83-year-old Marietta man, former pastor arrested in cold case murder of 8-year-old girl

MARIETTA, Ga. — An 83-year-old Marietta man who is a former pastor has been arrested in the cold case murder of an 8-year-old girl in Pennsylvania.

Gretchen Harrington was attending Bible summer camp in 1975 in Marple Township when she vanished while walking from her home to one of the camp’s two locations.

Skeletal remains were found at a state park in Edgemont Township on Oct. 14. The coroner determined she died of blunt impacts to the head, which he classified as a homicide.

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At the time, the Bible camp was housed in two churches, including the one where Gretchen’s father was a pastor, Reformed Presbyterian Church.

David Zandstra was the reverend at the other church, Trinity Church Chapel Christian Reform Church in Marple Township.

On the day she disappeared, Aug. 15, Gretchen was supposed to start her day at Trinity and then go to the Reformed church with the other campers later that day.

Zandstra was one of the people responsible for driving the children to the other church, which he did either in a white and blue Volkswagen bus or a green Rambler station wagon.


When Gretchen didn’t arrive at Trinity, her father called Zandstra, who told him Gretchen never arrived. Zandstra called the police to report that she was missing.

A witness told police that she saw Gretchen the morning she vanished talking to someone in either a green station wagon or a two-tone Cadillac. Zandstra denied seeing the victim the day she was abducted, but did describe her clothing in detail, investigators said.

Channel 2′s Candace McCowan spoke with neighbors who said this news was very hard to reconcile.

“They’ve been wonderful people. They’ve always checked on us,” Karen Alsdorf, who was Zandstra’s neighbor. “I just can’t believe it.”

In 2023, investigators interviewed Zandstra’s daughter’s best friend, who said she often slept over at the family’s house and had been groped by Zandstra. She also remembered that a child in her class was nearly kidnapped twice and wrote in her diary at the time that she thought the suspect may have been Zandstra.

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Investigators determined Zandstra now lives in Marietta and interviewed him. When he was confronted, he admitted to seeing Gretchen walking along the road on the day of her disappearance. He also admitted to driving the green station wagon and offering her a ride.

Zandstra claimed that he drove her to a wooded area and asked her to take her clothes off. When she wouldn’t, he punched her in the head. He said he thought she was dead, dumped her body and left the area.

Zandstra was arrested on July 17 on murder charges. Investigators have taken DNA samples so they can compare them to other open cases across the country.

Gretchen’s family issued a statement after Zandstra’s arrest, saying, in part:

“With today’s announcement of an arrest, 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. Even now, when people share their memories of her, the first thing they talk about is how amazing she was and still is...at just 8 years old, she had a lifelong impact on those around her.”

Investigators said at one point, Zandstra lived in Plano, Texas. Anyone who may know anything else about his activities or believe they may be a victim is asked to call the Pennsylvania State Police.

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