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Jetter: Zantop Anniversary

01/27/11 7:55AM By Alexis Jetter
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(HOST)  Ten years ago today, Dartmouth Professors Half and Susanne Zantop were murdered in their Etna, New Hampshire home. Two Chelsea teenagers were convicted in the deaths. Robert Tulloch was sentenced to life in prison. His accomplice, James Parker, is serving 25 years to life.  Commentator Alexis Jetter was a friend of the Zantops and reflects on the anniversary.

(JETTER)  I went looking for Susanne's sweater the other day.  I felt an urgent need to find it.  And when I did - in the downstairs closet, almost lost between bulky coats - I breathed a sigh of relief. And then I tenderly slipped it on.

It's an incredibly soft sweater, light brown angora, with a clean smell and an almost imperceptible weight.

Wearing it is like being wrapped in a cloud - and wrapped in memory.

Susanne died ten years ago today, her life cut short in a frenzy of violence that we still don't understand. Her husband, Half, died with her.

I still can't let myself picture their final moments.

But when I slip on Susanne's sweater, I remember the funny, fierce, loving juggernaut of a woman that she was - the teacher and writer and fighter, with a sly sense of humor and awe-inspiring tenacity. And I smile.  

My morning had seemed unfocused, the day ahead unclear. Now, armed in Susanne's angora, the day was full of promise and purpose.  I filled the woodstove, fed the cats, and made coffee.

And I thought of Half, his blue eyes twinkling with amusement. He was always the gentle, take-it-easy half of the couple.  The Zantops were German, and both loved precision. But Half had been raised in Barcelona, a city that takes its pleasures seriously - and takes the time to enjoy them. I walked onto the front porch with a mug of coffee and reached for a piece of driftwood that Half brought back from their summer cabin in Maine. The wood is fragile now, but more lovely than ever, as age reveals its contours. I imagine that Susanne and Half, too, would have grown even more beautiful with age.

Ten years ago, we were expecting Half and Susanne to celebrate a winter birthday with us by skiing along the river behind our house. They never showed up. Instead, we got a phone call from a friend, telling us that they were gone.

I think about what they have missed: their daughters growing up, finding their own paths in life.  Half and Susanne have grandchildren now, and their younger daughter came home this summer to celebrate her wedding. Marianne said it was important to be surrounded by her parents' family of friends.

That weekend, we hosted a brunch, and after most of the guests had left, Marianne, her sister Veronika, their husbands, and our family walked through the woods to the river behind our house. We sat on the rocks, by the rushing water, and talked, and laughed. And I thought to myself: this is the spot we meant to take your parents.

Instead, ten years later, we took their children. It doesn't lessen the loss, but it felt healing, somehow. We have continued, in our own way, to keep the Zantops' enduring faith in community alive.

And today, I wrap Susanne's sweater more tightly around me, and remember.

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