Over the weekend while returning clothes to Value Village, I picked up Judgement Ridge, a true-crime hardback describing the murders in early 2001 of Half and Susanne Zantop, German-born married professors at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, at the hands of two teenagers from a nearby town. By reporters Richard Lehr and Mitchell Zuckoff and published in 2003, it is in fact a very good read (I finished in two days), written with obvious sensitivity toward the victims and the townsfolk who were to learn, weeks after the murders, that two of their nicest — and brightest — young boys were responsible for the butchery (both the victims had multiple stab wounds, with one stabbed several times straight through the skull with the kind of knife used by U.S. Navy “SEAL” commandos).
The brutality led investigators to believe it was a crime of passion — perhaps one or the other of the couple was having an affair. Disgruntled students and colleagues were also questioned. The status of the victims — Half Zantop was a noted geologist, his wife a German language professor whose works had been published in book form — also attracted wide news-media attention. Soon town gossip, innuendo and irresponsible leaks by authorities found their way even into respected broadsheets. Murder victims haven’t a shed of privacy, and no voice with which to defend themselves.
The crime may never have solved at all, had the murderers not left behind the sheaths to the knives they had purchased over the Internet a few months before the deaths. From them, investigators were able to track down the make of the weapons. Tedious searches through local and regional retailers of such knives, yielded up a name of buyer of two knives from the town just a few miles from the small hamlet where the Zantops made their home, and met their end. It was ordered by one of the teenagers — they were sixteen and seventeen at the time — who had carried out the crime. When police questioned Jim Parker, they did not believe his story that he and his friend (the other perpetrator, Robert Tulloch) had sold the knives to a mysterious stranger soon after purchasing them.
But they also did not believe that Parker and Tulloch were directly involved in the murders. Only when Tulloch and Parker fled New Hampshire, did the police obtain warrants to search their family homes, uncovering the actual knives that Tulloch had inexplicably forgot to get rid of not only after they had murdered the Zantops, but also after the pair had come to the attention of police, and decided to flee.
After the pair were arrested at an Indiana truck stop, the question turned to why Parker and Tulloch chose to murder Susanne and Half (whose name meant, literally, “help” in German) Zantop. The killers did not know the couple. Though no one from their town were as well-off as the Zantops or any other faculty member of the “ivy league” Dartmouth, they weren’t from poor homes either. They were not driven by hatred of the rich, of foreigners, or of academics. The Zantops had come from Germany, but both Parker’s and Tulloch’s families were also from outside of New Hampshire (the latter had moved there just a few years before the murders).
Neither were high-school dropouts: on the contrary, both had finished high school ahead of time, bright students who had, on the other hand, little inclination toward going beyond what was necessary. Neither they nor their friends drank booze or used illicit drugs. Both boys had girlfriends at the time of the murders, or had one shortly before. The only thing taken from the Zantop’s lavish home was several hundred dollars from Half’s wallet.
It seems that, in what was to be their last year of high school in the autumn of 2000, Parker and Tulloch entered an intense companionship that came to exclude not only the rest of the gang they had been running around with, but wholly or partially, their girlfriends as well. Lehr and Zuckoff provide no evidence that Parker and Tulloch were homosexual. Instead, they believe something more sinister was at play. Quoting the B.C. psychologist Robert Hare, the authors conclude that Tulloch was a psychopath. The teenager not only had no apparent feeling for others, he also had a grossly inflated estimation of his own self and his abilities.
Just months prior to the murders, Tulloch had encountered unaccustomed setbacks and humiliations, including an effort to remove him as student-council president for failure to carry out his duties, and the loss of a state-wide debate-club title after referring to his opponent (an exchange student) as “just a German.” Zuckoff and Lehr propose that around this time, a bloodlust had erupted in Tulloch, an aggressive response to these setbacks. It was around this time, too, that Tulloch began to alienate Parker from their other friends, and from his girlfriend as well. Tulloch, a year older and always the dominant personality, began to persuade Parker of the need of the two of them, superior brains both, to leave the small town in which they had come of age, and which offered no future. He suggested that they’d need ten thousand dollars to get to the various places they had chosen to run away to (Europe, New Zealand, and the finally, Australia). The only way they could get this kind of money quickly, was to take someone hostage in their home, force them to reveal their bank account and credit card numbers, and take what belongings were there. From there the plan escalated to murdering the hostages, too, lest they reveal their assailants’ identities. As the authors see it, the initiative for these actions came from Tulloch, with Parker going along in order to please his idol.
