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DNA Leads To Arrest In 1987 Strangulation Of Teen Who Was Preparing To Be Maid Of Honor In Sister’s Wedding

James Zastawnik has been charged for the cold-case murder of Barbara “Barbie” Blatnik after a nonprofit headed pooled money to pay for new DNA testing in the case.

By Gina Tron
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More than three decades after a music-loving Ohio teen was strangled to death, a man has been arrested and charged in connection with her horrific murder.

Barbara “Barbie” Blatnik, 17, was found dead in a wooded area of Cuyahoga Falls on Dec. 20, 1987, the Cuyahoga Falls Police department noted in a Wednesday press release provided to Oxygen.com. Her naked body was found not far from the road. She had been raped and strangled.

The Cuyahoga Falls Police Department asked the Bureau of Criminal Investigation to conduct additional tests on DNA found under Blatnick’s fingernails last August, according to a press release from The Porchlight Project. The Porchlight Project is nonprofit organization, which offers investigative services, funding for DNA testing, and media support for cold case abduction and murder cases. They took on Blatnik’s unsolved murder as their first case and paid for the DNA testing and forensic genealogy.

James Zastawnik Barbara Blatnik Pd

Ohio-born investigative journalist James Renner, who founded and runs the nonprofit, told Oxygen.com that more than $6,000 was raised to pay genealogists at research agency Identifinders International to conduct the DNA research. He said they "painstakingly sifted through the DNA found under Barbara Blatnik's fingernails in order to find this killer."

The testing led to the arrest Wednesday of James E. Zastawnik, 67. He has been charged with first degree murder for the death of Blatnik. His arrest was “based on new evidence that was provided through advancements in DNA technology,” the police press release states.

Zastawnik pleaded not guilty at his arraignment, WOIO reports.

“He’s from a large family,” Renner tweeted about the suspect Thursday. “Two of his brothers have gone to prison for sex crimes. A third brother went missing on the anniversary of Barbara’s murder.”

It is not clear if Zastawnik has an attorney.

“It is great to see justice done for Barbara Blatnik,” Cuyahoga Falls Police Chief Jack Davis said in the police press release. Cuyahoga Falls Mayor Don Walters thanked The Porchlight Project “for the funding that they provided to help get the needed DNA testing that was done to close this case.”

Blatnik’s sister Donna Zanath described her slain sibling as a free spirit who “loved music,” according to The Porchlight Project. She was a big fan of AC/DC and Led Zeppelin. 

Blatnik was preparing to be the maid of honor in Zanath’s wedding when she died and her family has missed her bright presence ever since.

“She’s one of those people who could walk into a room and connect with everyone,” Zanath told the nonprofit.

Anyone with information about Blatnik's killing is urged to contact the Cuyahoga Falls Police Department Detective Bureau at 330-971-8334.

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