Collin County

PA investigators hope North Texans can tell them more about a former pastor accused of killing a child

David Zandstra, a former North Texas resident, admitted to kidnapping and murdering 8-year-old Gretchen Harrington when she was on her way home from bible school, police say

Gretchen Harrington of Marple Township, Delaware County and Trinity Christian Reformed Church as seen in 1975.
Photos provided by the Delaware County District Attorney's Office

Investigators in Pennsylvania are looking for details on accused killer David Zandstra's life in North Texas after he admitted to the 1975 murder of an 8-year-old girl last week.

Police said Zandstra, who at one time was a pastor of a Pennsylvania church, admitted to the 1975 abduction and murder of 8-year-old Gretchen Harrington. Police arrested Zandstra, who is now 83, on July 17 at his home in Marietta, Georgia and charged him with several crimes including homicide and kidnapping.

Federal investigators said Zandstra moved to Plano sometime after the girl's murder, but it's not yet clear how long he lived in North Texas. Investigators are asking anyone with information about Zandstra's life in Plano to contact the Pennsylvania State Police.

Meanwhile, Zandstra's DNA is being submitted to a national database to be compared to open cases in Pennsylvania, Texas, Georgia and across the country.

Zandstra was arrested after a victim came forward, accusing him of sexually assaulting her during a sleepover with his daughter when she was 10 years old.

When confronted with the allegations of sexual assault, Zandstra admitted to offering Harrington a ride as he saw her walking to bible school. According to investigators, Zandstra then took her to a wooded area and asked her to remove her clothes. Harrington refused and Zandstra hit her in the head. Believing she was dead, he attempted to cover up her body and fled.

Zandstra was the pastor of Trinity Church Chapel Christian Reform Church in Marple, Pennsylvania. Harrington's father was the pastor of The Reformed Presbyterian Church in Marple. The two churches led a bible school for children.

The school began with classes at Trinity Church and then children were transported to the Reformed Church. When Harrington didn't arrive, her father reported her missing shortly after.

Harrington's family released the following statement after Zandstra's arrest:

"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. It’s difficult to express the emotions that we are feeling as we take one step closer to justice. Gretchen was only 8 years old when she was suddenly taken away from us on her way to church on Friday, Aug. 15, 1975. 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. The abduction and murder of Gretchen has forever altered our family and we miss her every single day. We are grateful for the continual pursuit of justice by law enforcement and we want to thank the Pennsylvania State Police for never stopping in their constant search for answers. We would not be here today if it was not for them. As a family, we ask for privacy at this time as we continue to digest this information. Thank you for your understanding, love, and continued support. It means the world to us.”

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