But to them, it was all a ruse. Tulloch’s actions at the Zantops’ disprove the robbery motive. After gaining entry to the house under the pretense of being students conducting an environmental survey, the murderers did not overpower and tie up the couple (who, in their fifties and sixties, could not be expected to put up too much resistance even to sixteen- and seventeen-year-old boys). Tulloch went for his knife the first moment Half Zantop turned his back, plunging the weapon into the man’s chest as soon as he turned around again. He continued his assault until he turned his attention to Susanne, already dead after Parker had slit her throat. Tulloch proceeded to stab her several more times.
After they were apprehended, both Parker and Tulloch pled guilty to the crimes. Parker turned on Tulloch, and received a lighter sentence than the latter, who will not see the outside of a prison. There is something else that Lehr and Zuckoff dwell on. The knife-sheaths were the key to solving the crime, but the boys’ rush from the scene could explain why they would have been left behind. But what about their decision to keep the knives, even after the police were on to them? This flatly contradicts Parker’s and Tulloch’s own assertions that they were beings with superior intelligence. There is, however, a pattern of heinous murderers committing stupid mistakes such as this, which result in their capture. It has been remarked that Ted Bundy, the infamous serial-murderer of young brunettes during the 1970s, was apprehended twice (for the first time, and then again after he twice escaped custody) by his disobedience as a motorist of basic traffic regulations. Denis Rader, who terrorized Wichita, Kansas, for twenty years as the “bind, torture, kill” predator of mostly elderly women (though his toll also included an entire family), was apprehended after he was assured by investigators that his identity could not be traced if he continued his long-running correspondence with authorities on computer disk rather than on typed pages. Forensics quickly discovered the meta-file data necessary to track Rader down. He had been using the computer at his church, where he served in a lay capacity, to write his murder notes.
I dwell on this macabre subject perhaps because not dissimilar crimes have resulted in an arrest closer to home. In early February, I learned of the disappearance of a 27-year-old Belleville, Ontario woman, late last month, upon reports that news was imminent in the matter. At a press conference a little later, the police announced the identity of the suspect not only in this case, but also in the rape and murder of a 38-year-old corporal serving at a Canadian Forces airbase in Trenton, not far from Belleville: the base’s commander, colonel Russell Williams. Williams is accused not only of these crimes (the Belleville woman’s body was discovered in a field not far from town), but also in two other home-invasion rapes in the vicinity. This was startling news to everyone. Williams is a big-shot. He was commander of the only real functional airbase in Canada. Recently, he piloted the minister of National Defence to Afghanistan, and last year he ferried the Prime Minister and several cabinet members on an official visit to India. He’s appeared in the news media, and was well-known in the town of Trenton. Williams lived with his wife in Ottawa, on a street a block over from where my wife once worked.
One has to assume that, on his climb through the ranks, Williams was subjected to several levels of psychological testing. My private conclusion is that he is guilty, since he reportedly led authorities to the body of the Belleville victim. If this be so, then Williams’ twisted mind was not revealed to the examiners. How else could he have reached so high a rank, at such a relatively young age of 45? Those who knew Williams and his wife, and are ready to express an opinion, all say that they are complete shock as to the accusations against him. If anything at all is said about Williams, it is that he was “hard to get to know.”
Through my own casual studies of murderers of this type — those who kill for gratification, whether sexual or not — I believe that no environmental situation can account for such behaviour. A small number of people are born evil. The predatory instinct exists in all humans (except again, for a very small number), but so does the sympathetic drive. Robert Tulloch, and I presume, Russell Williams, don’t have this sympathetic instinct, or not enough of one to make a difference. These are indeed the evil ones.
There are certain common features of the background of many famed serial killers, namely disorder and dysfunction within their immediate families. Russell Williams, for example, is apparently estranged from his brother and mother, after the latter went through a bitter divorce with Williams’ step-father a decade ago. The English-born Williams scarcely knew his biological father, after he and his mother divorced at when he was very young, and she emigrated to Canada with her new husband. The aforementioned Bundy was raised by his grandparents, thinking they were his actual parents, and his mother, his sister. He did not know his real father, either. Paul Bernardo, the “schoolgirl” murderer and rapist in southern Ontario during the 1980s and early 90s (assisted by his wife at the time, the ugly Karla Homolka), also did not know his real father. His mother was reportedly something else entirely, a strict disciplinarian who kept the family’s food locked way in a cupboard under her bed. Robert Tulloch’s father was an alcoholic, depressive and once attempted suicide. His mother was indifferent to him, or preoccupied with caring for his sister, who had “special needs” and was a compulsive shoplifter.
