An elderly woman was found murdered after missing church. Three decades later, police have arrested a suspect

Rose Hnath was killed at home in January 1989 (Pennsylvania State Police)
Rose Hnath was killed at home in January 1989 (Pennsylvania State Police)

Thanks to meticulously preserved DNA evidence, police have arrested a murder suspect over 30 years after a woman was killed in her home.

Rose Hnath, 78, was found on the floor of her Pennsylvania home on 21 January 1989. She had been beaten and stabbed to death.

Ms Hnath had tried to fight off whoever had broken into her home in the Coplay section of North Whitehall Township, investigators said, but they were unable to pinpoint a suspect until this year.

On Thursday, Lehigh County District Attorney Gavin P Holihan announced that Michael Breisch, 65, had been arrested on suspicion of her murder.

"Although [the case] went cold, it was never forgotten and it was never put aside," the District Attorney said at a press conference.

Police were called out to Ms Hnath’s home after her family went to check on her when she failed to show up for her regular church service.

They found her with multiple stab wounds and other signs of trauma. Her home had also been ransacked and it appeared as if the victim had tried to fight off her attacker.

In doing so, Mr Holihan said she aided officers in collecting vital evidence on her killer.

Mr Holihan praised the work of officers at the time of the murder for collecting and preserving vital evidence that was used to identify the suspect using a new form of DNA testing not available in 1989.

That evidence included a knife and pellet gun found near the crime scene, which police believed could have been used by whoever killed Ms Hnath.

"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," the DA added.

Mr Holihan explained that DNA touch testing was used to match the evidence to Mr Breisch, meaning very small samples left behind on the preserved items were able to be tested at a level not possible 30 years ago.

Back then, the suspect was supposed to have been held at a community corrections facility in nearby Allentown. He was arrested and charged with escaping from that facility 10 days after Ms Hnath’s murder.

After his arrest in Ohio, Mr Breisch was extradited to Pennsylvania, where he is being held at the Lehigh County Jail pending an initial hearing on 21 May.

As for Ms Hnath’s family, the district attorney said they were “gratified and relieved” that an arrest had finally been made.