that looked like it was in desperate need of paint was docked next to the tender.
My dad, who was always calm, cool, laid back, mellow, just the nicest guy on the planet, suddenly went ballistic and grabbed the man by the shoulders and started screaming “YOU CAN”T GET ON THAT FIRE TRAP – IT’S GOING TO BURN AND SINK TO THE BOTTOM OF THE OCEAN!!!! ” He then screamed that we had a suite – it was a very nice stateroom but hardly a suite as we know them to be now. “DON’T get on that thing! Your family can stay with us!”
The poor man pushed my dad away and grabbed his family and ran for the gang plank and got on. My mom had a helluva time calming my dad down.
All these years, I thought that the ship we saw docked was the one that sank that night. We got the distress signal but we were too far out to sea. The SS. Yarmouth DID catch fire that night! If found a detailed blog that is now offline but the cached version is excellent.
“Tony bought these postcards on his travels – the first shows the SS Yarmouth, on which they enjoyed their Bahamas cruise.
The second shows the SS Yarmouth with its sister ship SS Yarmouth Castle, which also ran pleasure cruises from Miami to Nassau.
In November 1965, just 11 months after Tony and Colin’s trip, the Yarmouth Castle caught fire and sank during a cruise, with appalling consequences. The tragedy would change maritime safety laws forever…
I trust the author of the blog will not mind me re-creating the information here as the author was “touched” by two ship fires!
On 12 November 1965, the Yarmouth Castle set sail from Miami for a pleasure cruise to Nassau. There were 376 passengers and 176 crew on board, making a total of 552.
Shortly before 1am, when the boat was 60 miles from Nassau, a badly burned passenger staggered from a stairwell and collapsed on deck. From that moment, events took place at dizzying speed.
It would later emerge that a cabin – which was already excessively hot, being above the boiler room, and which had exposed flammable insulation – had been used as a storeroom, crammed full of mattresses, paint cans and other items. One mattress, pressed right up against the ceiling light, ignited as a result.
The ship’s fire alarms failed to sound, the sprinkler system failed to activate, and as the blaze burst from the cabin, it raced at dizzying speed through the liner’s wooden superstructure, and its wood-panelled corridors, decks and ventilation system.
When the onboard fire hoses didn’t have enough water pressure to fight the flames, the bridge was consumed before the crew could radio for help.
Most passengers were woken by the sound of screaming. Many had to break their portholes to escape their cabins – their windows had been painted shut. Terrified, they climbed ropeladders to the decks.
With the front half of the boat rapidly consumed by flames, the passengers crammed to the rear of the decks, hunting for life jackets and lifeboats. As there had been no information on evacuation procedures provided, no-one knew what to do.
Some of the crew showed incredibly bravery, even giving away their own lifejackets. But not all behaved heroically, or even ethically.
As the ship blazed brightly in the darkness, it was spotted by two other crafts in the area.
As they raced towards the Yarmouth Castle, the Finnish freighter Finnpulp repeatedly attempted to radio Nassau to raise the alarm. They received no reply.
It wasn’t until 1.36am – 40 minutes after the fire began – that the Finnpulp managed to contact the US Coast Guard in Miami and report the unfolding disaster. By then an American liner, Bahama Star, was also rushing towards the burning cruise ship.
Finnpulp’s Captain John Lehto was appalled when the first lifeboat to leave the burning boat rowed up to their stern.
Although it could seat 40, there were only 20 survivors on board, and of those, only four were passengers. None were women or children.
The remaining 16 were crew members – including the Yarmouth Castle’s captain, Byron Voutsinas.
Furious, Captain Lehto took the passengers onboard, but ordered the captain and crew: ‘Go back and look for more survivors.’
The next two lifeboats to escape the burning ship contained only crew.
In total, only six of the Yarmouth Castle’s 13 lifeboats were successfully launched – several burned before they could be launched, while the ropes of others jammed in the winches, as they had been painted over.
Because they were all missing rowlocks, the lifeboats had to be paddled like canoes.
Desperate to save the trapped passengers, the crews of the Finnpulp and Bahama Star took their own lifeboats and motor boats to line up beside the burning ship.
The rescuers later recalled the screams and yells, the sounds of breaking wood and glass – and the constant, low groaning of steam being forced through the ship’s whistle.
Passengers swarmed down ropes and rope ladders – or simply jumped, then clung to chairs, mattresses, suitcases and other items in the cold water.
As the blaze consumed the liner, four planes sent by the U.S Coastguard arrived. But even flying 4,000 feet overhead, they were nearly engulfed by smoke and flames.
In a last ditch rescue attempt, Finnpulp pulled up so close thatpassengers were able to jump across to safety. But when their own paint began to burn, they had to pull away.
The last passengers were rescued at 4am. By then, the Yarmouth Castle‘s hull was glowing red and the water around it was boiling. It sank in a roar of steam at 6.03am.
When they arrived at Nassau later that day, Finnpulp and Bahama Star were carrying 465 survivors – 291 passengers and 174 crew members.
14 critically injured people had already been airlifted to hospital, three of whom would later die. This took the final death toll to 90 – of which only two were crew.
The disaster shocked the world. Captain Voutsinas and other crew members were charged with violation of duty, and in March 1966, the U.S. Coastguard published a damning report on the tragedy.
There had been numerous safety violations in addition to those already described: Many cabins held no life jackets, and no fire doors were closed during the blaze.
Although required by American law, the Yarmouth Castle did not have three inflatable liferafts, or two radio operators, on board.
However, it emerged that as it was an older ship, and because it was registered under the Panamanian flag, the liner only needed to conform to far less stringent international safety conventions.
Following the tragedy, the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) law was updated to include expanded and enhanced safety regulations, requiring fire drills, safety inspections and structural changes to older ships.
Any vessel carrying more than 50 overnight passengers is now required to be built entirely of non-combustible materials such as steel.
You can watch Pathe newsreel footage of the survivors disembarking at Nassau here: https://youtu.be/ZZ0gvZ72RoY
I am indebted to Wikipedia’s entry on this topic (this account is a truncated retelling) – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SS_Yarmouth_Castle
Some sobering photos of the fire and of survivors arriving at Nassau can be found here: http://flashbackmiami.com/2014/11/12/ss-yarmouth-castle-fire/
I am incredibly glad that Tony (my father) and Colin were not on that particular cruise.
It it an appalling, devastating disaster and our hearts go out to all who died so tragically, all who survived it, and all who lost loved ones or were in any way affected.
Additional note by Tony:
Tiffany’s account above is quite chilling for me.
I only found out recently (when I was looking for a picture of the SS Yarmouth) that its sister ship the SS Yarmouth Castle had sunk.
However, there was no mention of the shocking events linked to its sinking, and the resulting death toll.
I can only assume that the ship we were on, the SS Yarmouth, was equally a death trap – an accident waiting to happen.
It’s good to know that today’s very high safety standards on cruise ships are the result of this terrible incident. At least some good came out of it.
This tragedy happened in November 1965, when Colin and I were at sea again, this time on a German cargo ship working our passage from Los Angeles to Auckland, New Zealand. More about that in later letters.