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Pastor Arrested as Suspected Killer in 50-Year-Old Cold Case

A pastor has confessed to killing an 8-year-old girl nearly 50 years ago.

According to recent estimates, nearly one-half of murder cases go unsolved. These unsolved crimes are referred to as cold cases, and generally involve a suspected homicide in which nobody is charged for the murder. This week investigators made a startling arrest in a 50-year-old cold case in the murder of a little girl: An elderly pastor. 

Gretchen Harrington, 8, Was Kidnapped and Killed in 1975

Delaware County District Attorney's Office

Gretchen Harrington was kidnapped and killed on August 15, 1975. At the time of her death she was walking to bible camp outside of Philadelphia, Pa, in Marple Township.  

A Pastor Confessed to the Crime

Delaware County District Attorney's Office

On Monday, police announced they arrested and charged a pastor from one of the camp's host churches. They claim he confessed to the crime. 

David Zandstra, 83, Was Confronted with New Evidence


David Zandstra, 83, was confronted by authorities with new evidence, and confessed to the crime, announced the Delaware County District Attorney's Office. 

A New Witness Came Forward

Delaware County District Attorney's Office

According to authorities, another witness alleged that the former pastor groped her. She also accused him of trying to kidnap another local girl. 

He Is Facing Multiple Charges


He is being charged with criminal homicide; murder in the first, second and third degrees; kidnapping; and the possession of an instrument of crime.

The Witness Wrote in Her Diary

Delaware County District Attorney's Office

One month after Harrington went missing, the anonymous witness, who was 10 at the time, allegedly wrote in her diary. "Guess what?" the witness is quoted as writing in an entry dated Sept. 15, 1975. "A man tried to kidnap Holly twice! It's a secret I can't tell anyone, but I think he might be the one who kidnapped Gretchen. I think it was Mr. Z."

He "Was Relieved" to Confess

Police officer interrogating criminal in handcuffs at desk indoors

Officials interviewed Zandstra near his home in Georgia on July 17. He confessed shortly after being presented with the new information. "He was relieved," the trooper said. "It was like a weight was lifted off his shoulders."

He Claims He "Punched Her in the Head"


According to the criminal complaint Zandstra picked Harrington as she walked to the church and drove her to nearby woods, where he parked. He ordered her to take off her clothes. When she refused, he punched her in the head, he said, and she never regained consciousness. He left her "half-naked" in the woods, covering up her body with leaves. 

He's Going to "Die in Jail," Says the DA


On Monday, Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer said the 48-year-old case is closed. "We're going to bring him here to Delaware County, we're going to try him, we're going to convict him, and he's going to die in jail," he said.


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