An 83-year-old ex-pastor, David Zandstra, has been apprehended on charges of murder almost half a century after he purportedly kidnapped and ended the life of 8-year-old Gretchen Harrington in Pennsylvania, as disclosed by officials this Monday.
Zandstra is facing charges of criminal homicide, first, second, and third-degree murder, abduction of a minor, and possession of a crime instrument. According to District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer, he was initially questioned in the 1975 investigation, but only during an interview conducted this year did investigators collect sufficient evidence to warrant his arrest.
Stollsteimer recounted that Harrington left her Marple residence at approximately 9 a.m. on the 15th of August, 1975, to attend her summer bible camp. The camp was hosted by Trinity Church Chapel Christian Reform Church, where Zandstra served as a pastor.
The day Harrington vanished, her father grew anxious when she failed to appear at Reformed, and by 11:23 a.m., the police were notified.
Two months later, authorities discovered Harrington’s skeletal remains in Ridley Creek State Park.
During the investigation, a witness informed the police that they had seen Harrington conversing with either a two-tone Cadillac driver or a green station wagon. Zandstra was known to drive the latter.
On the 2nd of January this year, authorities conversed with a woman claiming to have suffered abuse from Zandstra during her childhood. The claimant, whose identity remains undisclosed, was close friends with Zandstra’s daughter and frequently spent the night at their residence.
She shared a disturbing account of an instance at a sleepover when she was 10, where she woke up to Zandstra inappropriately touching her. According to the district attorney’s office, she confided in Zandstra’s daughter, who disclosed that such behavior from the defendant was not unusual.
He confessed to driving a green station wagon that day, recalling that he had offered Harrington a lift and driven her to a secluded wooded area.
In a news release, officials documented that Zandstra had requested the victim to undress. When she declined, he physically assaulted her, causing her to bleed. Believing that she had died from the attack, he attempted to hide her body and then left the scene.
Trooper Eugene Tray, who interviewed Zandstra, noticed that the accused appeared relieved.
“He may not regret his actions, but it’s evident that he feels a burden has been lifted,” Tray commented.
Zandstra was apprehended in Georgia and is currently held in jail in Cobb County denied bail. He’s resisting extradition, and efforts are underway to obtain a governor’s warrant to transport him to Pennsylvania.
Officials added that Harrington’s father had passed away, but her mother and three sisters still live.
An ongoing investigation explores the possibility of additional victims linked to Zandstra, who resided in Plano, Texas, before moving to Marietta following Harrington’s death.