It’s a question that has gone unanswered for 33 years: Who killed 78-year-old Rose Hnath of North Whitehall? But advances in DNA and forensic technology could crack the case wide open. 69 News Reporter Jaccii Farris begins a three-part series on Rose’s murder, the investigation, and the science of justice.
NORTH WHITEHALL TWP., Pa. – 71-year-old Rosalie Williams lives in her dream house.
“Every time I went past this place, I just used to look at it and think one day I’m gonna buy that place,” Rosalie said.
Ever since she moved into the North Whitehall home more than three decades ago, she frequently thinks of the house’s previous owner, 78-year-old Rose Hnath.
“This was definitely not the way I wanted to buy a house,” Rosalie said.
January 1989. Poison tops the pop charts, George H.W. Bush is sworn in as President, and here in the Lehigh Valley folks are deciding between Rain Man and Beaches at the box office.
The widow Rose Hnath lives a quiet life since retiring from the D&D shirt factory. And although she and her late husband Michael didn’t have kids, she cherishes the youngsters in her extended family.
“She enjoyed watching them running around, getting in trouble as kids do,” said Tom Szivos.
The new year is a fresh start for Rose. Recent events have been unsettling.
“The day after Christmas her home was actually burglarized while she was not home,” said Det. Thomas AcAndrew, with the Lehigh County District Attorney’s Office.
Police say a firearm and some jewelry was taken. But Rose doesn’t let it upset her routine.
She’s a regular at St. John the Baptist Church in Northampton, and lunches with the ladies after services. But on January 21, Rose doesn’t show up. Her nephew goes to check on her.
“When he arrived he found his aunt stabbed and beaten in the living room,” said Det. Robert Devers with Pennsylvania State Police Troop M.
Rose’s family says it was a brutal scene.
“I mean, you could see where she was being chased,” said William Unangst, Rose’s great nephew. “I just remember blood was everywhere, blooded handprints everywhere.”
Rose was stabbed 28 times, and bludgeoned. Investigators say the murderer discarded one of the murder weapons outside when fleeing the home.
While police started their investigation, Rose’s family arranged her burial. There was an open casket at Rose’s funeral. Some family members couldn’t bring themselves to attend.
“Her facial expression was the expression she had when this was happening to her, like of terror, a terror mask on her face,” said Joanie Szivos, Rose’s great niece.
Rose Hnath was laid to rest next to her husband at St. John’s Cemetery in Northampton.
Since then, investigators have been looking for her killer. 33 years later, it’s a cold case that’s about to heat up thanks to modern technology.
Jaccii Farris takes a look at the investigation into Rose’s death in part two of her series, on 69 News at 6 Wednesday.