Ex-priest charged with murder of girl in Pennsylvania nearly 50 years ago | US News

A former US priest has been charged with abducting and murdering an eight-year-old girl nearly half a century ago.

Prosecutors said they had charged David Zandstra, 83, of Marietta, Georgia, in connection with the death of Gretchen Harrington of Marple, Pennsylvania.

In August 1975, Gretchen disappeared while walking from her home to Bible camp. Her remains were found in a nearby state park in October of that year.

The identity of the killer has remained a mystery for the past 48 years.

Mr. Zandstra, the pastor of the church where the camp was held, was interviewed about Gretchen’s death in October 1975 but denied seeing her on the day of her abduction.

However, the Delaware County District Attorney’s Office said Monday that Mr. Zandstra “admitted” to Gretchen’s murder after being confronted with evidence that Gretchen sexually assaulted another girl around the same time.

Gretchen Harrington of Marple, Pennsylvania, disappeared in August 1975 while walking from her home to summer camp. Her remains were found in a nearby state park in October of that year.Photo: Delaware County District Attorney's Office
In August 1975, Gretchen Harrington disappeared while walking from her home to Bible camp.Photo: Delaware County District Attorney’s Office

“Today I can finally announce that her killer, David Zandstra, has confessed to his crimes,” said District Attorney Stall Steimer.

“Justice has been a long time coming, but we are proud and grateful to finally be able to give the community an answer.

“The murder of Gretchen Harrington has haunted law enforcement since that terrible day in August 1975.

“This heinous act changed a family and a community forever.”

Lt. Jonathan Sanderling of the Pennsylvania State Police added: “Justice knows no deadlines.

“Whether the crime was committed 50 years ago or five minutes ago, residents can trust that law enforcement will not rest until justice is served.

“This case has been investigated by generations of detectives who all owe a debt of gratitude that never gives up.”

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Mr. Zandstra was charged with criminal homicide, first, second and third degree murder, kidnapping of a minor and possession of instrumentalities of crime.

The Delaware County District Attorney’s Office said it had filed documents to extradite Mr. Zandstra from Georgia to Pennsylvania.

A witness during the initial investigation told police they found Gretchen talking to the driver of a green station wagon or a two-tone Cadillac the day they disappeared.

The case remained pending until this January, when police interviewed one of Mr Zandstra’s alleged victims, who accused Mr Zandstra of sexually assaulting her during her sleepover when she was ten years old.

She also recalled a child in her class who was almost kidnapped twice, and wrote in her diary in 1975 that she thought he was the likely culprit.

Mr Zanstra told detectives that the morning Gretchen went missing, he picked her up in his green station wagon and took her to a nearby woods where he parked the car and asked her to take off her clothes.

According to the district attorney’s office, Mr. Zandstra admitted that after she refused, he beat her, believed she had died from the beating, and tried to cover her body.

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