Authors’ Work Helps Police Crack 48-Year-Old Murder Case

Authors’ Work Helps Police Crack 48-Year-Old Murder Case

( – Internet sleuths can be helpful and annoying when it comes to criminal cases. Recently, the country got a taste of how irritating they could be when they descended on Idaho after the murder of four college students. But that’s not always the case. There have been times when renewed attention from ordinary citizens can crack a case wide open — like it did with the nearly 50-year-old murder of a child in Pennsylvania.

The Crime

On August 15, 1975, 8-year-old Gretchen Harrington was ready to enjoy her last day of Bible camp. She left her home and walked to the campgrounds in Marple Township. That’s when a suspect in a green station wagon drove up to her.

According to prosecutors, the little girl got into the car. The suspect then drove to a secure location and ordered the child to take her clothes off. He then beat her to death and disposed of her body. Her body was found two months later in Ridley Creek State Park. Despite the police department’s efforts, the case went cold for decades.

The Book

Author Joanna Sullivan grew up in Marple Township. She and her childhood friend, Mike Mathis, decided they were going to write a book about the murder of the little girl from their hometown.

Sullivan spoke to Fox News and said that after the book “Marple’s Gretchen Harrington Tragedy” was published, the authors began hearing rumors that the police were looking for a suspect. In the book, the two interviewed 83-year-old retired pastor David Zandstra. At the time of Harrington’s death, the elderly man served as a reverend at the camp and was a friend of the victim’s family.

The retired pastor didn’t really respond to questions. Sullivan said she assumed he didn’t remember very many details about the decades-old crime. His wife, however, recalled the disappearance clearly. The book contained one quote from Mr. Zandstra, he said that he drove a Volkswagen bus and brought them to church. When he got to the Bible camp that day, one of the teachers asked him if he’d seen Harrington. He told her no.

The Capture

It turns out Zandstra did see the little girl that morning. In fact, he picked her up in his green station wagon and then murdered her. He confessed to the killing when police questioned him months after the book was published.

The Harrington family released a statement when Zandstra was arrested, saying they were hopeful he would be “held accountable.” The family said they wanted to thank law enforcement for never giving up on finding the killer. “[Gretchen] exuded kindness to all and was sweet and gentle,” her loved ones said. They explained that they miss her every day and concluded by thanking the community for their “understanding, love, and continued support.”

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