(NewsReady.com) – When a particularly brutal crime happens in a town, it stays with its residents. Joanna Sullivan and Mike Mathis grew up in Marple Township, Pennsylvania, where an 8-year-old was kidnapped and brutally murdered. The case had sat cold for nearly 50 years and the duo wrote a book about it. Months after the book’s release, the alleged killer was captured.
On August 15, 1975, Gretchen Harrington left her home to walk to Trinity Christian Reformed Church for the last day of Bible camp. She vanished on the way there. According to the book, “Marple’s Gretchen Harrington Tragedy,” which Mathis and Sullivan wrote, Pastor David Zandstra arrived at the church later that morning and he said someone who worked there asked him if he’d seen Gretchen while he was driving.
The pastor told the authors that he couldn’t remember much about the kidnapping but said he told the person he hadn’t seen her. He said he then confirmed with Gretchen’s father that she was missing and called the police.
According to an announcement by District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer, Zandstra, now 83, was lying. In July, the prosecutor announced Zandstra’s arrest. The father of three allegedly confessed to murdering the little girl 48 years ago.
Prosecutors claim a witness saw Gretchen speaking to someone in a green station wagon the day she went missing. Zandstra allegedly confirmed that it was him, saying he convinced her to get in the vehicle that he often used to pick up kids to take them to church. Once in the vehicle, he reportedly said he drove her to a secluded spot and asked her to take off her clothes. He beat her to death after she refused, hid her body at Ridley Creek State Park, and went back to church. Her body was found at the park two months later.
Sullivan told Fox News that police officers have told her that the book helped them identify Zandstra as the killer. According to the author, an informant came forward after the book was published and gave police her diaries that detailed her experiences with the former pastor and a belief that he killed Gretchen.
Sadly, the little girl’s father died in 2021, never seeing his daughter’s killer brought to justice. Her mother and other family members are still alive, though. After the arrest, they thanked the police and the community for their support.
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