1975 cold case murder from Pennsylvania leads to Cobb Minister’s arrest
After five long decades, the unsolved murder of an eight-year-old Philadelphia girl, Gretchen Harrington, has resurfaced, along with the person who allegedly caused her death.
Harrington’s remains were found months after she disappeared in a Philadelphia suburb and now a former minister from that area, David George Zandstra, who now resides in Cobb, has been charged with her kidnapping and murder.
The District Attorney for Delaware County, Pennsylvania, Jack Stollsteimer, announced the charges last week saying Zandstra, 83, is accused of abducting and killing Harrington on Aug. 15, 1975, not long after her day at Bible camp had begun.
After investigators learned Zandstra had been implicated in the abuse of other young girls, Stollsteimer’s office contacted the Cobb County Police Department. Upon being confronted with evidence of sexual misconduct, Stollsteimer said Zandstra admitted to the crime.
The young girl’s unsolved murder has haunted members of law enforcement.
Stollsteimer said, “Gretchen’s murder created a ‘before’ time and an ‘after’ time for an entire community — and for an entire county. This heinous act left a family and a community forever changed.”
On the morning of August 15, 1975, Gretchen was last seen walking to camp at Trinity Church Chapel, where Zandstra was the pastor. When she didn’t arrive, her father — a reverend at a neighboring Presbyterian church also participating in the Bible school — reported her missing that same morning. Her body was found two months later about six miles away at Ridley Creek State Park.
Zandstra led exercises with the campers at Trinity Christian Reformed Church before they headed to The Reformed Presbyterian Church. Zandstra was then the pastor of Trinity, and Harrington’s father was the pastor of Reformed Presbyterian. Zandstra drove children from Trinity to Reformed Presbyterian, in either a white and blue Volkswagen bus or in his green Rambler station wagon. During the initial investigation, a witness interviewed reported to authorities seeing Harrington speaking with the driver of either a green station wagon or two-tone Cadillac the morning of her abduction. Zandstra was interviewed by police in October 1975 but denied seeing Harrington the day she was kidnapped.
It was not until January of this year that new evidence came to light via the diary entry of a 10-year-old girl who was best friends with one of Zandstra’s daughters. At the time, the young girl detailed a disturbing incident in which Zandstra allegedly groped her. The girl, now a woman identified by police only as an informant, recalled for investigators a sleepover where she was awakened by Zandstra groping her.
Investigators made contact with Cobb police and met with Zandstra in Cobb on July 17. Zandstra again denied involvement in Harrington’s disappearance, but after police confronted him with evidence of his sexual misconduct, Zandstra confessed.
He admitted seeing Harrington walking along the road that morning and admitted to driving his green station wagon that day. He told officials that he offered Harrington a ride and took her to a nearby wooded area, where he attempted to sexually assault her.
When she refused his advances, he struck her in the head with his fist, and she started bleeding, Stollsteimer’s office said. Believing Harrington to be dead, he tried covering her body and left the area.
Zandstra was taken into custody and is being held at the Cobb County Adult Detention Center without bond, according to jail records. Even though he confessed, Stollsteimer says the 83-year-old is fighting extradition.