August 17, 2005

Sleepy Hollow

Idly flipping through the channels of the lackluster scene that is daytime television, I was surprised to see Collis, the Hop, and other Big Green favorites, featured behind a somber voice-over. It was the A&E “City Confidential”, a one-hour special on the Dartmouth Murders.

I knew very little about the grisly double homicide. “Murder” is not exactly a topic one discusses in between pong games and the occasional class. Clearly, in the hallowed halls of the school’s rich traditions, the bonfire and Winter Carnival are held in much higher esteem. Tours for incoming freshman, and their doting parentals don’t exactly advertise the fact either, “Everyone stick close together…we know it isn’t New York, but we’re working on that.”

On January 27, 2001, two college professors, Suzanne and Half Zantop were repeatedly stabbed to death in their home, just three miles from campus.

The media descended upon the once quiet town like hounds on the chase. They had indeed struck gold, and headlines swept the nation…most, including our own student publications, were speculating that it was a disgruntled undergrad with a bad grade, or a political message, and general hatred in their sinister heart.

There was little evidence, few communications to the claustrophobic press, and no arrests. Jack Torrance would have fit right in.

Tensions at Dartmouth were, well…tense. Documentary footage showed huddled masses of students, faces pinched from fear or more likely- the February cold. The police were called in to investigate a mysterious “blood-like” stain in the basement lounge on Mass row. Tests concluded that it was irrelevant to the case, though a clear indication that people were beginning to turn on each other.

And then the mystery began to unravel. Robert Tulloch and Jim Parker, two high school students in nearby Chelsea, Vermont, were questioned as potential purchasers of the SEAL knives (whose sheaths had been found at the Zantop residence). The boys agreed to be fingerprinted and the next day, the lab reported a match: both sets of prints were found near the bodies. But Tulloch and Parker had not waited for the discovery of what they must have already known. Their families reported that they had left in the middle of the night.

The police put out a warrant for the boys’ arrest while their classmates and the townspeople of Chelsea rallied behind the two renegades; extolling their virtues, their good grades, and the haunting fact that Parker had continually refused hunting invitations on account of not liking to see the animals get hurt. These were good boys. They were nice boys. How could they have done...that?

Why would they....run?

After a three day “man-hunt”, Tulloch and Parker were finally apprehended at a truck stop in Sturbridge Isle, MA trying to hitchhike to California.

The boys were arrested and held in custody. The evidence against them was overwhelming. Jim Parker was the first to crack and he signed a complete confession. By turning state witness against Tulloch he was able to plea-bargain for 25 years without parole. At the sentencing hearings he cried and apologized. Everyone said it looked genuine. His damning statements persuaded the mounting insanity defense for his friend, and accomplice, Robert Tulloch, to be abandoned. Tulloch also pled guilty, received life in prison, and seemed to smirk the whole time.

The little tight-knit community of Chelsea was not the first, nor the last, to be shattered by the truth.

Motive? What was their motive? Why did they do it? Why the Zantops? WHY?

Everyone wanted to know the answers. Because then, maybe, just maybe, they could make sense of something like this. Maybe then, they could avoid something like this.

Sadly, the explanation provided little comfort.

Best friends for years, the boys had decided to be partners in crime as well. Their schemes, however, were too big for the sleepy little town. They dreamt about becoming career criminals in Australia and needed an arbitrary $10,000 to get them started. Planning for months, they were going to use thievery, murder, and extortion to get what they wanted. They picked the Zantops residence randomly and approached them with a story about an environmental survey they were doing for class. Coincidently, Half Zantop, as an Earth Science professor, was the perfect candidate for such a herring and kindly invited the two into his study, to further conduct the interview.

His wife was preparing lunch and rushed in when she heard her husband scream.

They left with $340 from his wallet. They left two dead bodies.

The Administration decided to increase security (or at least the sense of it) by installing electronic locks on all the dorm buildings; the idea of key cards, which we now lovingly carry, was born.

Boston reporters Dick Lehr and Mitchell Zuckoff wrote an exposé on the case, “Judgment Ridge: The True Story Behind the Dartmouth Murders”. The book attempted to dive deep into the minds of the two teenage killers, seeking to uncover the great secret of how evil is made. It documents how the boys became friends, were in the accelerated program at school, and finally turned to the dangerous philosophies of one, Friedrich Nietzsche.

English Professor Jeffrey Hart used the Dartmouth Review to suggest that people were crying entirely too much, “I had the distinct impression that the mourners enjoyed their grief. Indeed, there seemed to be a sort of competition to see who could praise the Zantops more extravagantly and grieve more profoundly.” He concluded his tear-free essay by suggesting that none of this would have happened had the Zantops owned a gun.

Life slowly returned to normal, as life has a habit of doing. The sensational, became the past. The Zantops were replaced. And the “Dartmouth Bubble” bore out the punctures to its fragile membrane. Right?

(Those interested in further explorations of the psyche and history of murdering friends should check out the true stories of Leopold and Loeb as well as the Hollywood “Murder by Numbers”, or their kitschy US promotional title: "Murd3r 8y Num8ers", lol. Ignore the fact that Sandra Bullock is on the cover. Ryan Gosling is incredible. Seriously. I couldn’t believe it was the same actor in “The Notebook”. He shines in this much darker role.)

Posted by Tatlis at August 17, 2005 12:58 AM
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