It has been 33 years since Rose Hnath was murdered in her North Whitehall home. Now, science is giving her case new momentum, and her family is hoping it will help catch Rose’s killer. 69 News Reporter Jaccii Farris explains in the third and final part of her series, “The Science of Justice.”
NORTH WHITEHALL TWP., Pa. – In 1989, 78-year-old Rose Hnath was stabbed 28 times and bludgeoned to death in her North Whitehall home. Now, 33 years later, the hunt for her killer is charting a new course at a lab in Salt Lake City, Utah.
“The most difficult and hard-to-solve cases come to us and we employ the most novel and cutting edge techniques,” said Danny Hellwig, the Lab Director at Intermountain Forensics, a non profit focused on solving cold cases by extracting what’s referred to as “touch DNA.”
“Touch” meaning the object was handled or breathed over. DNA that until recently couldn’t be extracted. One of the items used in the murder and swabs from other objects have been sent to Intermountain for analysis.
“We are seeing cases that have been languishing for decades that are now breathing new life because of this technique and these investigations,” Hellwig said.
Once Intermountain extracts the DNA and creates a genealogical profile, it will be sent to Forensic Genealogist Jennifer Moore in Virginia. Moore has been doing forensic genealogy investigations since 2014, solving more than 1,000 unknown parentage cases.
But it was the capture of the Golden State Killer in 2018 using the same genealogy techniques that inspired Moore to turn her focus to crime fighting.
Moore says she doesn’t take a case she can’t solve. Her investigation starts by entering the profile into one of several public DNA databases. After a match is found, Moore builds both sides of the match’s family tree using genealogy records, and once she connects the two trees the profile’s identity can be easily discovered.
“We have you know solved cases in you know two hours, we have solved cases that took us a year,” Moore said.
Rosalie Williams, who now lives in the home where Rose lived, says she thinks about Rose a lot and hopes this new technology helps catch her killer sooner rather than later.
“You hate that somebody walks around knowing that they did this,” Williams said.
Rose’s family is anxious too, and has this message for the killer.
“To chase a little old lady around before church stabbing her to death? How can you live with yourself?” said Rose’s great nephew William Unangst.
“I would say watch your back because somebody’s coming after you,” said Tom Szvios, Rose’s great nephew.
“It’s time for them to pay,” said Rose’s great niece Joanie Szvios.