83-year-old former reverend arrested for allegedly killing 8-year-old girl in 1975

Gretchen Harrington was killed while she was on her way to suspect David Zandstra's Bible camp.

ByEmily Shapiro ABCNews logo
Tuesday, July 25, 2023
Man charged with murder in 1975 death of Delaware County girl
According to authorities, 83-year-old David Zandstra, of Marietta, Georgia, is charged with the 1975 murder of 8-year-old Gretchen Harrington.

MARPLE TOWNSHIP, Penn. -- An 83-year-old former reverend has been arrested for allegedly killing an 8-year-old girl in 1975 while she was on her way to his Bible camp, authorities said.

On Aug. 15, 1975, Gretchen Harrington was walking alone to her last day of camp in Marple Township, Pennsylvania, when the suspect, David Zandstra, allegedly drove up to her in his green station wagon, prosecutors said.

Zandstra was a reverend at the camp and a friend of the Harrington family, Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer said at a Monday news conference. Zandstra was also the father of one of Gretchen's friends, so the 8-year-old got in his car, Stollsteimer said.

Zandstra confessed to police last week, according to the criminal complaint. Zandstra allegedly told authorities that once he got Gretchen in his car, he drove to a secure location. Zandstra then asked Gretchen to take off her clothes, and when she refused, he allegedly beat her to death with his hands, Stollsteimer said.

David Zandstra / Gretchen Harrington

Zandstra allegedly disposed of her body and then went back to the church, Stollsteimer said.

"This man is evil," Stollsteimer said.

Zandstra, who later served as a reverend in Texas and Georgia, now lives in Marietta, Georgia, officials said. He is in custody in Georgia on charges including criminal homicide and is fighting extradition, Stollsteimer said.

According to the criminal complaint, multiple witnesses saw Gretchen talking to the driver of a green station wagon, and multiple witnesses, and Zandstra himself, placed Zandstra driving on the road where Gretchen was seen walking to camp.

Zandstra also allegedly gave authorities specific descriptions of Gretchen's clothes, even though he had denied seeing Gretchen that day, according to the criminal complaint.

This January, prosecutors said authorities interviewed a woman who was best friends with Zandstra's daughter when they were children. She told police that at one sleepover at Zandstra's house when she was 10, she was awakened by Zandstra groping her, prosecutors said. When she told Zandstra's daughter, the daughter allegedly replied that her dad "does that sometimes," according to the criminal complaint.

The Harrington family said in a statement released by prosecutors, "We are extremely hopeful that the person who is responsible for the heinous crime that was committed against our Gretchen will be held accountable."

"If you met Gretchen, you were instantly her friend. She exuded kindness to all and was sweet and gentle," the family said. "We are grateful for the continual pursuit of justice by law enforcement and we want to thank the Pennsylvania State Police for never stopping in their constant search for answers. We would not be here today if it was not for them."

ABC News' Cherise Rudy contributed to this report.