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LANCASTER, Pa. (AP) – Authorities have announced the recovery of human remains in a search linked to the disappearance of a young Amish woman in Pennsylvania last summer.
The Lancaster District Attorney’s Office said on Wednesday the remains were found in a rural area in the east of the county as part of a search linked to the June 2020 disappearance of 18-year-old Linda Stoltzfoos. FBI, State Police and East Lampeter Township Police were at the scene.
The county coroner’s office will make an official identification and determine the cause and mode of death, prosecutors said.
Stoltzfoos was last seen walking from the church in the Bird-in-Hand neighborhood, and prosecutors noted that Wednesday marked exactly 10 months since his disappearance. Prosecutors said friends and relatives reported that Stoltzfoos was happy with her life and had never expressed a desire to leave. In fact, they say, she had made plans to join others in a church youth group that day.
Justo Smoker, 35, of Paradise was initially charged with kidnapping and the misdemeanor of false imprisonment. In December, he was charged with manslaughter, as prosecutors alleged that the passage of time, along with the complete cessation of all day-to-day activities, led to the inevitable conclusion that Linda was dead and that Smoker caused his death. ruled that there was sufficient evidence for a homicide trial.
Authorities said enhanced surveillance footage by FBI forensic technicians showed a red sedan, the same type of car owned by the accused, involved in the kidnapping.
In a rural area of Ronks where they believe the victim could have been taken and where the vehicle was seen parked on June 23, authorities found Stoltzfoos clothes buried in a wooded area, prosecutors said. A DNA profile “attributable to Smoker” was found on one of his buried stockings, prosecutors said.
Christopher Tallarico, the county’s top public defender, argued in March that there was no evidence Stoltzfoos ever entered Smoker’s car, and he obtained testimony that his DNA had not been found on samples taken from the car. East Lampeter Township Detective Christopher Jones said the DNA profiles recovered were insufficient to be tested.