Home Christian News Retired Pastor Who Is Accused of 1975 Murder of 8-Year-Old Girl Appears...

Retired Pastor Who Is Accused of 1975 Murder of 8-Year-Old Girl Appears in Court; Defense Says Confession Was Coerced

David Zandstra
Screengrab via CNN

David Zandstra, an 83-year-old retired pastor who has been accused of the 1975 murder of 8-year-old Gretchen Harrington, is scheduled to be arraigned on Dec. 13 after being held over for court on Wednesday, Nov. 8. 

Zandstra is facing charges of criminal homicide, murder in the first, second, and third degree, kidnapping, and possessing an instrument of crime. He was arrested after allegedly confessing to investigators in July.

The case had gone cold for nearly five decades until a child sexual abuse survivor identified Zandstra as her abuser. At the time of the abuse, which allegedly also took place in 1975, Zandstra was the pastor of Trinity Church Chapel Christian Reformed Church in Marple, Pennsylvania. 

The survivor told investigators that she was friends with Zandstra’s daughter and that Zandstra assaulted her while she was at a sleepover in his home. 

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Investigators then linked Zandstra to the murder of Harrington, who went missing on Aug. 15, 1975 while walking to a summer Bible camp. The Bible camp utilized the facilities of Trinity Church Chapel, as well as the nearby Reformed Presbyterian Church, where Harrington’s father was pastor. The two churches and Harrington’s home were all on the same road in the small township west of Philadelphia. 

The children participating in the camp spent the first part of the morning at Trinity Church Chapel before being transported by Zandstra to Reformed Presbyterian for the latter part of the day. Harrington’s family realized she had gone missing when she did not arrive at her father’s church. 

In October 1975, skeletal remains were discovered at the nearby Ridley Creek State Park. Police later confirmed that the remains were Harrington’s. 

When questioned by police in 1975, Zandstra denied having seen Harrington on the day of her disappearance. Zandstra went on to preside over Harrington’s funeral.

In January of this year, investigators interviewed Zandstra, who had since moved to Marietta, Georgia, at which point he allegedly confessed to murdering Harrington after a failed attempt to molest her. He was taken into custody in Cobb County, Georgia, before being extradited to Delaware County, Pennsylvania.

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“Justice has been a long time coming, but we are proud and grateful to finally be able to give the community an answer,” said Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer at the time of Zandstra’s arrest.