Pa. pastor arrested in 1975 cold case kidnapping, killing of 8-year-old girl walking to Bible camp


MEDIA, Pa. (TCD) — An 83-year-old former pastor was arrested for his alleged role in the nearly 50-year-old cold case of an 8-year-old girl who was kidnapped and killed in the summer of 1975.

On Monday, July 24, the Delaware County District Attorney’s Office announced David Zandstra is being charged with criminal homicide, first-degree murder, second-degree murder, third-degree murder, kidnapping of a minor, and possession of an instrument of crime in connection with the death of Gretchen Harrington.

According to the District Attorney’s Office, on Aug. 15, 1975, at approximately 9:30 a.m., Gretchen walked from her home on 27 Lawrence Road to Bible camp at Trinity Church Chapel Christian Reformation Church and the area of the Reformed Presbyterian Church. Zandstra worked as the pastor at Trinity Church and Gretchen’s father was the pastor at Reformed Presbyterian.

The students started camp at Trinity and were driven to Reformed at 10 a.m. Zandstra reportedly transported the children between the churches. He drove a white and blue Volkswagen bus and a green Rambler station wagon. On the day of her disappearance, Gretchen’s father grew worried because she did not show up to Reformed. At 11:23 a.m., he reported her missing to the Marple Township Police Department.

Exactly two months later, on Oct. 14, 1975, her skeletal remains were discovered in Ridley Creek State Park. A witness reportedly told police they saw Gretchen get into a two-toned car, but Zandstra allegedly denied seeing Gretchen that day.

In January, investigators spoke with Zandstra’s daughter’s best friend. The woman said she often had sleepovers at Zandstra’s house, and one time, she allegedly woke up to Zandstra touching her groin. The friend told Zandstra’s daughter, and she said her father “did that sometimes.”

Additionally, the friend reportedly said someone in her class “was nearly kidnapped twice.” She reportedly wrote in a notebook that she thought Zandstra was the suspect.

Investigators tracked Zandstra to his home in Marietta, Georgia, and spoke with him July 17, 2023. Zandstra allegedly denied seeing Gretchen the day of her disappearance but then backtracked after learning about what his daughter’s friend alleged.

According to the District Attorney’s Office, Zandstra admitted to driving a green station wagon that day and took her to a wooded area. He allegedly told her to take off her clothes, and when she said no, he “struck her in the head with a fist.”

She began bleeding and he thought she was dead, so he left her there.

Zandstra was arrested in Georgia and remains held in the Cobb County Jail without bail. He refused to waive extradition back to Pennsylvania, but prosecutors said they are submitting a petition that would send Delaware County Sheriff’s Office officials to pick Zandstra up in Georgia and take him back to Pennsylvania.

In a press conference Monday, District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer called Zandstra a “monster” and “every parent’s worst nightmare.”


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here