A book about the murder in his hometown led police to the pastor accused of killing 8-year-old Gretchen Harrington: author

The author of a book recounting the 1975 disappearance and murder of an 8-year-old Pennsylvania girl credited her writing with helping police arrest a former pastor who confessed to the crime.

Last October, Joanna Sullivan co-authored “Marple’s Gretchen Harrington Tragedy,” a story about the death of Gretchen Harrington, who disappeared on her way to Bible school, and its impact on her hometown.

After the book was published, Sullivan said an informant who read it approached police, believing one of the interviewees, 83-year-old David Zandstra, was behind two attempted kidnappings in Marple and might be a person of interest in the unsolved case.

“The book was published and a couple of months later we started hearing that they were actively investigating a suspect. Lo and behold, it was someone she knew,” Sulivan told Fox News.

Zandstra, a former pastor at Trinity Church Chapel Christian Reformed Church, was arrested in July after confessing to kidnapping Harrington and beating her to death, and her remains were discovered in Ridley Creek State Park.

David Zandstra, 83, a former pastor of Trinity Church Chapel Christian Reformed Church, was arrested for the kidnapping and murder of Gretchen Harrington.AP
The 8-year-old girl disappeared while on her way to Bible camp in Marple Township in August 1975.The 8-year-old girl disappeared while on her way to Bible camp in Marple Township in August 1975. Delaware County District Attorney’s Office

Sullivan, who is now editor-in-chief of the Baltimore Business Journal, spoke to Zandstra about the case as he was in charge of helping transport the children to Bible camp.

Zandstra, a husband and father of three, gave a brief interview to Sullivan and co-author Mike Mathis, and at first did not seem to remember the incident very well.

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“I was driving a Volkswagen bus with a number of children to take them to the church building, and when I got there, I think one of the teachers in Gretchen’s class asked me if I had seen Gretchen,” Zandstra is quoted in the book.

“She said, ‘I thought Gretchen might be with you,’ and I said no. She said, ‘She’s not here,’” she added. “I either called or went to Pastor Harrington’s house and they confirmed that she had gone for a walk up the street.

“And I said that she is not here. At that point I should have called the police.”

Her brief appearance in the book, however, was enough for one woman to recall an incident in which a girl from her class was almost kidnapped twice by an unknown man.

Joanna Sullivan wrote a book detailing her hometown tragedy with her childhood friend Mike Mathis. Joanna Sullivan wrote a book detailing her hometown tragedy with her childhood friend Mike Mathis. amazon.com
The book was read by an informant who alerted the police to two attempted kidnappings that he believed to be after Zandstra.The book was read by an informant who alerted the police to two attempted kidnappings that he believed to be after Zandstra.

The informant, who remains anonymous, had written in her diary in 1975 that she believed Zandstra was behind the attempted kidnapping and contacted officers investigating the cold case.

On July 17, police confronted Zandstra about his alleged involvement in the kidnappings, but he denied it. Police also pressed him about a statement from her daughter’s best friend, who told police he groped her during a sleepover when she was just 10 years old.

During cross-examination, Zandstra eventually confessed to kidnapping Harrington and killing her when she refused to remove her clothes. She then attempted to cover her body and fled the scene, according to the Delaware County District Attorney’s office.

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Marple Township was rocked in 1975 when Gretchen Harrington was reported missing and her remains were found a week later in a nearby park.Marple Township was rocked in 1975 when Gretchen Harrington was reported missing and her remains were found a week later in a nearby park.

“David Zandstra is a monster. He is any parent’s worst nightmare,” prosecutor Jack Stollsteimer said during a news conference following the arrest. “He killed this poor 8-year-old girl that he knew and trusted him.

“And then he acted like he was a family friend, not just during his funeral and afterward, but for years.”

Sullivan said her community now anxiously awaits the conclusion of the case that has haunted her city for the past 48 years.

“There is no happy ending in this case,” Sullivan said. “But, you know, we’re relieved that justice is done: if he’s the killer and he’s found guilty, he’ll pay for the crime.”

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Source: vtt.edu.vn

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