Seventeen-year-old student Barbara “Barbie” Blatnik loved to socialise.
When she was not hitchhiking to see her favourite touring rock ‘n roll bands, such as ACDC and Led Zeppelin, she could be found partying with her friends around the Garfield Heights area in North Carolina. Barbie was well liked by her peers at Erieview Catholic High School in Cleveland
and people found her easy to get along with. She was pretty, carefree and a bit of a teenage rebel, often ditching school and smoking cigarettes and partying on the weekends.
On December 19, 1987, Barbara had plans to meet friends. At around 6:30PM she was picked up from her home by friends to go to a local bar that was popular in the area due to its lax policy on serving underage patrons. They then stopped off at a friend’s house around 8PM to drink and hang out some more before finally going to a small party at a local bicycle store within walking distance. She called her parents around 10PM to tell them she would be coming home soon.
She would never come home.
The next morning Barbara’s parents noticed that she was not in her room and had not came home that night. They did not report her missing or worry as it was not unusual for her to stay over at a friend’s place on the weekends.
Barbie planned to finish up the night at her boyfriend Jerry Stead’s place just off Warner Road. Stead would later tell her family and police that he didn’t see her at all that night. A friend added that the last time she saw Barbara was at around midnight on December 19, (although some reports state 2AM – 3AM) after dropping her off around Warner Road in Garfield Heights so she could see Jerry, but Barbara would never make it to his house. If she did, he didn’t hear her knocking.
The following morning at around 10AM, the naked body of a young woman was found dumped by the side of O’Neil road in Cuyahoga Falls. She had been beaten, raped, strangled and cruelly discarded by the roadside.
Police removed a class ring from the young woman’s finger and found a name engraved on the inside: Barbara Blatnik.
They showed up to the Blatnik family home, where only the girl’s father was present. Her mother and sister,19-year-old Donna, were out Christmas shopping together and planning for Donna’s upcoming wedding, at which Barbie was the maid of honour.
Her father’s stomach dropped when he opened the door to see the police standing there and he instantly knew that something was wrong. His daughter had not come home that night, but it was not unusual as she and her friends would often stay at each other’s homes. At first, he thought she had been hurt in some way, but soon found himself identifying Barbies body.
Barbara Blatnik’s body had been found over 25 miles from Garfield Heights, not far from Cuyahoga Valley national park, leading those following the case to speculate over weather or not the killer was local. A newspaper article about the case stated that she was killed around 8AM on December 20, around two hours before her body was discovered.
The coroner had severed the victim’s hand and sent it off to another lab. There was a phone number scrawled on her palm, likely the phone number of a taxi, although it has never been confirmed and the hand has been missing since.
DNA was collected from under the teenager’s fingernails, indicating that she had put up a fight against her attacker. “She was a tough broad” one of her friends would later go on to say while describing her in an interview.
The case went cold for over 3 decades until the porchlight project, a non-profit organisation focusing on cold cases in Northern Ohio partnered with the Cuyahoga Falls Police Department and picked up the unsolved murder case. Porchlight Project offers DNA testing, Investigative services and renewed media attention in local cold cases.
They raised $6000 to fund the Barbara Blatnik case, which they used to pay for the DNA found under the victim’s fingernails to be tested against a suspect they had found through investigation and forensic genealogy. Blatnik’s case is the first cold case the organisation has taken on- and successfully solved.
32 years after Blatnik’s case went cold a sixty-seven-year-old Cleveland, Ohio resident named James E. Zastawnik, was charged with first degree murder and arrested. The suspects mugshot showed a Caucasian male wearing glasses and a dark hoody. Not much is known of the suspect but the founder of the Porchlight Project, James Renner, revealed Zastawnik’s brothers had also served time for sex crimes. Strangely, he went on to say that another of the suspects siblings went missing on the anniversary of Barbra Blatnik’s murder and has not been heard from since.
If you want to submit a North East Ohio cold case to Porchlight Project you can do so here: Submit a case