Police have made an arrest in the 1987 murder of a 17-year-old girl using DNA genealogical research.
James E. Zastawnik, 67, of Cleveland, has been charged with murder in the death of Barbara Blatnik, whose body was found near Blossom Music Center more than 30 years ago.
"It is great to see justice done for Barbara Blatnik," Cuyahoga Falls Chief Jack Davis said in a news release.
Donna Zanath, Blatnik’s sister, said Wednesday evening that she was in shock that an arrest had been made after all this time. She credited Project Porchlight, a local effort lead by Akron author James Renner, that took on her sister’s case as its first attempt to generate renewed interest in a cold case. Project Porchlight raised $6,000 for DNA testing that helped with the Blatnik case.
"Without James Renner, we wouldn’t be talking right now," she said, choking back tears.
This was the first cold case taken on by the Porchlight Project.
Blatnik was last seen on Dec. 19, 1987, when a friend dropped her off in Garfield Heights around midnight. The next morning, her nude body was found alongside O’Neil Road, a narrow access road that leads to Blossom Music Center in Cuyahoga Falls. She had been strangled and raped.
The Cuyahoga Falls Police Department announced it was reopening the case last August and was teaming up with Project Porchlight, which has just been launched.
DNA samples taken from Blatnik’s body were provided to Identifinders, a California company that does forensic genealogy using DNA databases. This led detectives to Zastawnik’s family and then to him as a suspect, Renner said.
"It’s amazing," Renner said. "Everybody at Porchlight is celebrating right now. We’re anxious to get some more cases. This certainly helps. It feels very good. Hopefully, this is the answer the Blatniks have been waiting for."
Zanath shared the news on Facebook with family and friends, who were equally stunned and pleased. She said no one in the family has ever heard of or seen the suspect before.
"I’m thankful," she said.
Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 330-996-3705, and on Twitter: @swarsmithabj.