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Judgment Ridge: The True Story Behind the Dartmouth Murders

Judgment Ridge: The True Story Behind the Dartmouth Murders

3.8 12
by Dick Lehr, Mitchell Zuckoff

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A riveting investigation of the brutal murders of two Dartmouth professors –– a book that, like In Cold Blood, reveals the chilling reality behind a murder that captivated the nation.

On a cold night in January 2001, the idyllic community of Dartmouth College was shattered by the discovery that two of its most beloved


A riveting investigation of the brutal murders of two Dartmouth professors –– a book that, like In Cold Blood, reveals the chilling reality behind a murder that captivated the nation.

On a cold night in January 2001, the idyllic community of Dartmouth College was shattered by the discovery that two of its most beloved 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. A few weeks later, across the river, in the town of Chelsea, Vermont, police cars were spotted in front of the house of high school senior Robert Tulloch. The police had come to question Tulloch and his best friend, Jim Parker. Soon , the town discovered the incomprehensible reality that Tulloch and Parker, two of Chelsea's brightest and most popular sons, were now fugitives, wanted for the murders of Half and Susanne Zantop.

Authors Mitchell Zuckoff and Dick Lehr provide a vivid explication of a murder that captivated the nation, as well as dramatic revelations about the forces that turned two popular teenagers into killers. Judgement 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 any parent about what evil may lurk in the hearts of boys.

