Lifestyle & Human Interest

32 Years After Teen's Body Found Strangled on Side of Road, Suspect Finally Arrested


After three decades of mystery, the cold case murder of a 17-year-old Ohio teen named Barbara Blatnik has been solved thanks in part to DNA genealogical research.

The last time anyone saw Blatnik alive was around midnight on Dec. 19, 1987, when a friend dropped her off in Garfield Heights, Ohio.

The following day, Blatnik, nicknamed “Barbie,” was found dead alongside a local road near Blossom Music Center in Cuyahoga Falls. She had been beaten, raped and strangled by someone who would remain a mystery for over 30 years.

On Wednesday, Cuyahoga Falls Police arrested James E. Zastawnik, 67, for the rape and murder of Blatnik, according to a City Cuyahoga Falls news release.

“It is great to see justice done for Barbara Blatnik,” police chief Jack Davis said. “The detectives who worked on this over the years never gave up on finding the killer.”

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Donna Zanath, Blatnik’s sister, thought she would never see justice for her sister until the cold case was reopened last August, funded in part by the nonprofit organization The Porchlight Project.

“I always just kind of thought we were going to be one of those families that never knew,” Zanath said in an interview with WKYC at the time.

DNA evidence underneath Blatnik’s fingernails was sent to the California firm Identifinders, which led them to Zastawnik’s family, and then to Zastawnik, the Akron Beacon Journal reported.

The Porchlight Project, founded by true crime author James Renner, who also serves as board president, provided the funding necessary to complete the genetic testing.

Blatnik’s murder was the first cold case The Porchlight Project attempted to solve.

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“It’s amazing,” Renner told Akron Beacon Journal. “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 said nobody in the family knew or had seen her sister’s killer before, and was “thankful” that an arrest had finally been made.

“Without James Renner, we wouldn’t be talking right now,” an emotional Zanath said.

Colleen Fitzpatrick, forensic genealogist and founder of Identifinders International, said she was glad her organization could play a part in solving the murder.

“We were very pleased to work with the Cuyahoga Falls Police using Genetic Genealogy to bring closure to the Blatnik family,” Fitzpatrick said.

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A graduate of Grand Canyon University, Kim Davis has been writing for The Western Journal since 2015, focusing on lifestyle stories.
Kim Davis began writing for The Western Journal in 2015. Her primary topics cover family, faith, and women. She has experience as a copy editor for the online publication Thoughtful Women. Kim worked as an arts administrator for The Phoenix Symphony, writing music education curriculum and leading community engagement programs throughout the region. She holds a degree in music education from Grand Canyon University with a minor in eating tacos.
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