To the Editor:
I am writing out of concern for the investigation into the Zantop murders. From what I have been able to gather from the news, it seems that neither a viable suspect nor even a viable motive has been established. I am writing in response to the apparently prevailing idea that the killer was someone who knew the Zantops. My purpose in writing is to argue that this is probably not so.
I do not know the Zantops, but am concerned with this case because I am a member of the Dartmouth community. People in this community are baffled by these murders and cannot understand why someone who knew the Zantops would ever do such a terrible thing. It is possible that the murderer was mentally unbalanced. However, as no such person appears to have been located, I suspect that this is not the case. In my opinion, the lack of any reasonable motive, combined with the beauty and inherent goodness of these two people, argue strongly against the possibility that the murderer knew the Zantops prior to their meeting on Jan. 27.
Instead, it is my belief that the murderer was unknown to them. However, I do not believe that the killing was “random;” I believe that there was a good reason that the murderer ended up at the Zantops’ house on Saturday. In considering the case, I looked at maps on the internet depicting where the Zantops lived. As I am familiar with the town, I realized that the Appalachian Trail runs through the woods behind the Zantops’ home. Looking at a more detailed map showed me that the Appalachian trail crosses Trescott Road within roughly a quarter mile of the Zantops’ house. It is my belief that this intersection is not a coincidence, and that the murderer was travelling on the Appalachian Trail. In my opinion, it is the junction of this trail and the road on which the Zantops lived that was responsible for this senseless tragedy.
In support of this theory are stories of similar “random” murders on the Appalachian Trail. In May of 1974, a fugitive killed a 26- year-old man in Georgia. In April of 1975, a man killed a 22-year-old woman with an axe. In May of 1981, a local man shot a man and stabbed a woman to death. In September of 1990, a fugitive shot a man and stabbed a woman to death. And in 1996, two women were killed in Shenandoah National Park. In addition to the fact that these murders all occurred on the Appalachian Trail, it is significant is that these were all “random” killings, committed by people who were unknown to those killed.
That the Appalachian Trail passes so close to the Zantops’ home is significant for several reasons. There are a number of elements that make it appealing to fugitives. It is relatively secluded, and one can travel on it fairly anonymously, without really having to answer for who one is or why one is there. Also, one can travel on it for the most part without coming in contact with the law. There are lean-tos and huts in which one can find shelter from the elements. With the necessary supplies, one can live fairly inexpensively on it for a long period of time. And of course, because it extends from Georgia to Maine, it offers an easy escape from whatever local troubles one might be having. For all of these reasons, it might appeal to one who is hiding from the law. Of course, even if one were on the trail, one would need money and supplies to survive. And if one were on the lam, burglary would seem the most likely means of dealing with those needs. It seems quite possible to me that the Zantops were murdered by someone in a similar situation.
I am writing because I am afraid that this possibility is not being given adequate consideration. In my mind, certain places should be investigated and certain questions should be asked. If the murderer was traveling on the Trail, where did this person sleep? The shelters in the area (Velvet Rocks, etc) should be scrutinized. There should be men and dogs travelling up and down the trail, looking for whatever clues the murderer might have left behind. There should be an alert in Vermont and New Hampshire for those who live in proximity to the Appalachian Trail. Searches should be conducted in Benton State Forest and the White Mountain National Forest, and all huts closed for the winter should be investigated. People who have recently been on the Appalachian Trail in the area should be questioned as to who or what they might have seen. News and police reports from Vermont and New Hampshire from the past five months should be scrutinized for anything that might shed light on this crime. Who has gone missing or escaped in the past few months? Reports of burglaries, attacks, or unusual encounters in towns along the Appalachian Trail should be investigated. Finally, federal databases of fugitives should be searched for profiles of fugitives that have done similar things in the past.
It is my heartfelt hope that members of the law enforcement community might begin to more thoroughly consider the possibility that this was in fact a senseless tragedy, with no good explanation, and attempt to solve it as such.