Police Urge Caution, Common Sense in Wake of Murders

02/21/02 12:00AM By John Dillon

(Host) People who live in rural Vermont and New Hampshire may be a little more wary of strangers these days.

This week, prosecutors said that the Vermont teenagers charged in a brutal murder tried to get into a house by claiming their car had broken down and that they needed help. That plan failed. But prosecutors say that later the teenagers used a different ruse to get into a New Hampshire home and kill the residents.

Even before this week's news, police say it was never a good idea to let strangers inside.

VPR's John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) Many residents in rural areas leave their homes unlocked and they will welcome a stranger inside if the person says he's got car trouble or needs help.

But prosecutors say it was just such a story that was used by two Vermont teenagers to try to get into a house in Vershire in July of 2000. That attempt didn't work. The homeowner apparently didn't believe the teenagers. He later found that his phone line had been cut.

But the news has some people worried about letting strangers into their homes. Tony Bossi, the Rutland City police chief and head of the Vermont Police Chiefs' Association, says even in Vermont, it's wise to keep doors locked at all times:

(Bossi) "Vermont's still is one of the safest state in the nation¿. But today you still have to look out for yourselves and watch around for your surroundings because anything can happen in Vermont that happens in other places in the country. You still have to lock your doors to your home. You still have to lock your car up. And if someone comes to your door, and you don't know them, you don't let them in. You can make the phone call for them. You just have to be careful, and ask a few questions. And if you don't feel comfortable, you call the police."

(Dillon) Prosecutors allege that Chelsea teenagers Robert Tulloch and James Parker used a different ruse to get into the home of Dartmouth professors Half and Susanne Zantop. Authorities say that Parker and Tulloch talked their way into the Zantop's home by claiming they were students conducting an environmental survey.

State Police Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Powlovich says people must use common sense when dealing with strangers. He says people should always ask for identification if strangers come to the door and claim they they're doing a survey or selling a product:

(Powlovich) "Obviously the information that came out yesterday is a concern. But¿ Vermont has always been a place where people want to help people. And I don't think that we should change in that regard. But again, people should be cautious and use common sense. If somebody comes to the door¿ you don't want to just let them into your house."

(Dillon) Powlovich says it's unfortunate, but society has changed to the point where Vermonters must be more cautious.

For Vermont Public Radio, I'm John Dillon.

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