Tragic murders stun campus

by Ithan Peltan | 8/1/01 5:00am

On a cold January night, the Dartmouth community was stunned by a tragedy, the effects of which continue to echo on this idyllic campus.

Professors Half and Susanne Zantop were found stabbed to death in their home just a few miles from campus in Etna, N.H. during the early evening of Jan. 27, a day that saw the beginning of an intensive investigation and a long process of recovery and introspection at Dartmouth.

Both the investigation and the College's healing process would capture the attention of the public on both coasts and everywhere in between.

Many members of the community first learned of the deaths by means of a BlitzMail (email) message sent out by The Dartmouth to all undergraduate students, which was the first to confirm the names and the addresses of the murdered couple.

State authorities remained tight-lipped as their investigation proceeded until Feb. 17, when the New Hampshire Attorney General's office suddenly announced warrants for the arrest of Robert Tulloch, and James "Jimmy" Parker, teenagers from Chelsea, Vt.

That began a nationwide search for the teenagers. Parker and Tulloch " then 17 and 16, respectively " were apprehended by police on Feb. 20 in New Castle, Ind., as they tried to hitchhike their way to California, according to authorities.

While police say they have obtained physical evidence linking the pair to the Zantops' stabbing deaths, including Parker's fingerprints on knife sheathes at the scene and DNA matched to Susanne Zantop on knives found in Tulloch's room, authorities say they do not yet have a motive for the alleged crime.

No connection between the deceased couple and the teenagers from the small Vermont community about 45 minutes from Hanover has been released, and some have suggested that the deaths might have been a "thrill kill" or the result of a botched robbery attempt.

Tulloch's trial has been scheduled for January. Prosecutors are still trying to certify Parker as an adult, since under New Hampshire law he would have been a juvenile when he allegedly committed the crime.

Authorities remained quiet during the initial phases of the investigation, both before and after Tulloch and Parker were arrested and charged with first degree murder, but changed strategy in March, ending their opposition to the release of court documents related to the case.

Beyond the wrenching personal loss endured by the Zantops' friends and acquaintances among students, faculty and staff, the murders prompted the Dartmouth community to question whether there really was any substance behind the sense of safety brought about by living in a rural New England setting.

"I was shocked. It was terrifying. We feel very secure here and when something like this happens it just shatters that," Jocelyn Bernatchez '03 said of hearing the news of the homicides.

In the days following the double homicide, Dartmouth students, faculty and staff pulled together to support and comfort one another as the investigation continued at full speed. Gatherings at College President James Wright's Webster Avenue home and in the Collis Center's Commonground attracted hundreds of members of the community.

Both Zantops were beloved members of the College community; Susanne Zantop was the chair of the German studies department and Half was a professor of earth sciences. Colleagues and students described the couple as caring, committed and generous.

Born in Germany, the Zantops were naturalized American citizens, and, according to friends, were actively involved in liberal causes. Half studied economic geology, the study of mineral resources such as ore deposits, their formation and exploitation. Susanne's interests crossed the boundaries of academic disciplines, but included post-colonialism in her native country as well as feminism.

On the day police announced warrants for Tulloch and Parker, the Boston Globe had printed a front-page story citing unnamed sources and claiming that investigators believed the killings of the Zantops were alleged crimes of passion resulting from an adulterous love affair involving Half Zantop.

The newspaper later retracted the article and published an apology on its front page.