A Pennsylvania coroner confirmed Friday that remains found earlier this week were those of missing Amish woman Linda Stoltzfoos and said she had been strangled and stabbed in the neck.
Lancaster County Coroner Stephen Diamantoni ruled the death a homicide following an autopsy on Friday and said the stab wound contributed to Stoltzfoos’s death, the York Daily Record said.
Crews search for 18-year-old Stoltzfoos, who disappeared on June 21, 2020, while walking home from church, found the remains in eastern Lancaster County, as CrimeOnline previously reported.
The remains were found in a grave in a brushy area on railroad property behind a business where the man charged with her death worked, the Associated Press said. Justo Smoker, 35, was charged with homicide in December after an initial arrest in August, when he was charged with kidnapping and false imprisonment.
Officials have not said what led them to grave. They have said they believe Smoker killed Stoltzfoos not long after kidnapping her and buried her in a spot near the village of Ronks, about a mile and a half from where Stoltzfoos was last seen and where his vehicle was seen shortly after Stoltzfoos disappeared. While searching the area, investigators found a bra and a pair of stockings. Authorities say they believe Smoker moved the body several days later to the spot by the railroad tracks in the small town of Gap, about nine miles from Ronks.
Stoltzfoos was last seen walking along the road from church to her home, less than a mile away, in Bird-in-Hand. Witnesses reported seeing a red Kia Rio where she was last seen, and one said they saw an Amish female in the front passenger seat.
Enhanced security footage reportedly shows two people walking across Beechdale Road during the time that Stoltzfoos would have been walking home. The camera caught the pair only briefly, around 34 seconds before they walked out of view. Minutes later, the camera caught a red Kia Rio pulling out and driving away.
A red Kia Rio was seen in Ronks and was reported as a suspicious vehicle; the caller got the vehicle’s license number, and it was traced to Smoker. Cellphone records put Smoker there just a few hours after Stoltzfoos disappeared.
Mervin Fisher, Stoltzfoos’s uncle, told Pennlive that the family had hoped she would be found alive but prepared for the worst.
“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.”