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A former Pastor was Apprehended in 1975 for the Murder of a Girl Walking to Her Church

Gretchen Harrington, age 8, was abducted and murdered while strolling to Bible camp in a township outside Philadelphia on August 15, 1975.

On Monday, authorities announced that the pastor of one of the host churches for the camp had been detained and charged with Harrington’s murder.

David Zandstra, 83, recently confessed, according to the Delaware County District Attorney’s Office, after being confronted with new evidence, including a witness’ allegations that the former pastor molested her and may have attempted to abduct another local girl.

NBC Philadelphia reported that a law firm representing Zandstra was aware of the charges but had no comment.

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The charges against him include criminal homicide, first-, second-, and third-degree murder, kidnapping, and possession of a weapon of crime. The alleged offenses occurred approximately 10 miles west of Philadelphia, in Marple Township.

The unidentified new witness provided a diary, according to prosecutors. According to the criminal complaint that prosecutors filed against Zandstra, she made a guess that Zandstra might have twice tried to kidnap another girl in it, one month after Harrington went missing.

“Guess what?” The witness is cited in an entry from September 15, 1975. “Twice, a man attempted to abduct Holly! It’s a secret I can’t reveal, but I believe he’s the one who abducted Gretchen. I believe he was Mr. Z.”

She also claimed in the complaint that the suspect had molested her during a sleepover at his house seven days prior to Harrington’s disappearance. At the time, the witness was the closest friend of one of Zandstra’s daughters.

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Conversing with the suspect

According to the complaint and Margie McAboy, spokesperson for the Delaware County District Attorney, Zandstra was interviewed on July 17 near his residence in Georgia.

Trooper Eugene Tray of the State Police stated at Monday’s news conference that he was read his Miranda rights after he volunteered to speak.

Zandstra confessed when confronted with the new witness information, according to Tray.

“He was relieved,” said the trooper. It was as if a burden had been lifted from his shoulders.

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Gretchen’s father was the pastor of Marple Township, Pennsylvania’s Reformed Presbyterian Church. Office of the District Attorney for Delaware County

The criminal complaint states that Zandstra was traveling on August 15, 1975, when he encountered Harrington walking to the Bible camp hosted by his congregation, Trinity Church Chapel Christian Reform Church.

Prosecutors alleged that he routinely gathered up children to transport them to the camp in the mid-morning. According to the complaint, Harrington was a familiar face because he was close friends with one of the Zandstra daughters.

According to the prosecution, she was last seen two blocks from her residence.

Zandstra told the officers that he picked up Harrington as she was walking to church and drove her to the nearby woodlands, where he parked. She asked him to take her home, but he commanded her to disrobe. According to the filing, when she refused to disrobe, he struck her in the head, and she never regained consciousness.

According to the complaint, the suspect left her corpse, described as “half-naked,” in the woods and covered it with vegetation.

According to prosecutors, Harrington’s father was the pastor of the adjacent Reformed Presbyterian Church, which hosted the second half of each day’s summer Bible camp.

Prosecutors stated that the victim’s two sisters were not with her that day because their mother had just given birth. They said that Harrington’s father encouraged her to walk alone because she had flawless attendance.

According to the complaint, when she failed to arrive at Reformed Presbyterian Church at 11 a.m., her father drove along adjacent Lawrence Road in an attempt to locate her. According to the filing, when the clock indicated that she was 23 minutes late, he summoned the police.

Unusual elements

According to the complaint, he described Harrington as being 3 feet 6 inches tall and 50 pounds with blonde pigtails. According to the complaint, Zandstra was interviewed days later and provided specific details about the girl’s shorts, including that they had a front zipper and snap but no conspicuous buttons.

Prosecutors argued that the details were peculiar for two reasons: the girl never arrived at Bible camp, so he would not have seen her there, and the girl’s mother made the shorts herself.

Harrington’s remains were discovered in a neighboring state park in Edgmont Township on October 14, 1975.

The complaint stated that the cause and manner of death were homicide by at least two blows to the head.

The relatives of Harrington have expressed gratitude to the police and prosecutors.

“Gretchen’s kidnapping and murder have irrevocably altered our family, and we miss her every day,” the family said in a statement.

Chief of Police of Marple Township, Graeff Brandon, stated that Harrington’s time on Earth was “a life unfulfilled… due to pure evil and depravity.”

During Monday’s news conference, he stated that her assassination marked a change for a formerly relatively innocent and crime-free suburb.

“It transformed this community,” declared the chief. “It was Anytown, U.S.A.”

More casualties?

According to prosecutors and inmate records, Zandstra departed the church and moved away from the area, settling first in Plano, Texas, and then in Georgia, where he was being held without bail for the sixth consecutive day on Monday.

Authorities are concerned that there may be additional victims and have asked anyone with information to contact them. The state police were comparing his DNA to other closed or open cases, the district attorney’s office said in a Monday statement.

According to prosecutors, Zandstra’s refusal to renounce extradition to Pennsylvania will prolong the process but is unlikely to halt it.

On Monday, District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer of Delaware County announced that the 48-year-old case has been resolved.

“We’re going to bring him here to Delaware County, try him, convict him, and he’s going to die in jail,” he said.




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