Editorial Reviews

The New Yorker
In January, 2001, Half and Susanne Zantop, popular professors at Dartmouth College, were murdered in their home in New Hampshire. Clever detective work linked knife sheaths found at the scene to a pair of teen-agers, Robert Tulloch and Jim Parker, who lived in an isolated Vermont town thirty miles away. Confronted by police, the boys fled; eventually, they were tracked down in Indiana. Parker, the sidekick, struck a plea bargain that may free him in sixteen years, but Tulloch pleaded guilty and received a sentence of life without parole. Zuckoff and Lehr, who covered the case for the Boston Globe, examine in fascinating detail the ordinariness of the boys’ grudges—typical high-school controversies about the student council and the debate team—and how, in Tulloch’s twisted mind, the idea of random killing became an obsession.
The New York Times
In Judgment Ridge, Mitchell Zuckoff and Dick Lehr, two reporters at The Boston Globe, nicely reveal the claustrophobic desperation of the teenagers, who were smart but not smart enough, both before the murders and as the police drew closer. — Andrea Higbie
The Washington Post
… Lehr and Zuckoff convincingly explore those particular strands of teenage DNA that sometimes mutate into murder: the extreme self-possession, the feelings of invulnerability and the desire to defy authority. Judgment Ridge is a scary and depressing examination of what can happen when that mutation goes unchecked. — Douglas McCollam
Publishers Weekly
In this meandering yet irresistibly absorbing book, Lehr (co-author of the bestselling Black Mass, about a turncoat FBI agent) and Zuckoff (Choosing Naia, about a Down syndrome child) recount the harrowing story of the murders of Half and Susanne Zantop, two beloved Dartmouth College professors who were savagely butchered in their home on January 27, 2001. The messy crime scene soon led investigators to James Parker and Robert Tulloch, a couple of popular teenagers from nearby Chelsea, Vt. But after being interviewed by detectives, the two promptly fled, leading authorities on a three-day manhunt that ended abruptly at a truck stop in Illinois. While the stunned and bewildered residents of Chelsea muscled their way through choking crowds of reporters (the already sensational story was made all the more lurid by the suspects' youth and the sleepy, idyllic setting) and came to terms with the unimaginable (two of their own townspeople were murderers), Parker and Tulloch were remanded to New Hampshire and arraigned on murder charges that were supported by an arsenal of incriminating evidence. Although the authors (Lehr supplies the grit and Zuckoff the sympathetic touch) assiduously reconstruct the events surrounding the pointless double homicide (Parker and Tulloch made off with a whopping $340), the authors appear to have been reluctant to omit any mundane detail or passing commentary, bogging down their energetic narrative in its own research. But the authors nicely expose the strange relationship between these two boys, their muddleheaded motivations for the crime, and Tulloch's arrogant and volatile personality, disregarded by his family and teachers as youthful exuberance when in fact it was the self-absorbed posturing of a burgeoning psychopath. 16 illus. not seen by PW. (Sept.) Forecast: The unusual pairing of authors could make an appeal to a broader possible readership. The most significant draw will be that the Zantop murders were such a sensational news story at the time. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
On January 27, 2001, two Dartmouth professors were found brutally murdered in their home in Hanover, NH. There seemed to be no motive for the crime and very few clues. But two knife sheaths were left at the scene, and they eventually led to the killers: Robert Tulloch and James Parker, two teenage boys from nearby Chelsea, VT. The motive was to get money to fund a move to Australia to live as "badasses," but, as journalists Lehr (Black Mass) and Zuckoff (Choosing Naia) reveals, the real reason was that Robert just wanted to know what it was like to kill someone. Cocky and superior at first, the boys broke under police questioning, though only James showed true remorse. Comparisons to Leopold and Loeb are inevitable: the boys believed in their own superiority and brilliance but made incredibly foolish mistakes that led to their capture. This chilling story of toxic friendship and psychopathic amorality belongs in all public and academic library collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 5/15/03.]-Deirdre Bray Root, Middletown P.L., OH Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A numbing, sorrowful tale of teenagers drawn to murder, artfully structured by Boston Globe staffers Lehr (Black Mass, 2000) and Zuckoff (Choosing Naia, 2002). The story opens in Chelsea, a hardscrabble, working-class Vermont town, quiet and conservative, though its remoteness drew a small counter-cultural population as well. Chelsea was home to Robert Tulloch and Jim Parker, high-schoolers with a lot of time on their hands and not-unexpected dreams of escape and adventure. Fulfilling them would take money. Among the dubious schemes the pair concocted, by far the most outlandish was a plan to rob a household of substance, not forgetting to kill the inhabitants, for there was rage percolating amid the boys’ dreams. They carried out the act across the river in Hanover, New Hampshire, home to Dartmouth College and "conformist preppies," murdering college professors Half and Susanne Zantop on January 27, 2001. Lehr and Zuckoff handle many strings with great dexterity: the nature of the two towns, the backgrounds of the individuals involved, the police work that solved the crime, and the horror of the murder itself. They are not content, however, with laying out facts; they want to know why. After all, lots of kids from sleepy towns want out, but they don't resort to murder. What sets this apart is the authors’ character study of Robert Tulloch, whose textbook-quality psychopathology becomes increasingly evident. Robert has delusions of grandeur, totally lacks conscience and empathy, and is heartbreakingly adept at manipulating people, all the while wrapping up his manias in a package of normalcy. Lehr and Zuckoff shift their attention back and forth between towns and families, daily lives andthe gradual slip-slide of Tulloch and Parker, keeping readers both informed and slightly off balance, so that when they describe what actually happened on the day of the crime, it seems at once unspeakable and inescapable. Emotionally draining. (16 pp. b&w photos, not seen) Agents: Lane Zachary, Todd Shuster, Esmond Harmsworth
Ft. Pierce (FL) Tribune
“A suspenseful and chilling story.”
“A chilling and revealing look at a crime that fueled concerns about adolescents and violence in a post-Columbine environment.”
“Similar to ... In Cold Blood ... a nuanced portrait of a serial killer as a young man.”
Worcester Telegram and Gazette
“A tour de force of reporting...a gripping narrative.”
Washington Post Book World
“A harrowing account...[that] reveals two of the more chilling characters in recent nonfiction.”
Boston Globe
“Join[s] Truman Capote’s classic, In Cold Blood, as one of the standards in crime writing.”
Denver Post
“Spellbinding ... [reveals] the story behind the headlines....Multifaceted and richly believable.”
Hartford Courant
“Irresistible...It pulls you in.”

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Read an Excerpt

Judgment Ridge

The True Story Behind the Dartmouth Murders
By Dick Lehr

Harper Collins Publishers

Copyright © 2003 Dick Lehr All right reserved. ISBN: 006000844X

Chapter One

A Stranger at the Door

At just past ten on a cool summer night, Andrew Patti nestled with his eleven-year-old son on a worn blue sofa in the living room of their Vermont vacation home. Burning logs hissed and popped in the red-brick fireplace as Patti read aloud to Andy Jr. from an adventure story about a hunter pursuing a wise and elusive buck.

Bam-bam-bam-bam-bam. A staccato burst of pounding on the front door interrupted him in mid-sentence.

Startled, Patti rose to his feet, silently motioning to Andy to stay put. It was too late for visitors, and the knocks were too sharp, too insistent to come from the hand of a friend. Someone must be in trouble or looking for trouble.

