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Pastor charged with murder in cold case of 8-year-old Delco girl

Arrest made in 1975 cold case killing of 8-year-old Delaware County girl
Arrest made in 1975 cold case killing of 8-year-old Delaware County girl 02:26

MEDIA, Pa. (CBS) -- An arrest was made Monday in a more than 40-year-old murder case in Marple Township, Delaware County. 

David Zandstra, 83, of Marietta, Georgia, was charged with multiple offenses, including criminal homicide and first-degree murder, in the killing of 8-year-old Gretchen Harrington in Marple Township in 1975. 

David Zandstra, 83, of Marietta, Georgia  

Officials say Zandstra confessed to the killing in an interview last week. He was still working as a pastor in Georgia at the time of his arrest. 

The case sent shockwaves through Broomall and Marple Township in 1975.

People and church members who searched for little 8-year-old Harrington said her disappearance destroyed the belief their community was safe.

In 1975, Joanne Nammavong was a teenager who helped search for little Gretchen.

"They had us like spread out our arms to get a distance so that… we would have a row of people arm-to-arm searching so we didn't miss one spot," Nammavong said. 

Monday's announcement publicly identified Zandstra, a reverend at Harrington's church, as the man responsible for her murder. In 1975, he was a reverend at Trinity Chapel on Lawrence Road.

Prosecutors said Harrington left home the morning of Aug. 15, 1975, to walk to bible school. Her father kept watch as she walked up Lawrence Road.

Once out of his view, investigators say Zandstra then invited Harrington into his car.

8-year-old Gretchen Harrington  

It's alleged now 48 years later, he confessed to asking her to take off her clothes. She refused and court papers said he then beat her to death, dumping her remains in an area of Ridley Creek State Park.

Prosecutors said Zandstra was a family friend and even helped search for her as hundreds aided to help find the little girl. Zandstra even presided at the 8-year-old's funeral, according to sources.

"He killed this poor 8-year-old girl he knew and who trusted him, and then he acted as if he was a family friend, not only during her burial and funeral, but for years," Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer said.   

Investigators said, in recent years, another possible suspect was eliminated from consideration and a confidential informant came forward saying she saw Harrington get into a car along Lawrence Road.

State Police revived the investigation in 2017. 

"We have to realize that most people in this world are good and that most pastors -- especially people who claim to be men of God are good people -- but there have always been people and there always will be people who are this cold-hearted, remorseless and just evil people," Stollsteimer said. "Thank God there is law enforcement here to hold them accountable, and however long this takes – we're going to do it because this young lady should be alive. What happened to her is just horrendous."      

Zandstra remains in jail in Georgia, where he is fighting his extradition to Pennsylvania – a process that could take as long as two months.

The Harrington family said in a statement: "Even now, when people share memories of her, the first thing they talk about is how amazing she was and still is at just 8 years old."

Officials said Zandstra moved around to churches, including in Plano, Texas, and Marietta, Georgia, and is currently being investigated for other potential instances of child sex abuse.

Court documents do not list an attorney for Zandstra.

Marple Township Police Chief Brandon Graeff said the case shattered the idea of Marple being a safe place.

"It changed everything for the kids, for the parents, for the families, for everybody because nobody could do anything anymore in the innocence that they used to do it," Marple Township Police Chief Brandon Graeff said. 

Pastor charged with murder in nearly 50-year-old cold case of Delaware County girl 04:34
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