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Sunday, April 25, 2021

The Linda Stoltzfoos Murder Case

     Lancaster County and the surrounding area in eastern Pennsylvania is home to the second largest old-order Amish enclave in the United States. Eighteen-year-old Linda Stoltzfoos, a member of that community, resided on a farm with her family in the East Lampeter Township village of Bird in Hand a few miles east of Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

     On Sunday morning, June 21, 2020, Linda Stoltzfoos attended church services at an Amish home about a mile from her residence on Stumptown Road. A little after half-past noon, following the service, she left on foot en route to her farm. Before leaving, she told her friend Lillian Ebersole that she planned to change out of her formal church clothes before attending the 2:30 PM all-day church youth meeting on Beechdale Road in Upper Leacock Township. From the church service, Linda Stoltzfoos began the 19-minute walk to her house. She headed south on the east side of Beechdale Road in bare feet with her shoes in hand.

     At two o'clock the next morning, Linda Stoltzfoos' father called the East Lampeter Township Police Department to report his daughter missing. The missing girl's family believed that after church she had gone straight to the youth group get together. Her friends believed that when Linda got home from church she didn't feel well and missed the youth event. The brown haired, five-foot-ten, 125 pound Amish girl, when last seen, was wearing a tan dress, white apron and a black head covering.

     Surveillance footage from the 500 block of Beechdale Road five miles east of Lancaster showed a man approach Linda Stoltzfoos a few minutes after she departed the church service. He came from a red Kia Rio with black trim, a rear spoiler, and a "LCM" sticker on the trunk. The video footage also depicted Stoltzfoos walking with this man to the car. The girl's family and friends did not believe she had accompanied this man voluntarily.

     Investigators identified the owner of the red Kia as 34-year-old Justo Smoker, a resident of the 3200 block of the Lincoln Highway in Paradise, a village five miles east of Lancaster. In 1993, Vernon and Deb Smoker from Lancaster, Pennsylvania adopted seven-year-old Justo. The boy had been living on the street. At Pequea Valley High School Justo Smoker was a wrestling star but at age 21 turned to crime. Between 2004 and 2007 he committed, in Lancaster County, a string of armed robberies and burglaries. He was convicted at least three times for these offense and sentenced to prison. Although he spent a good portion of his adult life behind bars, he did not come close to serving the full terms of his sentences. Otherwise, he would not have been out of prison when Linda Stoltzfoos went missing.

     In the course of the missing persons investigation, several witnesses saw an Amish girl riding in a Red Kia driven by a dark complexioned man who was possibly Hispanic. Justo Smoker met this general description. Moreover, the FBI placed Smoker in the vicinity of the abduction through his cellphone.

     On July 10, 2020, a Pennsylvania State Police forensics team found a bra and a pair of stockings buried along Harvest Road in a rural area the village of Ronks. Witnesses had seen Smoker's car parked near the village which is three miles from the Stoltzfoos farm. The missing girl's parents informed investigators that these garments were what their daughter would have been wearing on the day she went missing. Linda Stoltzfoos herself remained missing.

     Police officers took Justo Smoker into custody on the evening of July 10, 2020. The suspect was arrested at his place of employment, Dutchland Inc., a manufacturing and construction company in Gap, Pennsylvania, a village in Lancaster County's Salisbury Township. The next day, he was charged with felony kidnapping and misdemeanor false imprisonment. The kidnapping suspect was held in the Lancaster County Jail without bail. At his arraignment Smoker pleaded not guilty. The search for Linda Stoltzfoos continued.

     Loren Johns, the recording secretary of the Swiss Anabaptist Genealogy Association and the creator of the largest database of anabaptist families with more that 700,000 records, announced on July 14, 2020 that Justo Smoker's great grandmother Fannie L. Fisher and Linda Stoltzfoos' great great grandmother Susan S. Stoltzfus were sisters. This made Smoker and Linda Stoltzfoos third cousins once removed. This did not mean, however, that the two knew each other.

     On July 15, 2020, according to a corrections officer at the Lancaster County Jail, Justo Smoker stated that he could not be prosecuted for Linda Stoltzfoos' murder if her body was never found.
     On April 22, 2021, searchers found Linda Stoltzfoos' body wrapped in a tarp buried 42 inches in the ground behind Dutchland, Inc., the company in Gap that had employed Smoker. Investigators believed her body had been moved from its original burial site on Harvest Road. The following day, Lancaster County Coroner Dr. Stephen Diamantoni announced that the cause of death was asphyxia caused by manual strangulation with stabbing as a contributing factor. The manner of death: homicide. The victim had been positively identified through dental records.
     According to Lancaster County District Attorney Heather Adams, DNA samples taken from the bra found on Harvest Road matched Justo Smoker. 

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