Ohio Teenager’s Body Was Found Strangled on Road 32 Years Ago — and DNA Ties Suspect to Rape, Murder

Authorities in Ohio have filed murder charges against a 67-year-old Cleveland man, alleging DNA evidence proves he was responsible for the 1987 rape and strangulation murder of 17-year-old Barbara Blatnik.

DNA genealogical research helped Cuyahoga Falls Police identify James E. Zastawnik, 67, according to a press release from the department.

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Zastawnik has been charged with one count of first-degree murder in connection with Blatnik’s death.

It was unclear Friday if he’d entered a plea to the charge, or had a lawyer who could comment on his behalf.

The teen was last seen on Dec.19, 1987. Her body was found the following day, dumped along a road in Cuyahoga Falls that cut through a heavy wooded area.

Police said she had been raped and strangled to death.

“It is great to see justice done for Barbara Blatnik,” the statement quotes Cuyahoga Falls Chief Jack Davis as saying.

According to the statement, the Porchlight Project — a non-profit that supports families of murdered and missing people — funded “the needed DNA testing that was done to close this case.”

The cost of the analysis was $6,000.

Donna Zanath, Blatnik’s sister, told the Akron Beacon Journal she was in shock that an arrest had come all these years later.

James E. Zastawnik
Cuyahoga Falls Police Department

The Cuyahoga Falls Police Department announced it was reopening the case last August.

Genetic material that was lifted from Blatnik’s body was provided to the California firm Identifinders, which does forensic genealogy using DNA databases.

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A match came back to one of Zastawnik’s relatives, and he was eventually identified as the alleged perpetrator.

Zanath said that she is “thankful” an arrest has been made.