Retired US church pastor David Zandstra, 83, has been charged with the murder and kidnapping of Gretchen Harrington, an eight-year-old girl who went missing in the Philadelphia suburb of Marple Township during a summer Bible camp in 1975, according to a report by BBC.
The accused was the pastor at Trinity Christian Reformed Church where the Bible camp was held, and he was the one who reported her disappearance to the police on the morning of August 15, 1975.
New leads emerged recently when an anonymous woman came forward and told investigators that she believed her best friend's father, Zandstra, was responsible for the kidnapping and murder of Gretchen.
The woman also recalled an incident from her childhood, waking up to find Zandstra groping her when she was 10 years old. These revelations led to Zandstra's arrest by Pennsylvania State Police in Georgia, where he confessed to the crime.
"He is every parent's worst nightmare," Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer told reporters. "He killed this poor eight-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 the period after that but for years."
The case drew renewed attention due to the publication of the book "Marple's Gretchen Harrington Tragedy: Kidnapping, Murder and Innocence Lost in the Sububan Philadelphia" last year.
The author, Joanna Falcone Sullivan, revealed that the suspect was interviewed for the book, and although he seemed to have difficulty recalling events from the morning of the murder, his wife provided more detailed information.
Gretchen's disappearance devastated the community, and the tragedy continued to haunt the memories of many, with discussions still taking place on Facebook neighborhood groups.
What happened on August 15, 1975?
Gretchen was reported missing after Zandstra reportedly offered her a ride to another church. He reported her disappearance himself to the police.
Her remains were discovered in a nearby wooded area nearly two months later.
During the investigation, it came to light that Zandstra was a family friend of the Harringtons, and he actively participated in the search for Gretchen and officiated at her funeral. However, sources revealed that he was the primary suspect in her disappearance.
Witnesses reported seeing Gretchen talking to someone in a vehicle resembling Zandstra's green Rambler station wagon after she left her home and was out of her father's view.
Zandstra is currently being held in a local jail and is set to be extradited to Pennsylvania to face charges of murder and kidnapping of a minor.