As Patti stood, he reached under the untucked hem of his work shirt for the nine-millimeter Glock pistol he always wore on his right hip. With a quick flip of his thumb, he unsnapped the safety latch and slid the matte black gun from its leather holster. Patti walked slowly to the door, holding the Glock out of sight, tucked close against the right rear pocket of his faded jeans.

With his empty left hand he pushed aside the blind covering the nine small windows on the upper half of the door. On his frontporch stood a young man Patti had never seen before. He was about six feet tall, lanky, dressed in a white T-shirt, black cargo pants, and black military boots. The young man - maybe in his late teens, Patti thought - leaned in close, his hot breath leaving vapor clouds on the glass. His hands were half-clenched like bear claws, his eyes wide and intense. The weak rays of a bug-yellow porch light cast a sickly glare on his pale skin.

"What's up?" Patti asked roughly.

"I have car trouble. Can you help me out?" the stranger answered just as roughly.

They stood for a moment face to face, inches apart, separated by only a pane of glass, each waiting to see what the other would do.

Andrew Patti was forty-seven, a trim, good-looking man of medium height, with thick, dark hair flecked with gray. He was a lifelong New Yorker with the accent and toothpick-chewing habit to prove it. Though raised in a cookie-cutter suburb of tract houses and strip malls, as a teenager Patti had grown enchanted by the mountains and forests of Vermont. As his only child and namesake approached manhood, Patti wanted Andy to know the embrace of untamed woods, the snap of a fish latching onto a hook, the smell of fresh-cut trees, the ping of a tin can pierced by a well-aimed bullet.

Patti and his wife, Diane, also forty-seven and a native New Yorker, lived and worked on Long Island, running an agency that provided services for infants and toddlers with special needs. It was successful enough to allow them to purchase their getaway home in the town of Vershire, on the eastern side of Vermont, halfway between Massachusetts and Canada. Vershire's name was an amalgam of Vermont and New Hampshire, owing to the abundance of hills offering views from the former to the latter, some fifteen miles away across the Connecticut River.

One of the hills was called Judgment Ridge, named for a defunct ski area once located there. Judgment Ridge was less than a mile from the Pattis' house, just off the main road that connected the neighboring town of Chelsea to Interstate 91. Once on the interstate, it was a short drive south to Hanover, New Hampshire, home of Dartmouth College, and from there to the world beyond.

Vershire was best known to outsiders as home to The Mountain School, a private school that doubled as a working farm, allowing high school students to combine traditional studies with lessons on sustainable rural living. Vershire also was a magnet for second-home owners like the Pattis, many of them New Yorkers searching for solitude, serenity, and bargain property. Locals called them "flatlanders" during civil, if occasionally dismissive, conversations. Some natives called the outsiders much worse in private.

The Pattis first saw the cedar-shingled house next to a postcard-perfect pond in September 1999, and then spent eight months struggling to get clear title and overcome a maddening series of obstacles to their purchase. It finally became theirs two months before the stranger came to the door. Locals knew the place as The Sugar House, and indeed, the home on Goose Green Road was a symbol of the changing community. It was built in 1993, replacing a landmark wooden shack where generations of Vershire residents had marked each spring by boiling maple sap into sugary syrup.

During their first weeks in the house, Andrew and Diane tried to make it homey without Long Island-izing it. Their signature decorative touch was a mounted head of a six-point buck Diane's father had shot years earlier, hung high on a living-room wall next to the fireplace. The deer's limpid eyes stared down at anyone who entered the front door, above which a plaque read: home is where the heart is.

Soon after they moved in, the Pattis got a taste of life in a house built close to a country road: twice, just weeks apart, two strangers came to the door late at night seeking help with broken-down cars. The first was a young man who tentatively tapped on the door, then stepped briskly, submissively backward when Andrew Patti answered. The stranger's solicitous air convinced Patti there was no danger, and in a display of new-neighbor helpfulness he hitched the stalled car to Diane's SUV and towed it to the man's home. The second uninvited guest was a young woman who politely asked to use the phone to call Ward's Garage, a half-mile up the road ...


Excerpted from Judgment Ridge by Dick Lehr
Copyright © 2003 by Dick Lehr
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Meet the Author

As a reporter for nearly two decades for the Boston Globe, Dick Lehr won numerous journalism awards and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. A professor of journalism at Boston University, he is coauthor of the Edgar Award-winning Black Mass, the Edgar Award finalist Judgment Ridge, and The Underboss. He lives near Boston with his wife and four children.

