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Man arrested in 1989 killing of 78-year-old woman

District Attorney Gavin P. Holihan announced on May 16 that an arrest was made in a cold case homicide that occurred more than 35 years ago.

Rose Josephine Hnath, 78, was stabbed and beaten to death in her North Whitehall Township home.

Advances in scientific technology, the cooperation of the community and hard work by law enforcement officials have led to this arrest, Holihan said in the news release.

Police and authorities worked diligently to solve the case and that effort began with District Attorney William H. Platt, who served from 1976-1991, at the time of Hnath’s murder and continued under Robert L. Steinberg, who served as district attorney from 1991-1998.

“District Attorney Jim Martin, who served from 1998-2023, took several steps to help revitalize the investigation before his retirement and all of those efforts cumulate in the arrest we are announcing today,” Holihan said.

The evidence collected at the crime scene and maintained over the years was reviewed and retested 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, Michael Jay Breisch, and allowed us to make this arrest in 2024,” Holihan said.

Breisch, 65, of Wind Gap, is charged with criminal homicide, burglary, robbery, inflicting serious bodily injury and aggravated assault, all felonies of the first degree.

Breisch is in Lehigh County Jail without bail. He was taken into custody in Ohio.

Hnath was a widow who lived alone in her home at 2690 2nd St. in the Coplay section of North Whitehall Township along the banks of the Lehigh River.

When she failed to appear at a local church service she regularly attended, family members went to her home the evening of Jan. 21, 1989, and found her deceased. The home had been ransacked.

Hnath died of multiple stab wounds and blunt force trauma and her death was ruled a homicide by the Lehigh County Coroner.

It appears due to defensive wounds and other evidence that Hnath tried to fight off her attacker.

The case was investigated by Pennsylvania State Police troopers Jared Christman and Zachary McCornac and Lehigh County Detectives Robert Egan and Joseph Vazquez.

Also assisting with the investigation are the Pennsylvania State Police Crime Laboratory, the Ohio Attorney General’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation and Coshocton County, Ohio, prosecutor and sheriff offices.

The case will be prosecuted by First Assistant District Attorney Eric K. Dowdle.