Justice at last thanks to DNA tests solving a 33-year-old murder

Police in Akron, Ohio, have made an arrest in the 1987 murder of a 17-year-old girl using DNA testing.

James E. Zastawnik, aged 67, of Cleveland, has been charged with the murder of Barbara Blatnik, whose body was found in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio.

Donna Zanath, Blatnik’s sister, was reported to have been in shock that an arrest could be made after all this time. She credited Project Porchlight that took on her sister’s case. This was the organization’s first attempt to generate renewed interest in a cold case, and it raised $6,000 to cover the DNA testing that helped solve the case.

The Porchlight Project is a nonprofit that provides assistance to families of missing and murdered people in Ohio, and is lead by Akron author James Renner.

“Without James Renner, we wouldn’t be talking right now”, Zanath said, choking back tears. “I’m thankful.”

She initially 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.

Cooperation paid off

Blatnik was last seen on December 19th in 1987, when a friend dropped her off in Garfield Heights around midnight. The next morning, her nude body was found alongside 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 that it was reopening the case last August and was teaming up with Project Porchlight.

Porchlight Project paid to have the DNA from under Blatink’s fingernails tested by Identifinders International, a California company that does forensic genealogy using DNA databases. This led detectives to Zastawnik’s family and then to him as a suspect.

“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.”

“It is great to see justice done for Barbara Blatnik”, Cuyahoga Falls Police Chief Jack Davis said in a news release. “The detectives who worked on this over the years never gave up on finding the killer. This is also a great example of cooperation between law enforcement, the Porchlight Project, and [the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation] coming together to creatively look for a solution to resolving a brutal murder.”

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