Former Georgia minister charged with murder of 8-year-old girl in Pennsylvania in 1975

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A former Georgia pastor has been charged with murder in the murder of an 8-year-old girl whose body was found in southeastern Pennsylvania nearly half a century ago.

David Zandstra, 83, of the Marietta suburb of Atlanta, is charged with murder, first-, second-, and third-degree murder, kidnapping of a minor, and related charges in the 1975 death of Gretchen Harrington in Delaware County.

District Attorney Jack Stallsteimer told reporters Monday at the Delaware County Media Office that the defendant was a “monster” and “every parent’s worst nightmare.”

“This man, a ruthless child predator who acted as if he was a friend, a neighbor and a man of God, murdered this poor girl,” Stollstheimer said.

After murdering the child he knew and trusted, he “acted as if he were a friend of the family, not only during the burial and afterward, but for years,” the district attorney said.

Harrington, the daughter of a Presbyterian minister and his wife, disappeared in mid-August 1975 while walking from his home in Marple Township to the Bible camp at Trinity Chapel, where Zandostra was pastor. Her body was found two months later by a man jogging at Ridley Creek State Park in Media.

Ms Stollsteimer said Harrington, who normally accompanies her sisters, was alone on the day due to a recent birth in the family and was offered a ride by Zandstra, the father of one of her best friends.

“So when he said he’d give her a ride in his car, of course she got in,” he said.

Authorities said Zandostra took her into the woods, eventually hitting her on the head and trying to cover her body, believing her dead. Back at the church, he “tried to pretend nothing happened,” but when her father, a pastor of the Reformed Presbyterian Church near her, called to look for her, it was Zandstra who called the police, Stollstheimer claimed.

Over the next few days, hundreds of people searched nearby wooded areas, and officials distributed more than 2,000 leaflets, set up a 24-hour hotline, and responded to hundreds of calls, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. When the girl’s body was found in mid-October 1975, the girl’s clothes were “folded and neatly piled” near her body, and her underwear was hanging from a tree branch “like a flag…to call attention to the place,” reported the Inquirer at the time.

Stollsteimer said state police went to Georgia to question Zandostra, who, according to new information from an anonymous friend of the victim, interviewed Zandostra, who authorities claimed he confessed to.

Officer Eugene Trey said he was “relieved” by the defendant’s demeanor, as if “a weight had been lifted off his shoulders.” But Stollsteimer said Zandostra is fighting extradition from Georgia, but prosecutors have vowed to return him to trial in Pennsylvania.

Officials said the defendant’s DNA will be compared to documents from unsolved cases in Pennsylvania and elsewhere. Zandostra said he lived in Texas and Georgia after leaving the federal state. The Christian Reformed Church says he pastored in New Jersey, California and Texas before retiring in 2005. Authorities are concerned that there may be more victims and urged anyone with information to contact investigators.

Zandostra remains in custody in Georgia. A message was left Monday for the Pennsylvania attorney listed as his representative.

Gretchen Harrington’s family has asked for privacy, but said in a statement that they were “extremely hopeful” that those responsible for Gretchen Harrington’s abduction would be held accountable.

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“Once you met Gretchen, you became her friend immediately. She exuded kindness towards everyone and was a kind and gentle person,” the family said. “Even now, when people share their memories of her, the first thing they talk about is how amazing she was, and still is… At just eight years old, she made a lifelong impact on those around her.” Former Georgia minister charged with murder of 8-year-old girl in Pennsylvania in 1975

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