AN 18-year-old Amish girl was strangled and stabbed to death before being wrapped in tarp and dumped in a shallow grave.
The cause of Linda Stoltzfoos’ death was asphyxia from strangulation, along with suffocation, according to Lancaster County coroner Dr Stephen Diamantoni after an autopsy was carried out.
He said a stab wound to her neck was a contributing factor in her death.
Stoltzfoos’ remains were found wrapped in a tarp and buried in a three-foot deep grave in the town of Gap, Pennsylvania, alongside railroad tracks behind Dutchland Inc, where the man charged with her death had worked.
She had last been seen walking home from church in the Bird-in-Hand area on June 21, 2020.
Justo Smoker, 35, from Paradise, was charged with homicide in December and is currently awaiting trial.
Smoker had been initially arrested in August and he also faces charges of kidnapping and false imprisonment.
He has pleaded not guilty.
Authorities have not said what led them to the grave or if Smoker had revealed the location as part of a deal with prosecutors.
Authorities previously said they believe Smoker killed the teenager within a few hours of kidnapping her and buried her in a location where her stocking and bra were found, before moving her several days later to the grave discovered on Wednesday.
The suspect’s DNA was found on Stotzfoos’ stocking, according to officials.
Stoltzfoos’ uncle Mervin Fisher said the family had been hoping she would be found alive, but had been preparing for the worst.
Fisher told Pennlive: “The not knowing is a long, dark tunnel without an end. And when you find the remains, you have the end in sight.
“It brings closure, and when there's closure, the healing process can continue.”
Lancaster County DA Heather Adams said during a press conference the surrounding area where the remains were found had already been searched by police.
Local Debbie Matteoda said: “For the family I feel terrible because they keep all this hope all this time that maybe she will show up, but then again it's a closure.”
“It's sad,' said Krista Hanna. 'I hope that the family feels peace a little bit and the search is over and they know now what happened.”
A county judge ruled last month there was enough evidence for a homicide trial against Smoker.
Smoker had been initially charged with felony kidnapping and misdemeanor false imprisonment.
He was charged with homicide in December with prosecutors saying that with the passing of time the inevitable conclusion was that Stoltzfoos was dead and Smoker had killed her.
Adams said at the time: “Smoker's conduct on and around the time of Linda's kidnapping, along with physical evidence, supports the allegations that he kidnapped and murdered her.”
Stoltzfoos’ dad reported his daughter missing on the evening of Father’s Day after she failed to return home from a youth group she had been set to attend.
Investigators say she never made it to the gathering.
Surveillance footage, seen by the authorities, caught Stoltzfoos walking along Beechdale Road, a route she usually took home having been to church.
The footage also caught a red Kia Rio, that matched Smoker’s vehicle registration number.
The car was seen parked in a rural location in Ronks on June 23, and authorities found items of Stoltzfoos’ clothing buried in a wooded area, according to prosecutors.
“Smoker became a person of interest in the kidnapping after police received information about a red/orange vehicle seen in the Gap area on the afternoon of the abduction,” the East Lampeter Township Police Department said in a press release in July last year.
“Multiple witnesses in the area reported seeing an Amish female in the passenger seat of a vehicle driven by a male. Witness descriptions of the driver and vehicle are consistent with Smoker and his vehicle.”
The county’s chief public defender Christopher Tallarico said in March there was no proof Stoltzfoos had ever been in Smoker’s car and testimony showed her DNA wasn’t found on samples taken from the vehicle.
East Lampeter Township Detective Christopher Jones said DNA profiles recovered were insufficient to test.
A huge number of volunteers turned out to look for Stoltzfoos, according to a Facebook page which details the search efforts.
Smoker has an extensive criminal record going back to 2005 and he has spent most of his adult life behind bars.
Following a string of armed robberies the 35-year-old was sentenced to serve 12-and-a-half years to 30 years in prison in 2006.
He was released on February 28, 2019.
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