James Zastawnik was arrested on May 6, 2020 and charged in the December 20, 1987 murder of 17-year-old Barbara ‘Barbie’ Blatnik in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio.
Blatnik was last seen when she was dropped off by a friend at about midnight. Her nude body was found the next morning in a wooded area along the roadside. She had been raped and strangled.
A DNA profile of the suspect was obtained from a tissue sample taken from underneath Blatnik’s fingernails. Since it was a mixture of Blatnik’s DNA and the man she had scratched, the mixture first needed to be resolved. Her older sister, Donna Zanath, provided her DNA to assist with this.
The FGG investigation was conducted by Colleen Fitzpatrick of Identifinders. Project Porchlight raised the money to fund the FGG investigation. Fitzpatrick studied the suspect’s Y-DNA as well as his autosomal DNA, learning that he was of Eastern European biogeographical ancestry. Police obtained a warrant to take a DNA sample from Zastawnik, and confirmed it was consistent with the crime scene DNA profile.
Zastawnik had worked at a factory near where Blatnik was last seen. He has a prior criminal record for exposing himself to two women in Akron in July of 1984. In police interviews, Zastawnik initially denied knowing Blatnik. Trexler reports that recordings indicate that when confronted by the DNA evidence, Zastawnik then displayed a “vivid recollection” of his encounter with Blatnik. He claimed that he had “spontaneous and consensual” sex with the teen on the night she died after picking her up in his car when she was walking down Walker Road. He took her to his home so that she could use the telephone. He claims he dropped her back on Warner Road.
Zastawnik was released on a $35,000 bond while awaiting trial on charges of murder and aggravated murder in Summit County. Zastawnik, 69, died from cancer in August of 2021. He was receiving hospice services and passed away surrounded by relatives while awaiting trial – which was scheduled to begin in October of 2021 after having been delayed. Warsmith reports that, “His family is mourning his passing,” said Erik Jones, who represented Zastawnik with attorney Andrea Whitaker.
Carey, Tyler, Rachel Polansky, and Phil Trexler. “Cleveland Man Arrested for 1987 Rape and Murder of Garfield Heights’ Barbara Blatnik.” WKYC News, May 6, 2020. Accessed December 28, 2020. https://www.wkyc.com/article/news/crime/cold-cases/cleveland-man-arrested-for-1987-rape-murder-of-garfield-heights-teen/95-7617cde1-f88d-4cb9-87cc-5859dbbfe426.
Staff Writer. “Regional News Briefs, July 11, 2020: Man Charged in 1987 Slaying of Teen is Out on $35,000 Bond.” Akron Beacon Journal, July 10, 2020. Accessed December 28, 2020. https://www.beaconjournal.com/story/news/local/2020/07/10/regional-news-briefs-july-11-2020-man-charged-in-1987-slaying-of-teen-is-out-on-35000-bond/113388298/
Trexler, Phil. “3News Investigates: Exclusive Audio Reveals Suspect Admitting Sexual Encounter with Barbara Blatnik on Night of Her Murder.” WKYC 3News, November 2, 2021. Accessed December 29, 2021. https://www.wkyc.com/article/news/crime/audio-reveals-suspect-admitting-sexual-encounter-with-barbara-blatnik-on-night-of-her-murder/95-934c9195-e6fa-4b4d-8cc3-0060dcbaf675.
Tron, Gina. “DNA Leads to Arrest in 1987 Strangulation of Teen Who Was Preparing to be Maid of Honor in Sister’s Wedding.” Oxygen, May 8, 2020. Accessed December 28, 2020. https://www.oxygen.com/crime-news/james-zastawnik-arrested-for-strangling-of-teen-barbara-blatnik.
Warsmith, Stephanie. “Man Accused in 1987 Murder of Teen in Cuyahoga Falls Dies of Cancer Two Months Before Trial.” Akron Beacon Journal, August 26, 2021. Accessed December 29, 2021. https://www.beaconjournal.com/story/news/2021/08/26/cleveland-man-accused-1987-murder-teen-dies-before-his-trial/5586877001/.
Warsmith, Stephanie. “New DNA Technology, Genealogy Research Leads to Arrest in Teen’s 1987 Killing.” Akron Beacon Journal, May 16, 2020. Accessed December 28, 2020. https://www.beaconjournal.com/news/20200516/new-dna-technology-genealogy-research-leads-to-arrest-in-teenrsquos-1987-killing.