Earl and Terry Robertson tried to raise their sons right.
Dad played ball with them outside the family's spacious home. Mom glowed when her older son James placed in the top 5 percent of his high school class. And they let their kids travel the world, from Alaska to Germany.
But Wednesday - three days after moving back home - 24-year-old James Robertson was in jail in Philadelphia, charged with cutting and beating his parents to death.
Police say he and an 18-year-old woman killed the couple Tuesday morning in their upscale home just north of Rock Hill, hopped in his red Mazda Protege and headed to his brother's home near the University of Pennsylvania.
But investigators say he left a trail by using his father's credit card to pay for gasoline along the way. When the pair pulled up on 41st Street in West Philadelphia just after dark, four officers took them into custody.
After being questioned for hours, James DeJarnette Robertson and Meredith Leann Moon, also of Rock Hill, were charged with murdering Earl and Terry Robertson - by beating and cutting them with multiple objects, including a knife.
"They both died an extremely violent death," said York County Sheriff Bruce Bryant. "You couldn't dream a child could do this to his parents."
The news shocked Earl "Chip" Robertson Jr. - James' younger brother and the Robertsons' only other child - who called his parents "the best in the whole world." After returning home from the Philadelphia police station Wednesday, after hours of being questioned, Chip Robertson found a care package from his mother.
"My mom, before she died, sent me a honey-baked ham that I have no appetite for now," said Chip Robertson, 22, a student at the University of Pennsylvania.
York County sheriff's deputies found the parents, both 49, dead in their $168,000 home on Westminster Drive at 10 a.m. Tuesday, after Earl Sr.'s co-workers at Springs Industries reported he hadn't arrived at work.
The suspects remained in Philadelphia Wednesday evening awaiting extradition, which can take anywhere from a few days to a few months.
James Robertson may be an honors student who's studied in Europe, but he's also served time. In August 1996 he was convicted of breaking into a neighbor's house, stealing a Toyota Celica and credit cards and charging $3,800 at Sears.
He went to prison from Sept. 3, 1996, to July 31, 1997, and has been on probation since his release. At his sentencing, drug-possession charges were dropped under the condition that he enter a drug-treatment program.
In August 1995, James Robertson's mother filed a report saying he had threatened to harm her. The report says he was living with his parents and paying rent, and the two had argued over his rent payment. His mother also told police that he had drug and alcohol problems, according to the report. No charges were ever filed.
James Robertson was an outstanding student at Northwestern High School in Rock Hill, where he graduated in 1992. He was in the top 5 percent of his class his junior year and that summer attended a five-week program at the Governor's School for Academics in Charleston. He spent part of his senior year as an exchange student in Germany and later was honored as one of Northwestern's highest-achieving students.
"It was nice to know that our accomplishments didn't go unnoticed," he said in the yearbook.
Meredith Moon, who moved with her family from Georgia five years ago, was a senior at Northwestern last year. On Wednesday, her father said she had worked a few part-time jobs in recent months but is not currently employed.
Police said they weren't sure whether Meredith Moon was dating James Robertson, and her father had no idea. "I've never seen the kid," Douglas Moon said.
Meredith Moon lived with her father on Brookview Court a few miles away from Westminster Drive, on a cracked concrete street behind an Office Depot that leads to a brown apartment building. Her father said he hadn't slept a wink Tuesday night and had a lot of unanswered questions.
"I'm in a total state of shock," he said.
Friends and neighbors of the Robertsons reacted similarly. "It's just a tragedy and a loss for us," said Miller Deaton, Earl Robertson Sr.'s supervisor and co-worker at Springs Industries in Lancaster, S.C., for the past 20 years.
As director of manufacturing services, Robertson oversaw about half a dozen employees. Co-workers, who relied on his 27 years of experience, called him the model of a good manager.
"When you think of integrity, you think of Earl," said Deaton. "When you want to get something done, you ask Earl."
Years ago, neighbors said, Earl Robertson played football and basketball in the front yard with his sons and the neighborhood kids. Terry Robertson, a homemaker and former English teacher, piled everyone into the family van for trips to the video store, keeping all the kids in stitches with her offbeat sense of humor.
During the summers, the boys' grandparents took them on trips to Alaska and Europe.
Jane Langley, who lives across the street, recalled Earl Robertson's love of golf and Terry Robertson's fondness for animals, especially rabbits. Terry's pet name for Earl was "rabbit," a joke dating back to their courtship in college.
Growing up, James Robertson was a normal, happy kid, Langley said. But as he got older, she said, she sensed conflict between him and his parents. The Robertsons tried to help him, she said.
"They just kept trying and trying and trying," Langley said, "hoping as any parent would that something's got to work."
Staff writers Karen Bair and Jonathan Goldstein contributed to this article.