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Michael Breisch charged with 1989 murder of Rose Hnath in Pennsylvania

Man charged for 1989 cold case murder of Rose Hnath in Lehigh Valley
Man charged for 1989 cold case murder of Rose Hnath in Lehigh Valley 01:47

ALLENTOWN, Pa. (CBS) -- After more than three decades, a man has been arrested in Ohio for his connection with the 1989 killing of a woman in Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley thanks to advances in DNA.

Michael Breisch, 65, is now in custody in Lehigh County for the killing of 78-year-old Rose Hnath, after he was taken into custody in Coshocton County, Ohio.

Hnath, a widow who lived alone, was found dead on Jan. 21, 1989. Police say relatives arrived at her home in the Coplay section of North Whitehall Township on the west bank of the Lehigh River and found her on the floor and the home ransacked.

They went to her home after she did not appear at a church service she attended regularly.

An autopsy revealed Hnath had received multiple blunt force injuries and stab wounds. She had defensive wounds indicating she tried to fight off her attacker, Lehigh County District Attorney Gavin Holihan said in a news release.

Holihan said at the time of the crime, Breisch was living in the Lehigh Valley at a community corrections facility in the Allentown area.

Breisch was 30 years old at the time.

Holihan announced Breisch's arrest in a news conference Thursday in Allentown. He credited the work of investigators including Joseph Vasquez, who was on the case from the beginning, arriving at the crime scene within hours while with the Pennsylvania State Police.

Vasquez continued to work on the case with the Lehigh County Homicide Task Force.

"Although [the case] went cold, it was never forgotten and it was never put aside," Holihan said. He credited investigators' work in collecting and preserving the evidence - so that decades later, it could be used for a type of DNA analysis that didn't exist in 1989.

"We have no idea what the technology is going to be 20 years from now or 30 years from now," Holihan said. "So when the evidence is collected, it's important to preserve it."

The DNA was found on weapons including a knife and pellet gun found near the scene that investigators believe were used in the crime, Holihan said.

"They didn't know that the pieces they collected would somehow be able to be tested for touch DNA. But they did their job and did it well. ... It's a testament to the work they did then," he added.

Investigators have spoken with Hnath's family and notified them there has been an arrest. 

"They're gratified and relieved that an arrest has been made," Holihan said.

Breisch is also charged with burglarizing Hnath's home and other first-degree felonies, including robbery and aggravated assault. He is being held in the Lehigh County Jail without bail and has a preliminary hearing scheduled for May 21.

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