Chelsea close to blows as case drags on

by Mark Bubriski | 3/24/01 6:00am

CHELSEA, Vt. -- Fissures have erupted in the once tight-knit foundation of the tiny Chelsea, Vt., community, creating what appears to be a stark divide over whether to support two hometown boys accused of a brutal double murder.

The controversy appears to center around a fund set up by DeRoss Kellogg, to support the families of teenage suspects Robert Tulloch, 17, and James Parker, 16. Recently, in a local food store, two male Chelsea residents engaged in a heated argument over a poster for the fund that almost reached "fisticuffs" before the store's owner asked both men to leave.

The store owner, who asked to remain anonymous, said a stack of posters promoting the fund on his counter started the argument. One man was in favor of the fund, and the other was not. The store owner said he did not remember the exact date of the incident in his store.

The almost-violent incident is atypical of Chelsea townspeople, the storeowner said, however, he said he has noticed a split in community between those standing behind the suspects and their families and those who are not supporting them.

"Some people are violently opposed to [the fund] or the opposite... I think it comes from the fact that there doesn't seem to be much concern for the victims," he said. He said he thinks that more people will be willing to help the families once the yet to be slated trial is over.

And a woman in town who said she knew the families of Tulloch and Parker today noted that there had been many intense discussions but not many problems among townspeople immediately following the boys' arrests, but she said, "That sort of came to a head around Kellogg's poster."

Kellogg -- a sixth-grade teacher who has taught both Parker and Tulloch -- says the fund is not in any way intended to be used for defense of the two boys. A poster for the fund says that the money will be used to "offset the financial burdens related to food, lodging, and travel expenses, telephone bills, and lost wages."

In another store in Chelsea, a local woman who said she knew Parker's parents added, "The town is divided between those that think [the police] have physical evidence [against Parker and Tulloch] and those that don't."

Dr. Carole Owens, Ph. D, a licensed independent clinical social worker specializing in adolescents -- and a member of the International Society of Political Psychology, a group that studies large group behavior -- who has been following the Zantop case, told The Dartmouth in an interview that the increasing divide in Chelsea may be partly because of the widening circle of victims and lack of information in this case.

"We think first of the Zantops who tragically lost their lives, Two boys who may spend the rest of their lives in prison. But the victims of this tragic act are also their families, their friends and their small tight-knit community," Owens said, which results in varying opinions of the alleged murderers.

She said that, psychologically, the basis of good communal relation, visible by caring and concern, compromise and agreement, etc., comes from constructive activities. The problem, however, is: "the criminal justice system is an adversarial proceeding," which prevents people from knowing the whole truth. People affected by violent crime are forced to determine the truth without knowing all of the information.

"[People in these cases] believe the truth is found by arguing the two sides. It's not surprising that the people affected by this would more readily believe one side or the other -- guilt or innocence," she said.

"This kind of divide of opinion can hurt any group. The best thing that could happen for the Zantop family, the community at Dartmouth and the community of Chelsea, is that there is a speedy and definite conclusion," she said. "They are terrific communities caught in a terrible circumstance," she said.