In a stunning turn of events, a former pastor’s dark secret has finally come to light, sending shockwaves through a quiet Pennsylvania community. David Zandstra, an 83-year-old Marietta resident and former clergyman, was apprehended after confessing to the long-buried abduction and murder of 8-year-old Gretchen Harrington. The tragic incident unfolded nearly half a century ago, during the summer of 1975, when the innocent young girl vanished from a Bible camp held at Zandstra’s church.
Unveiling the sinister truth, Zandstra has been slapped with a slew of charges, including criminal homicide, first, second, and third-degree murder, kidnapping of a minor, and possession of an instrument of crime. The shocking admission came to light following allegations that surfaced in January, implicating Zandstra in the inappropriate touching of another young girl and possibly an attempted kidnapping.
Gretchen’s disappearance remains etched in the memories of those who loved her. The spirited child set off for Bible camp from her Marple home on August 15, 1975, but tragically never returned. Starting their day with opening exercises at Trinity Church Chapel Christian Reform Church, Gretchen and her fellow campers were then transported to The Reformed Presbyterian Church, where her father served as pastor. However, on that fateful day, Gretchen failed to arrive at the second church, causing grave concern for her father.
Swiftly acting on the distressing news, Zandstra reported Gretchen’s disappearance to the Marple Police Department. Months later, skeletal remains were discovered within the serene confines of Ridley Creek State Park, tragically confirmed to belong to the missing girl. The haunting memory of Gretchen’s murder has plagued law enforcement officials for years, leaving an indelible mark on the community she once called home.
District Attorney Stollsteimer emphasized the far-reaching impact of this heinous crime, stating that “Gretchen’s murder created a ‘before’ time and an ‘after’ time for an entire community – and for an entire county.” The revelation of new evidence prompted the filing of an arrest warrant and criminal complaint against Zandstra on July 17. Presently, he resides in a jail cell in Cobb County, Georgia, awaiting the consequences of his cruel and unfathomable actions.
As this long-awaited truth unravels, families in Marple and beyond grapple with the aftershocks of a crime that has forever altered their perception of safety and trust. The resilience of a community bound together in search of justice will prevail, uniting against the darkness that once lurked within their midst.