Authors Work Helps Police Crack 48-Year-Old Murder Case



Online investigators can prove both beneficial and vexing in criminal investigations. The nation recently witnessed their potential irritations when they swarmed Idaho following the tragic murder of four college students. 

However, it’s important to note that there are instances when the renewed focus and involvement of regular citizens can significantly advance a case, as exemplified by the resolution of a nearly half-century-old child murder in Pennsylvania.


On August 15, 1975, 8-year-old Gretchen Harrington was anticipating a day of enjoyment at the final session of Bible camp. She left her residence and proceeded on foot to the campgrounds situated in Marple Township. It was at this juncture that an individual driving a green station wagon approached her.

As per the prosecution’s account, the young girl entered the vehicle. Subsequently, the suspect transported her to an undisclosed location, where he compelled the child to disrobe. Tragically, he proceeded to brutally end her life and dispose of her remains. It took two months before her lifeless body was discovered in Ridley Creek State Park. Despite diligent efforts by the police department, this case remained unsolved for several decades.

Author Joanna Sullivan, who was raised in Marple Township, joined forces with her childhood companion, Mike Mathis, with the shared goal of producing a book centered on the tragic murder that had occurred in their hometown involving a young girl.

In an interview with Fox News, Sullivan revealed that following the publication of their book titled “Marple’s Gretchen Harrington Tragedy,” they began to hear whispers about the police actively seeking a suspect. Within the pages of their book, the authors conducted interviews, including one with 83-year-old retired pastor David Zandstra. During the time of Harrington’s untimely demise, this elderly gentleman had been serving as a reverend at the camp and had established a close relationship with the victim’s family.

The retired pastor appeared rather unresponsive to inquiries, leading Sullivan to speculate that his recollection of the decades-old crime was likely limited. In contrast, his wife demonstrated a clear recollection of the disappearance. Within the pages of the book, there was only one quote attributed to Mr. Zandstra, where he mentioned driving a Volkswagen bus and providing transportation to church attendees. On the day in question at the Bible camp, one of the teachers inquired whether he had seen Harrington, to which he replied in the negative.

It was later revealed that Zandstra had indeed encountered the young girl that morning. Shockingly, he had picked her up in his green station wagon and subsequently committed the heinous act of murder. His confession to this crime came to light during police questioning several months after the book had been published.

Upon Zandstra’s arrest, the Harrington family issued a statement expressing their hope for his accountability. They extended their gratitude to law enforcement for their unwavering dedication to apprehending the killer. Describing Gretchen as a paragon of kindness, sweetness, and gentleness, her loved ones conveyed their daily longing for her. In conclusion, they thanked the community for its understanding, love, and ongoing support.