How Many Victims Might Delco Pastor David Zandstra Have Had?
He's accused of and has confessed to the 1975 murder of eight-year-old Gretchen Harrington. But court documents show disturbing new details.
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Just How Many Victims Might Delco Pastor David Zandstra Have Had?
Monday was a historic day in the annals of local law enforcement history. Arrests aren’t often announced in 48-year-old cold cases. But that’s just what happened on Monday afternoon when Delaware County officials announced murder and kidnapping charges against former Delco pastor David Zandstra, who is now 83.
On August 15, 1975, eight-year-old Gretchen Harrington left her house in Marple Township, Delaware County, her Bible in hand, to walk to the local church for summer Bible camp. Her family never saw her alive again. Two months later, police found her skeletal remains in Ridley Creek State Park. An autopsy revealed that she died from blunt-force trauma.
Zandstra did turn up in the early days of the investigation. He knew the family — Harrington’s father was also a local pastor. He taught at the summer Bible camp. And though he told police that he hadn’t seen Harrington that day, he was, oddly, quite specific in describing the shorts she was wearing the day she went missing. But police never made an arrest. The case went cold.
Things took a big turn earlier this year when police interviewed an unnamed woman who grew up in nearby Havertown and was best friends with one of Zandstra’s daughters. In January, she told police she was a frequent guest in the Zandstra home for sleepovers and that one night when she was 10 years old, she woke up to find Zandstra touching her groin area. She shifted her body, and he left the room. She slept over again the next night, and she says the same thing happened. The next morning, the woman says, she told Zandstra’s daughter what had happened and that the daughter replied he did that sometimes. The woman told police that she told her parents about Zandstra’s behavior and that she was no longer allowed to sleep over after that.
The woman went on to tell police that a classmate of hers named Holly was nearly kidnapped twice. She also produced a diary from 1975 in which she documented some of her sleepovers at the Zandstra home. In the diary, after Harrington disappeared, the friend made an entry regarding Holly and Harrington that reads, according to court documents: “Guess what? A man tried to kidnap Holly twice! It’s a secret, so I can’t tell anyone. But I think he might be the one who kidnapped Gretchen. I think it was Mr. Z.”
After interviewing the woman, police located Zandstra in Georgia in June. When they interviewed him, they said he initially denied seeing Harrington the day she went missing. But when they brought up the woman’s allegations of sexual assault, investigators say, Harrington admitted to the assault and then admitted to killing Harrington. He says he picked her up in his car as she was walking along the road, told her to undress, and attacked her when she refused. He claims he checked her pulse and believed her to be dead.
All of which sounds like a pretty open-and-shut case. But all of it also raises a disturbing question: Just how many victims did Zandstra have? In the court document released on Monday, there are at least three alleged victims: Harrington, Zandstra’s daughter, and the daughter’s best friend. But after Harrington disappeared, Zandstra went on to become a pastor in other states for decades before retiring.
Delaware County officials are working to extradite Zandstra from Georgia, where he’s in custody. Something tells me I’ll be keeping an eye on this one for a long time to come.
By the Numbers
$11,000: Value of electronics two men allegedly purchased at the Cherry Hill Mall using a credit card they (also allegedly) stole from a gym locker in South Jersey. Police say they also tried to buy a $13,000 Rolex at a Philadelphia store using a stolen card. PSA: The only time I’ve ever had valuables stolen from me was from a gym locker. In that case, I was able to show the manufacturer of the locker how a simple defect made those lockers easy targets for thieves. They refunded my losses — and hopefully fixed the defect.
$20 million: What Philadelphia is spending for new math curriculum materials for its public-school students.
10,000: Number of retweets Gritty says he needs in order for him to wear this grandiose outfit to Oppenheimer. As of Tuesday morning, it was up to about 10,100 retweets. We’re expecting photos, Gritty.
$30,000: Online fund-raising goal for Delco: The Movie. Yes, you read that right: Delco: The Movie. The filmmakers quickly surpassed that goal and are up to $59,263. Filming is set to begin on July 31st. I … can’t … wait. …
And from the Not-Quite Sports Desk …
Cristopher Sánchez was the starter for the Phils last night in the initial game of their home stand vs. the Orioles, who are in first place in the AL East. He got the first three batters out without a problem but gave up a solo homer to Jordan Westburg in the second — Westburg’s first in the bigs. The Phils couldn’t do doo against Dean Kremer through four and a third except for Bryce Harper and Jake Cave singles and Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos walks. Did I mention two Trea Turner errors? Hold on, hold on, not so fast; Garrett Stubbs reached on a fielder’s choice and advanced on a wild pitch, and Johan Rojas singled and stole second. Schwarbs at bat! His sac fly brought Stubbs home — whee! Tie game. Then Turner was called out on strikes and got his ass tossed from the game. Tough night.
The Orioles tacked another on in the sixth on a solo Ryan Mountcastle homer, but Sánchez finished seven:
Cristopher Sanchez : 7.0 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 8 K ~ ERA 2.98
What more do you want from a 5th starter?
This kid never gets any run support #RingTheBell
— STU NO GOTZ (@Stu_No_Gotz) July 25, 2023
Jeff Hoffman came in for him and did the job. Danny Coulombe subbed for Kremer, and Rojas got to first on a bobbled grounder in the bottom half, then stole second. Schwarber walked again, but Edmundo Sosa lined out, and Rojas got caught off second. Wait — a challenge! Oh, pooh, never mind. And then Harper singled, which brought in Bryan Baker to pitch to Castellanos. He got a base hit, and Schwarbs scored, but Harper tried to and was called out at home. And they couldn’t challenge the call. Damn. Well, they tied it up, anyway.
Time to call for Craig Kimbrel! He gave up a walk with one out, and a wild pitch put the runner on second. One more out, and then Schwarbs dove for a long fly …
And a run scored. Miracle time? Nah. In the bottom half, Bohm singled with two outs, and J.T. kept it alive with a walk, but Rojas grounded out: a 3-2 loss. The rumblings of discontent re Rob Thomson are getting louder. He’ll try again tonight at 6:40.
All Philly Today sports coverage is provided by Sandy Hingston.