Man pleads guilty to murdering Amish teen as she walked home from church

Linda Stoltzfoos
Linda Stoltzfoos, 18, has been missing since Sunday June 21, 2020. |

A 35-year-old man has pleaded guilty to kidnapping and killing an 18-year-old Amish teenager from Pennsylvania, Linda Stoltzfoos, who had gone missing while walking home from church and was later found strangled and stabbed in the neck.

Justo Smoker, who claims to be an alcoholic and suffering from depression, pleaded guilty in Lancaster County to third-degree murder, kidnapping and other offenses in the death of Stoltzfoos, who was last seen walking home from her church in the Bird-in-Hand area on Father’s Day last year, PennLive reported.

Smoker was sentenced to 35.5 to 71 years in prison, according to The Epoch Times, which also said he faces an additional sentence of over 17 years for violating parole from a previous series of burglaries and robberies.

“This effectively is a life sentence for Smoker,” District Attorney Heather Adams told reporters after the hearing.

Smoker, who allegedly grew up in an orphanage in Costa Rica and spent much of his adult life in prison, drank two bottles of liquor the day before and bought beer from Sheetz just before kidnapping and murdering the teen, Public Defender Christopher Tallarico told the court.

The attorney also claimed that Smoker was depressed at the time of the crime as his sister had died in jail and he had been evicted from his home a week earlier.

Judge David Ashworth responded by saying that alcoholism and depression were not defenses for murder.

Smoker apologized to the victim’s family in court, saying he had “robbed the family of time and memories.” The judge called Smoker a “predator of the worst kind.”

The remains of Stoltzfoos, who disappeared on June 21, 2020, were found in April after Smoker led authorities to the location as a condition of his plea agreement.

Stoltzfoos’ remains were recovered on railroad property in a grave, wrapped in a tarp behind Smoker’s previous place of employment, located on Route 41 in eastern Lancaster County. She was still wearing the dress, bonnet and shoes she was dressed in on the day she disappeared.

Mervin Fisher, an uncle to Stoltzfoos, told PennLive at the time that finding his niece’s remains gave them closure. “The not knowing is a long, dark tunnel without an end. And when you find the remains, you have the end in sight,” he said. “It brings closure, and when there’s closure, the healing process can continue.”

The simple, family-centered Amish culture in Lancaster County keeps their devout faith community separate from their more secular countrymen. They believe in a literal interpretation and application of Scripture as the Word of God, including biblical commands to separate themselves from the things of the world. They believe worldliness can keep them from being close to God, and introduce influences that could be destructive to their communities and to their way of life.

Sparky Grace, who is known to the victim’s family, described the woman as a “beautiful human being” in a tribute after her remains were found.

“I never met a teenage, young woman like Linda. Never a complaint and always moving to lend a helping hand, her meek ways were beyond rare. We did not lose a cute Amish girl. We did not lose a young woman. We lost a ‘beautiful’ human being resilient with the qualities many would hope to aspire in a lifetime. We lost Linda,” he wrote on Facebook.

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