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Police arrest suspect in 1989 cold case killing of Pa. woman, 78: ‘You don’t get a free pass on murder’

Police have finally nabbed a suspect in the cold-case killing of a Pennsylvania woman repeatedly stabbed and bludgeoned to death in a home burglary 35 years ago.

Authorities arrested Michael Breisch, 65, in Ohio this week after new technology linked his DNA to evidence left at the 1989 murder scene of 78-year-old Rose Hnath, the Lehigh County District Attorney announced Thursday.

Hnath’s relatives went to her home, where she lived alone after her husband died, to check on her when she didn’t show up to church on Jan. 21, 1989.

Rose Josephine Hnath, 78
Rose Hnath, 78, was found dead in her ransacked home in January 1989. She died of blunt force trauma and stab wounds. Pennsylvania State Police

Her nephew went inside and found the widow “stabbed and beaten in the living room,” Detective Robert Devers told 69 News.

The home was ransacked and pulled apart, and a knife believed to be used in the murder was left behind, investigators said. Hnath also had defensive wounds indicating she put up a fight against her attacker.

But for more than three decades, the case went cold — though those on the case never stopped trying to find Hanth’s killer.

New DNA technology not available at the time of the killing finally led to the breakthrough, Lehigh County DA Gavin Holihan said at a Thursday press conference recorded by the location station.

“We’re at the end of a long investigation that — although it went cold — it was never forgotten, and it was never put aside,” the Pennsylvania prosecutor said.

Gavin Holihan
Lehigh County District Attorney Gavin Holihan announced charges against 65-year-old Michael Breisch in the murder of 78-year-old Rose Hnath on Jan. 21, 1989, in North Whitehall Township, Pennsylvania. NBC

Breisch, who was 30 at the time of the murder, lived in a community corrections facility in nearby Allentown and is not believed to have known his alleged victim, Holihan said. The district attorney did not disclose information about his criminal record or why he was living in a corrections facility.

The accused killer had recently moved to Wind Gap, Ohio, where law enforcement officers arrested him in partnership with the Pennsylvania agencies.

He has since been extradited to the state and is being held in Lehigh County Jail without bail, Holihan said.

“You don’t get a free pass on murder,” the DA said. “The cases stay around and the detectives’ memory stays around and the case files stay around.”

Breisch is facing charges of criminal homicide, burglary, robbery – inflicting serious bodily injury and aggravated assault.

Meanwhile, Hnath’s living family members have been notified of his arrest and expressed both relief and gratitude, Holihan said.

“It’s not lost on our current office that these are families that have lost someone. It doesn’t matter how long ago it was, they’re still going to stay on the case,” he added.