Former Pastor Charged After Confessing To Abducting, Killing 8-Year-Old Girl In 1975

The 1975 disappearance and murder of 8-year-old Gretchen Harrington remained a devastating mystery for her family and loved ones for nearly five decades until July 2023 when an arrest was finally made.

8-year-old Gretchen Harrington, pictured here, was abducted and murdered on her way to church in August 1975. Nearly 48 years later, an arrest was made.

8-year-old Gretchen Harrington was abducted and murdered on her way to church in August 1975. Nearly 48 years later, in July 2023, 83-year-old David Zandstra was arrested for the crime.

Photo by: NCMEC


On what started as an ordinary morning on Aug. 15, 1975, eight-year-old Gretchen Harrington set out for a walk to The Trinity Chapel Christian Reformed Church in Broomall, Pennsylvania, where she was attending summer Bible camp. The church was just a short walk from her home, but she never arrived, reported The New York Times.

Her disappearance devastated her family and community, and an extensive search started for the beloved little girl. However, right around two months later, on Oct. 14, 1975, skeletal remains were discovered in nearby Ridley Creek State Park, and they turned out to be Gretchen’s. Her death was determined to be a homicide, and she was killed by injuries to her head.

Unfortunately, despite a thorough investigation, her murder went unsolved for decades. Then, on July 24, 2023, the Delaware County District Attorney's Office announced that 83-year-old David Zandstra, a former pastor, had been arrested for Gretchen’s murder. At the time of his arrest, he was living in Cobb County, Georgia.

Zandstra admitted to kidnapping and murdering Gretchen Harrington. According to Fox 29 Philadelphia, Zandstra admitted that he saw Gretchen walking alone, and he offered her a ride to church. After she got in his car, he drove her to a wooded area. He instructed her to disrobe, and when she refused to do so, he punched her in the head, causing her fatal injuries.

Zandstra told police he saw the little girl bleeding and thought she was dead. He covered her up and abandoned her body, then fled the area where her remains were later found.

Zandstra faces charges of first-degree murder, second-degree murder, third-degree murder, criminal homicide, kidnapping of a minor, and possession of an instrument of crime. He’s being held without bail in jail in Cobb County, Georgia.

"We are gonna bring him here to Delaware County. We're gonna try him. We're gonna convict him. And he's gonna die in jail. Then he's gonna have to find out what the God he professes to believe in holds for those who are this evil to our children," District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer declared at a press conference, according to NPR.

As part of a statement released through the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, the Harrington family shared, “If you met Gretchen, you were instantly her friend. She exuded kindness to all and was sweet and gentle. Even now, when people share their memories of her, the first thing they talk about is how amazing she was and still just 8 years old, she had a lifelong impact on those around her.”

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