Ivy League ' class clown' killer to be freed after nearly 25 years behind bars

James Parker is led back to jail by members of the Henry County (IN) Sherriff's Department. (Staff Photo by Nancy Lane.

A high school student who murdered two Dartmouth professors in their own home in a bizarre plot to rob them and move to Australia has been granted parole after spending his adult life behind bars.

James Parker, now nearly 40, was 16 when he and Robert Tulloch convinced Half and Susanne Zantop they were conducting a survey on climate issues in 2001. 

After the Zantops invited the two teenagers into their New Hampshire home, Tulloch stabbed Half and allegedly instructed Parker to stab Susanne. The boys did not know the couple and chose their house because it looked expensive and was surrounded by trees.

Before the killings, the duo estimated they would need $10,000 to move from their home in Chelsea, Vermont, to Australia, and they planned to make random captives give them their financial passwords before killing them. But they only made off with $340 from Half's wallet and were tracked down by police after leaving the sheaths of their knives at the home.


Although police initially suspected a crime of passion from a suspected affair, according to reporting later retracted by the Boston Globe, fingerprints on the sheaths and a bloody boot print led them to the two boys three weeks after the Jan. 29, 2001, killings. 

Nearly 25 years after he pleaded guilty to being an accomplice to second-degree murder, he told New Hampshire's state parole board his actions were "unimaginably horrible." 

"We were attempting to move overseas and live some sort of life of adventure," Parker recalled of his plan with Tulloch. "It’s just so hard. I’ve gone over and over it and just finding an explanation for that is just, I just don’t know how I could do that

"I know there's not an amount of time of things I can do to change it or alleviate any pain I've caused," he told the board April 18. "I'm just deeply sorry."

Those who knew the high school boys were shocked by the killings, telling the Cape Cod Times they were "class clowns." 

"Jimmy is the class clown," Casey Purcell, a senior who attended Chelsea High School with the two boys, told the outlet after their 2001 arrest. "He's never really serious. That's all there is to him. Rob is the one who always gets voted Most Likely to Take Over the World, just because he's so witty. But they are not violent. They like tricks and stuff, but not anything like this."

Parker's attorney, Cathy Green, touted her client's "stellar" disciplinary record during his time behind bars. Parker earned his bachelor's and master's degrees while incarcerated, she said, and painted artworks that are now on display in the prison. He has acted in jailhouse theatrical productions, taken up sports and helped to develop educational guidelines for inmates. 

"Twenty-four years ago, when he was 16, Jim Parker committed a terrible crime. He has fully accepted responsibility for his actions and remains deeply remorseful," Green told Fox News Digital Friday. "He knows that nothing he can say or do will bring solace to the family and friends of the Zantops."

However, she said, her client "has spent the past 24 years doing everything in his power to not only improve himself, but to better the prison community. He is very appreciative that the parole board has given him the privilege of living in the community." 

Green said that he would not be commenting to the media "out of respect for the Zantop family." He could be released as early as next month.

Parker was sentenced to life in prison with a minimum of 25 years after he testified against Tulloch, per court documents. The Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional to sentence a juvenile to mandatory life imprisonment in 2012, and Parker appealed his sentence in 2018. 

He withdrew his petition in 2019 after hearing of the Zantop's surviving daughter's disapproval.

Among nine people associated with the Zantops who showed up at Parker's parole hearing, one cried out when his request for early release was granted.

In light of the parole board's decision, daughter Veronika Zantop said she "wish[ed] James Parker and his family the best and hop[ed] that they can heal."

"This is a hard one to make a statement about, especially because I can’t speak for everyone affected by what happened," Veronika Zantop told the outlet. "For me — I miss my parents and am deeply sad for everything they — and we — have missed out on. I miss my father’s sense of humor and kindness and my mother’s sharp wit and tenacity in all things. Among so many other things. I am deeply grateful for all of the support we have received."


Her mother was 55 and her father was 62 when they were killed. The two German immigrants both taught at Dartmouth University. Susanne was the head of the school's German studies department, and her husband taught Earth sciences. The pair were "beloved" by their students and colleagues and had an open invitation to many of their homes.

Tulloch, now 40, got a mandatory sentence of life without parole for first-degree murder in the killings. He is scheduled for a new sentencing hearing in June. After its 2012 decision, the Supreme Court ruled Tulloch and four other men who were sentenced to life in prison should be resentenced.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Read more of this story from FOX News.