Man arrested in 1989 killing of 78-year-old Pennsylvania woman who fought her attacker

street shooting Harrisburg
Getty Images

A man has been arrested and charged with killing a 78-year-old woman in her eastern Pennsylvania home more than 35 years ago, authorities announced Thursday.

Rose Josephine Hnath tried to fend off her attacker but was found stabbed and beaten to death in her home in North Whitehall Township, outside Allentown. Her homicide remained unsolved for decades until advances in DNA technology helped investigators connect the defendant to the crime, said Lehigh County District Attorney Gavin P. Holihan.

Michael Breisch, 65, of Wind Gap, Pennsylvania, was arrested in Coshocton County, Ohio, and was charged in Pennsylvania with homicide, robbery and other counts, Holihan said. Breisch was extradited to Lehigh County, where he was jailed without bail.

It wasn’t clear if Breisch has an attorney. The public defender’s office said Thursday it has not yet been asked to represent him. A phone message was left at a number associated with Breisch.

Authorities said Hnath was a widow who lived alone in a house along the Lehigh River. When she missed church services, her family went to the home and discovered her body on Jan. 21, 1989. The home had been ransacked.

Many other details about the case remained under wraps as a police complaint was sealed.

“The evidence collected at the crime scene and maintained over the years was reviewed and re-tested as science and technology advanced. Ultimately, the efforts taken to preserve the evidence were rewarded when investigative techniques unavailable in the 20th century helped lead us to the defendant,” the Lehigh County district attorney’s office said in a news release.

A preliminary hearing for Breisch is scheduled for Tuesday.