Chelsea resident pained by Zantop murders

by Julia Levy | 2/22/01 6:00am

For Chelsea, Vt., resident Robert Childs, news that teenagers Robert Tulloch and James Parker were wanted for murder brought back memories of another murder that hit even closer to home.

Twenty-two years ago, Childs was the last person to see Wayland Austin, of Tunbridge, Vt., alive before Massachusetts teenager, Gerald Doucette, shot three bullets through his head.

And Childs, who called Austin his "best friend" was the person who found the body after the heinous murder.

The crime was premeditated, even though Doucette had only met his 71-year-old victim once, about a week and a half before the brutal killing. After the murder, Doucette stole Austin's pickup truck, drove back to his home-state and took his girlfriend to the beach, Childs said.

"When I first heard about the Zantop case, it was, 'Oh my God, there's another murder,'" Childs remembered.

But when he heard that the Zantop homicides were related to the tiny picturesque town where he where he had lived for the past 46 years, he said he was not surprised.

"When I heard it was related to Chelsea, I thought, 22 years ago we were on the receiving end, and now it's one of ours," he said.

After hearing that Chelsea teens Robert Tulloch, 17, and James Parker, 16, were wanted for the murders of Half and Susanne Zantop, Childs recalled his frequent drives down Main Street in Chelsea during the late night and early morning hours.

"There's a number of kids who seem to habitually hang around the streets," he said. "On a few occasions, I had seen those two just hanging out."

According to Childs, youths hanging around town in the wee hours of the morning is a change for the small community, where in the past children would typically be at home.

Also, he said, "The nature of our community has changed and we're no longer immune to the problems of urban areas."

He pointed out that the town is only miles from a major interstate highway and residents are instantly connected to the world through their Internet hookups.

It is not uncommon for people to venture outside of Chelsea, he said, explaining, "We go to the Hop, we go to Molly's Balloon for dinner," among other places in Hanover.

"Thirty miles is right next door in Vermont," he said. "So, is it unusual for someone from Chelsea to go to Hanover? Heck no."

"So no, I wasn't surprised that some kid from Chelsea got into major trouble," he continued. "I am not surprised in the least that something like this hasn't happened with somebody's kids from the town of Chelsea."

Not only did Childs say he was not surprised, but he indicated that he should have anticipated a tragedy of this nature would befall his community at some point.

Childs emphasized that he was speaking generally -- that most residents of Chelsea are law abiding citizens. He said he only knows who Tulloch and Parker are because he has seen them downtown, going to the post office or to the store. "I know who they are, but I don't go out to dinner with them," he clarified.

Childs said the Zantop murder's connection to his town is "very personal" to him and dredges up hard memories from the past. It also makes him feel deeply for the Hanover community.

He explained that since his experience 22 years ago, every time he hears about murder, he automatically thinks, "There's another family and friends and associates that are going to have to go through what I went through. It makes me sad in a way."

He said this thought was especially powerful when he heard about the Zantops' deaths since they were such beloved members of such an extensive community.

Even though he said he feels deeply for the Hanover community and the Zantops' family, he said he cannot "condemn or condone" Parker and Tulloch at this point.

"We're reserved enough that we're not going to pass judgement on either one of these accused individuals," he said of the community in general. "We firmly believe the judicial system will work this out in the end."

Childs said he trusted the judicial system 22 years ago, and he will continue to trust it throughout as the case against Parker and Tulloch proceeds.

Advertise your student group in The Dartmouth for free!