But these factors cannot themselves explain cold-blooded murderers like these. Or rather, it is this environment of family disorder and uncertainty, together with the predisposition to pitilessness, which is key. Paul Bernardo and Robert Tulloch’s siblings (each had at least one sister and one brother) did not become sadistic rapists and murderers. There is some abnormality at birth with the psychopathic serial killer involving, as I said, the absence of a sympathetic drive. But, in addition to this, there is abuse and neglect at home, thus ensuring that even a stunted instinct for empathy, will not be developed at all during the early-years’ “critical period.” The scary thing is that there is really no way to tell when a child who has faced such domestic trauma, will grow up to be a psychopath.
In Judgement Ridge, the authors make reference to another murderous incident carried out by a pair of teenagers, the Columbine high school massacre in Colorado in 1999. In that case, as with Tulloch in regard to Parker, one of the pair of young killers was determined to be a psychopath, who over time prevailed upon his more sensitive and humane cohort, to murder twelve fellow students and a teacher (the Columbine duo had also planted explosives at the school, intending to kill hundreds more; fortunately, the bombs failed to detonate). In that case, as with the Zantop murders, Lehr and Zuckoff describe the “missed signs” and “telltale acts” that might have identified the murderers, before they actually struck.
This line of inquiry (also the centrepiece of an official report issued by the Colorado governor some time after the Zantop killings) has always seemed off-base to me. Dylan Klebold or Eric Harris (the Columbine killers), along with Robert Tulloch and Jimmy Parker, were involved in relatively minor crimes prior to carrying the acts for which they are now infamous. But there was nothing in these which suggested either pair of killers was capable of slaughtering fellow human beings. It is true that Eric Harris at least, had made open threats against classmates and his school, verbally, in private journals, and in Internet postings. But many people, especially teenagers, make such threats. Very few go on to carry out their threats. Indeed, very few of those who murder openly threaten their victims beforehand, for to do so automatically renders the perpetrator as suspect.
But what could authorities do, in any case, if they became certain that a certain youngster or adult, had a personality consistent with psychopathy (according to Robert Hare’s detailed personality checklist), and thus, was a danger to the public? The police couldn’t touch them, unless and until they did, or were in the active process of carrying out, a serious crime. There is no way, in any case, to judge psychopathy, that would stand without controversy and contention. But even if there were, there is no legal basis for imprisoning an individual on the basis of what he might do, given his psychological resemblance to others who have done very bad things in the past. In the Anglo-Saxon tradition especially, punishment is based on deed, not thought. The psychopath is, by definition, one without a conscience. Imprisonment would have thus cause little penitence, because the capacity for the latter is missing in the “psycho”. It would, on the other hand, excite the non-offending psychopath to even more grandiose efforts at bloody revenge for his persecution. A psychopath, once apprehended, couldn’t be freed. This would put authorities, and the public, in the uncomfortable position of imprisoning people for life for something they might do. Again, it is hard to see how this would not be extremely controversial, especially given the number of people who wish to make folk-heroes out of those who have committed horrendous crimes.
A couple of observations, in closing, about the Zantop murders. I found it remarkable that even in rural New Hampshire, as long ago as the turn of the century, not a single person is described owning an American-made car. Everyone — the victims, the investigators, the murderers, the friends and families of the murderers and victims — is driving a Saab, Subaru, Mazda, Volvo, Toyota, or BMW. Not a Chevy or Ford in sight, at least according to Zuckoff and Lehr’s account.
When Parker and Tullouch fled New Hampshire following the initial police inquiries (leaving behind the murder weapons), they eventually abandoned their car for fear of falling into the dragnet police had set up for them. They ended up at a truck-stop somewhere in New England, soliciting drives from cross-country truckers. They were repeated stiff-armed but by two separate haulers. Both of the latter were southeasterners. They were both ultimately fired for disobeying their employers’ strict no-hitchers policy.