Lawyer rejects River Valley Club connection between Zantops and alleged killers

by Julia Levy | 3/4/01 6:00am

Yesterday's report that a local fitness club could be a link between the Zantops and the two accused teenagers may seem to be an interesting theory, but it might not be such a viable connection, according to a lawyer for the club.

Hanover lawyer Ned Whittington confirmed that the two suspects were present at the River Valley Club for a special one-day visit on Oct. 3, he said the Zantops were not at the gym on that day, according to club records.

"The Zantops were not in either the third or the fourth or the day after," he said. "This just doesn't put the kids and the Zantops in the club on the same day."

He acknowledged that is possible that the club records are not accurate. But he said the likelihood of the couple meeting up with their accused killers, Robert Tulloch and James Parker, at the 300-member club was slim.

He said it was just as likely that they would potentially have crossed paths while shopping at K-Mart on the same day.

But although the suggested club connection seems relatively unlikely at this point, the fact remains that it has been under consideration by investigators, who are still searching for a motive.

The Boston Globe reported today that investigators have subpoenaed records from the club.

And club regular Barrett Thornhill '01 told The Dartmouth he believes he saw either FBI agents or state police officers exiting the club about two weeks ago when he was just arriving.

Whittington would not confirm or deny whether investigators had visited the facility.

Another club-goer, Ryan Krauch '01, said people tend to interact at the club. But even before he heard that the teens and the Zantops were apparently not at the facility on the same day, he said a meeting between one of the Zantops and one of the teens was "no more probable than you being on the same street corner as someone else."

Dartmouth history professor and close friend of the Zantops, Leo Spitzer, told The Dartmouth that the couple had belonged to the club for about a year.

He said Half Zantop generally worked out on the Nautilus machine, a stationary bicycle or the rowing machine, while Susanne typically exercised on the same types of machines as her husband or went swimming.

The original Boston Globe story that revealed this River Valley Club relationship emphasized the potential rock climbing connection between Half Zantop, an experienced climber, and the two teen suspects, who were avid climbers.

But Spitzer said yesterday that he had firmly ruled out a possible rock climbing bond between Half Zantop and his accused murderers, explaining that Half Zantop "absolutely" did not climb at the gym.

"It seems like a waste of time, frankly, this whole enterprise," Spitzer speculated about the pursuance of this latest Zantop-related newest news.

And Half Zantop's longtime friend and former climbing partner, Alex Bertulis, told The Dartmouth that during a 1965 fall down a vertical rock face several 100 feet above the ground, Zantop came close to hitting his head on a ledge.

He barely missed it and ending up breaking his ankle.

Bertulis, a Seattle architect, kept in touch with Zantop over the years, and he said he received a letter from him in 1996 that said the near lethal fall made him shift his interests away from climbing.

Although it seems that Half Zantop would not have met the two boys who would later be charged with his murder while climbing, Thornhill, who climbs to the synthetic rock wall at least every other day, told The Dartmouth that Susanne Zantop did sometimes climb there.

Although he said he did not know the professors, he said one of the people who works in the gym told him that he even belayed Susanne Zantop at some point before her Jan. 27 murder.

Workers at the club yesterday refused to comment about Susanne Zantop or any other facts related to the case, and directed all calls to the club's attorney.

Whittington said the staff is referring calls to him simply because "we like control over our own information."

He explained that until yesterday, when the Boston Globe inaccurately reported that the teens had signed waivers to climb the wall on Oct. 6 instead of Oct. 3, when they actually signed such forms, he was not speaking either.

"The principal owner of the club decided that we ought to put out the right information" after that widely publicized error, he said.

Longtime friend of the two suspects, Kip Battey said, he "didn't even know that [the River Valley Club] existed, let alone if they went there or not."

And he could not confirm or deny rumors that either Parker or Tulloch hoped to secure a job at the club's climbing facility.

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