Neighbors In Shock Over Killer Teens

Wednesday, February 21st 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CHELSEA, Vt. – One way or another, Rob Tulloch and James Parker have been partners for nearly a decade rafting rivers, climbing mountains and debating for their high school team.

According to friends and neighbors, the pair did everything together. According to authorities, that included murder.

The teenagers each face two counts of first-degree murder in the Jan. 27 stabbing deaths of Dartmouth College professors Half and Susanne Zantop in Hanover, N.H., more than 700 miles from New Castle, Ind., where they were being held Tuesday.

Mr. Tulloch said he won't fight extradition from Indiana. A hearing for Mr. Parker was delayed.

The teens, known around Chelsea mostly for their cocky, mischievous attitudes, were arrested Monday at an Indiana truck stop.

Authorities have refused to discuss a motive or any connection between the boys and the victims, who were stabbed repeatedly. Friends and acquaintances in this isolated town of 1,200 people are grasping for an explanation.

To them, James Parker, 16, was the class clown and Robert Tulloch, 17, was an honors student who had earned enough credits at Chelsea Public School to graduate early.

"Whatever he did, there was a reason for it," said Kip Battey, Mr. Tulloch's friend and a fellow debater. "He's really smart, very logical. Everything he did, there was a reason for it."

Both boys come from well-respected families. Their fathers are carpenters, and Mr. Parker's father was known for his work with the community's recreation program.

"These kids were average teen-agers," said John Upham, owner of a variety store. "There was nothing extraordinary about them. There was nothing that would lead you to believe that they could do the crime they are accused of."

But not everyone speaks so highly of the boys. Some suggested their families were too permissive.

"This does not surprise me in the least," Robert Childs, the town property assessor, told The Boston Globe. "These kids weren't coming home from a job after school. These kids were unsupervised and on the streets."

But as far as most of the community is concerned, any mischief the boys were involved in was minor, they liked their paintball guns, using them on neighbors' trees and lawns, clowning around in school and speeding along the town's narrow roads.

"It's going to take a long time for me to believe these kids were involved," said Steve Watson, who owns the video store.

Evidence explaining what might have turned otherwise good boys bad is scant. The Parkers have not spoken with the media. Mr. Tulloch's mother, Diane, has said only that she loves her son and that he is innocent until proved otherwise.

"I have not been able to work these images into my brain," said Tim Courts, a neighbor of the Tullochs. "That's what we're all hoping, just that there's been some mistake, that they were there, but they didn't do it, because we just can't imagine it. I can't imagine it."