Police arrest suspect in 1989 unsolved murder of 78-year-old Pennsylvania woman

More than 30 years after an elderly woman was stabbed to death inside her Lehigh Valley home, an arrest has been made in her murder.

On Thursday, May 16, 2024, Lehigh County District Attorney Gavin Holihan announced murder and robbery charges against Michael Breisch, now 65, for the 1989 murder of 78-year-old Rose Hnath.

The murder of Rose Hnath

At the time of her murder, Hnath was a widow living alone in her home along the 2600 block of 2nd Street in the Coplay section of North Whitehall Township, Pennsylvania, on the banks of the Lehigh River.

After she never showed up at a church she normally attended, relatives went to her home on the night of January 21, 1989, and found her body. Her house was also ransacked.

Investigators said Hnath died from multiple stab wounds and blunt force trauma. His death was ruled a homicide.

Holihan said Hnath defended himself during the attack.

“It is clear from the beginning that he had defensive wounds, which indicates that he resisted,” Holihan said.

At that time, a knife and a pellet gun were found at the crime scene and across the street from the home. The items were preserved for decades as officials continued to investigate the murder.

DNA Technology Leads to Break in Cold Case

Hnath’s death remained unsolved for years until technological advances led to a break in the case. Investigators used DNA evidence to identify Breisch as the suspect, authorities said.

“Ultimately, the efforts made to preserve evidence were rewarded when investigative techniques not available in the 20th century helped us find the defendant, Michael Breisch, and allowed us to make this arrest in 2024,” a spokesperson said. from the Lehigh County District Attorney’s Office. he wrote.

At the time of Hnath’s murder, Breisch was living in a community correctional facility in Allentown. Holihan said Breisch burglarized Hnath’s house on the day of his murder. Hnath’s home was also burglarized before his death, although Breisch has not been linked to that previous burglary, according to Holihan.

After Breisch was identified as a murder suspect, he was arrested in Ohio, where he had been living briefly after spending several years in Pennsylvania, authorities said. Breisch was then extradited to Pennsylvania.

He is being held without bail at the Lehigh County Jail on charges of criminal homicide, robbery, robbery and other related crimes. He is scheduled to have a preliminary hearing on May 21, 2024.

Pennsylvania State Troopers Jared Christman and Zachary McCornac, as well as Lehigh County Detectives Robert Egan and Joseph Vazquez, were involved in the investigation.

The Lehigh County District Attorney’s Office, the Lehigh County Homicide Task Force and law enforcement officials in Coshocton County, Ohio, also assisted in Breisch’s arrest and extradition, according to Holihan.

Holihan also said investigators spoke to Hnath’s family members about the arrest.

“They are pleased and relieved that an arrest has been made,” he said.

Holihan said there is no indication that Breisch knew Hnath at the time of the murder. Investigators also believe Breisch acted alone and are not looking for anyone else in connection with Hnath’s death.

Online court records do not include any legal representation for Breisch.

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