Richard Parker: “We want the people to know what he’s really like”

Richard Parker as a senior at McGavock H.S., early 1980s
Richard Parker as a senior at McGavock H.S., early 1980s

Since his arrest Thursday for the homicide of his in-laws, Jon and Marion Setzer, I’ve seen Richard Parker’s mugshot on CNN and on local news out of Boston. I have read the BBC’s account of his alleged crime.

My first post, written yesterday, may make it clear why I find this surreal.

Tennessee outlets have reported as much as they could about Richard, some emphasizing that he taught Sunday school at First Nazarene in Nashville, with his wife, Laura. Recently, Laura and Richard* had even had kids from their church over for a campout.

So Nashville news organizations have covered the usual “he was quiet, well-liked” angles often trotted out to stir up unneeded drama in a crime story pretty well. (No real criticism intended; I’ve damn sure done that myself.)

Today the Los Angeles Times published a report that helped me clarify why I was compelled to write about this crime, even though I’ve avoided covering crime stories since 2010.

The Times tracked down Danny and Rosemary Martin. They engaged Richard Parker to restore their historic home in 1990. Danny Martin told the paper that Richard

…first offered to fix up the house for nearly $150,000. He said Parker returned two weeks later and offered to do the work for $60,000 because he wanted to start doing business on his own and this could serve as a model to show potential customers. Parker and Martin signed a contract written by the now-dead father-in-law, Martin said.

Richard fell behind on the job. Sometimes he would work all night. Mr. Martin said he wouldn’t pay Richard if he couldn’t do the work. His house burned down.

The Times reports that investigators found traces of gasoline at the site, suggesting arson. Richard was arrested and ultimately sentenced to 4 years probation and ordered to pay $40,000 in restitution.

Danny Martin told the Times, “We want the people to know what he’s really like.”

That’s my point.

Richard Parker has seemed like a churchgoing family man with a stable marriage and four kids since the arson that saw him on probation from 1993 to 1997. Those unaware of certain church traditions of forgiveness and forbearance may be surprised at this, but I’m sure Richard’s church family will stand foursquare behind him, perhaps even if he’s convicted.

People with Richard’s qualities, rudimentary as they may have been when we were kids, probably don’t have real faith save in themselves. They can become close to a partner and their own kids, but it’s often out of recognizing the need for a stable home base as much as anything.

The Richard I knew as a boy was of a piece with the man described by Danny Martin. Quiet, apparently innocuous, but cold and calculating. Looking for an angle, an advantage, an out.


This story is more personal than anything else I’ve covered, so I want to step back and take a more classic “crime blogger” tack regarding the bomb police allege Richard used to kill his in-laws.

I discussed the case with a friend who is an expert in military ordinance and disposal. He’s my age and has been doing Hurt Locker-style work for I don’t know how long. He knows his stuff.

Regarding the parcel bomb that authorities say Richard left for his in-laws, he said he found it interesting that the bomb appeared to explode without causing “…significant structural damage to the home. Most people who do not know what they are doing tend to go overboard.”

My friend (I’m not naming him because he’s active duty and I don’t know if talking to me about this might be against some obscure regulation) also said he thought the killer “definitely knew what he was doing.”


*I made a conscious decision to abandon a news writer tendency to refer to a suspect by his last name with Richard Parker. He’s always Richard in my head.

Richard Parker Arrested for Mail bomb murders of his In-laws

Richard Parker (mugshot)
Richard Parker (mugshot)

Richard Parker, age 49, was arrested Thursday in Tennessee and charged with the mail bomb homicide of his father and mother-in-law, Jon and Marion Setzer.

On Monday a package exploded at the Setzers’ Wilson County, TN home. Jon died at the scene and Marion Setzer passed away Wednesday night. The Tennesseean (linked above) said Richard was “charged with two counts of felony first degree murder and two counts of premeditated murder on Thursday[…].”

I found the first news reports about the murder intriguing. Mail bombings are rare and could happen for any reason, from personal cause to domestic terrorism. I kept track of the story from Monday on, tweeting links that caught my interest.

Imagine how much more interesting the story became when I saw Richard Parker’s mugshot and realized I knew him.

My mom was good friends with Richard’s mother, Sarah Lee Parker. News reports might call her “Sarah” or “Mrs. Parker” but she was Sarah Lee in our home. They lived a mile down the road. Richard’s father was a non-entity to me but he and his sister Fay had come to my sister Rhonda’s birthday parties. I knew he had an older brother named George who had dark hair and was tall. The Parkers were welcome in our home and vice versa.

I never liked going to their house. Sarah Lee made ceramic figures and (I think, my memory’s fuzzy here) cups and dishes and displayed them around the house. Richard, 3 years older than me, had a cluttered room at the end of an interior hall. He had strange things like large ball bearings and boomerangs. He wasn’t a bullying playmate, though he was older, taller and stronger. He was a sly, calculating, manipulative playmate. As soon as I was old enough to assert myself to my mom, I said I didn’t want to play with Richard or go to their house anymore.

In her email confirming to me that this was the Richard Parker I’d known as a kid, my mom wrote:

This is definitely [that] Richard Parker. I remember him well. Rhonda said, “I remember him being strange…”

My sister also recalled that Richard played with dolls and “He gave her one, one time and told her to give it to you.”

The part about the doll isn’t strange to me. It even seems to contradict Richard’s arrest for a double homicide. Unless, that is, one views Richard Parker the way I have since I was 10 or so. He was the first person I ever met whom I realized was more messed up than I could explain to myself.

Since I established myself writing about crime, an old and personal connection to a murder suspect may present an ideal opportunity to write about the case.

There’s a little more to the story, but it’d only be distant background as it relates to the murders of Richard’s in-laws. I think I’ll sleep on it before I decide about pitching it to someone as a piece.