Gettysburg, PA – A convicted sex offender who absconded from probation has been arrested for repeatedly raping an 87-year-old woman before he allegedly strangled her and tried to set her home on fire.
"This is one of the most heinous murders and related assaults I have ever seen," Adams County District Attorney Brian Sinnett told the Evening Sun.
Kristopher Gartrell, 48, allegedly confessed to having entered the home of 87-year-old Virginia Barbour on Nov. 21 through an unlocked door, police said.
He then forced the woman to show him where she kept her valuables, and proceeded to restrain and rape her twice.
Gartrell ultimately strangled Barbour to death, wrapped her body in a sheet, and stuffed her under a bed before he set her home on fire and took off in her car, according to police.
On Thanksgiving, Barbour’s friend and cleaning lady, Dorothy Koontz, went to Barbour’s home at approximately 9:30 a.m. and realized it had been ransacked.
Her friend was nowhere to be found.
Koontz contacted police, who discovered the elderly woman’s lifeless body stuffed beneath her bed.
Pennsylvania State Police also found gasoline cans and burn patterns throughout the home.
After questioning Barbour’s neighbors, investigators ended up speaking with Gartrell’s girlfriend, Sheila Schriver.
Schriver told police that Gartrell had murdered Barbour, and that he threatened to kill her and her family unless she complied with his demands to drive him to several locations in York and Adams counties.
She said she ultimately left Gartrell at a hotel in Gettysburg.
Police located Gartrell outside the hotel on Saturday, as he was preparing to leave the area.
He was allegedly found in possession of items stolen from Barbour’s home, including about $1,200 in coins, a pair of women’s underwear, and two firearms.
“We were devastated,” Barbour’s neighbor of more than 40 years, Nancy Tate, told the Evening Sun.
She described her elderly friend as a feisty, kindhearted woman, and said they got together every Thursday so she could fix Barbour’s hair.
Gartrell has been charged with criminal homicide, kidnapping, arson, and rape, among other offenses, the Evening Sun reported.
Prosecutors have not specifically addressed whether or not they will seek the death penalty in the event Gartrell is convicted.
"A sentence consistent with the criminal act is appropriate but it is premature to say what that is," Sinnett told the Evening Sun.
Gartrell, a registered sex offender, was previously convicted of first-degree criminal sexual conduct, kidnapping, and other offenses in South Carolina.
He served over two decades in prison before being released in March, according to the Associated Press.
In August, he was named one of South Carolina’s most wanted fugitives, after he absconded from probation, the Evening Sun reported.
Gartrell’s preliminary hearing has been scheduled for Dec. 5.