Book: Judgment Ridge

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Judgment Ridge: The True Story Behind the Dartmouth Murders

Author: Dick Lehr, Mitchell Zuckoff
Publisher: HarperCollins

On a cold night in January 2001, the idyllic community of Dartmouth College was shattered by the discovery that two professors had been hacked to death in their own home. Investigators searched helplessly for clues linking the victims, Half and Susanne Zantop, to their murderer or murderers. The residents of Hanover, New Hampshire, speculated endlessly—could the killer be a disgruntled student? a spurned lover?—while the grisly nature of the crimes themselves destroyed, perhaps forever, the sanctity and invulnerability of their academic arcadia.

By contrast, the hardscrabble community of nearby Chelsea, Vermont, was relatively unaffected. The big news in Chelsea came when the school’s basketball star scored his 1,000th point on a Friday, three weeks after the murders. As parents and teenagers streamed into the night to celebrate after the game, a stunning scene stopped them in their tracks. Outside the house of high school senior Robert Tulloch were the flashing lights of a swarm of police cars. His neighbors couldn’t imagine what the trouble could be—a prank gone overboard, perhaps—but they were confident it was all a misunderstanding that would be sorted out in due course.

But they were wrong. The town discovered the incomprehensible reality that Tulloch and best friend Jim Parker, two of Chelsea’s brightest and most popular sons, were now fugitives, wanted for the murders of Half and Susanne Zantop.

Afterward, their classmates and teachers would admit to noticing subtle changes in Robert and Jim over the previous year. Robert, a former Student Council president, and Jim, a member of the school band and drama club, had been popular kids, benign mischief-makers—their escapades included breaking into an empty home and raiding the refrigerator. But as their friends thought about college and futures beyond Chelsea, Robert and Jim began plotting a very different life. Split off from their peers, with too much free time and too little structure, normal teenage ambition took, in these two boys, an unthinkably dark and sinister turn.

Authors Dick Lehr and Mitchell Zuckoff provide a vivid explanation of murders that captivated the nation, as well as dramatic revelations about the forces that turned two popular teenagers into killers: Could poor parenting, psychological abnormalities, or a community that fails to challenge and engage its young people be blamed? Or was it more complex? Judgment Ridge conveys a deep appreciation for the lives and the devastating loss of Half and Susanne Zantop, while also providing a clear portrait of the killers, their families, and their community—and, perhaps, a warning to all parents about what evil may lurk in the hearts of boys.

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