Mitchell Zuckoff is a professor of journalism at Boston University and the author of five previous books, including the New York Times bestseller Lost in Shangri-La, which won the Winship/PEN Award for Nonfiction. As a reporter for the Boston Globe, he was a Pulitzer Prize finalist and won the Distinguished Writing Award from the American Society of Newspaper Editors. He lives in Newton, Massachusetts.

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Judgment Ridge: The True Story behind the Dartmouth Murders 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am a Dartmouth Class of 2001 and had Half as a professor on two occasions. Both he and his wife we caring, decent people who would go out of their way to help anyone in need. Though I am sickened by what happened and the morbid facination people have when things of this nature happen 'at an elite institution,' I must say that this book is accurate. I also feel that the writers have done an excellent job of delving into the causes of such horror.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Did not enjoy.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Slow paced and boring until the last two chapters. Interestig story but again put me to sleep til the end.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One of the best crime stories I read. Thoroughly and thoughtfully researched & written. Unbiased yet sympathetic retelling of a human tragedy that leaves no one untouched .
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read a lot of true crime, and I am often frustrated because the writing isn't up to par. No worries with Judgment Ridge. This book is so well done, one of the best true crime books I have read in years. What makes this book so great is that we really get to know the victims, and in telling their story, we get some justice in that more people come to know these wonderful people. What is so sad about this story is that the crimes were so random and needless. SO well-written, it is a fast and compelling read- I highly recommend it!
Katie Ostiguy More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
The Zantop's, Half and Susanne, were a much loved couple from Dartmouth Collge, a small community in New Hampshire, who were brutally murdered. This book tells their story and that of the two young men who committed this crime. I have ambivalent feelings about this book- it is very well written and the authors have given much detail about the lives of all involved, but this murder took place in my community, and the wounds are still raw. Dick Lehr and Mitchell Zuckoff, are Boston Globe columnists and followed this case day by day. They interviewed many of the people involved in the lives of the Zantops, Robert Tulloch and Jum Parker. They have been able to give an account of the shock and grief both communities felt in the aftermath. Half and Susanne Zantop came to Dartmouth College from Germany. They wanted to open the world to their two young daughters. In the midst of living their lives, they touched many in the Dartmouth and Hanover community. Half was considered one of the best educators in his Geology department and at Dartmouth. Susanne was a much loved professor of the German department. Both were in their mid fifties and looking at early retirement. They were a very active couple and had lived their lives to the fullest. They had two daughters who were just starting their adult lives. Robert Tulloch was an eighteen year old from a small community Chelsea, Vermont. His life is shared in bits and pieces, and we are able to see that something is terribly wrong in this young man but a murderer? James Parker is his younger friend. They have a bond and have the feeling of 'us against the world'. They were adventurers and wanted to go to Austrailia and live the life they deserved. In their fantasies they would glean the monies needed by killing their victims and accumulating the money needed to flee. The book tells the story of their attempts to rob and plunder, and the mistakes they made. No one in their community really knew these young men or could have foretold the paths they were establishing. One cool grey day in January of 2001, Robert and James headed towards Hanover, NH, a town of well-to-do people. A town that neither boy liked or visited often. On a previous day they had searched the town for likely victims. The first home they visited was empty, they moved to the next home and Half Zantop answered. The young men posed as Vershire School studnets interested in the environement and asked Half to participate in a survey. As a professor of Geology, Half was involved in keeping the enviornment clean and invited the young men into his home. At some point during the survey, Half remarked that the young men were not well prepared. This infuriated Robert and he lunged at Half and slit his throat- Susanne hearing the commotion ran into the room and Robert yelled to James to kill her. James hesitated a moment and then slit Susanne's throat. The boys had bought knives over the internet to use for this crime. When they were sure the Zantops were dead, they took Half's wallet and left. A friend of the Zantops came to their home in early evening to have dinenr with them- found the front door unlocked and walked in. She came to the study and found the grisly scene- she left hurriedly and drove to the neighbors where she screamed for help. The neighbors called 911 and went with her to the Zantops home. The ensuing half of the book describes the investigation and the people involved ,and how the many clues left at the scene helped the local police and State Police to find these young men. They were questioned at their homes. In the dead of night the boys left and fled to Indiana where they were picked up. The flight and the local authorities and their stories are told in detail. the boys were brought back to New Hampshire and charged with murder. After delibertion, James Parker became a State's witness ande gave up his best friend, Robert to save his life. He was charged with being an accomplice to murder and g