Saturday, April 24, 2021

The Kidnapping and Murder of Linda Stoltzfoos

 


Linda Stoltzfoos was kidnapped in the broad daylight on June 21, 2020. The 18 year-old Amish teen was walking home from a church service in Bird-in-Hand, Pennsylvania when her abduction took place. Linda was supposed to meet up with her youth group that afternoon, but she never showed up. The members of the youth group initially thought that Linda was home sick, so they did not think much of her absence. However, Linda actually never made it home from the church service that occurred earlier that day. Her worried family members reported her missing around 2:30 AM on June 22nd. 

Both authorities and members of the community launched a search for Linda. Investigators spoke to numerous people who were in the area on the day Linda vanished. Many witnesses told investigators that they saw a red Kia Rio alongside the route where Linda was walking home from church. 



In fact, one couple stated that they saw a young Amish girl in the passenger seat of the car. Investigators eventually identified the owner of that car as 34 year-old Justo Smoker of Paradise, Pennsylvania. 


Police first interviewed Smoker on July 9th, 2020. He denied any knowledge about Linda's whereabouts and also denied being in the area on the day Linda vanished. Still, police continued to investigate his potential involvement. They pulled surveillance footage from a local business near the spot where Smoker's car was seen on the day of Linda's disappearance. At 12:40 PM, the cameras captured Linda walking along the route. One minute later, a man matching Smoker's description appeared in the camera's frame. The man is seen approaching Linda. According to investigators, they then saw what "appears to be motion toward the head area of [Linda] consistent with placing something over her head." Linda and the man are then captured walking out of the camera's frame. Moments later, the red Kia is captured driving southbound. 

After this discovery, investigators arrested Smoker and charged him with kidnapping Linda. It was then revealed that investigators had also found a zip tie, a knotted pair of stockings and a woman's bra buried behind a local business in Ronks, Pennsylvania. Family members confirmed that the clothing belonged to Linda. Additionally, witnesses confirmed that they saw a red Kia parked in the field near the business just two days after Linda disappeared.

Despite not having a body, prosecutors charged Smoker with Linda's murder in December 2020. Although prosecutors felt they had enough evidence to prosecute Smoker without Linda's remains, the search for her continued. Finally, in April 2021, investigators searched an area behind the water treatment building where Smoker was employed in Gap, Pennsylvania. During the search, human remains were found in a shallow grave. Just a day later, it was confirmed the remains were that of Linda Stoolzfoos. An autopsy revealed that she had been strangled and stabbed.

Investigators believe that Smoker initially buried Linda in the spot where her clothing was found, but later moved her to the spot behind his former workplace. It is also believed that Linda might not have been Smoker's first target. Other Amish girls in the community reported that Smoker had followed them in the same spot where Linda was kidnapped just one day prior to Linda's abduction. 

Smoker currently remains behind bars as his charges are pending. 

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