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PA PA - Holly Branagan, 17, Bethlehem, 28 March 1979

Discussion in 'Cold Cases' started by Marilynilpa, May 26, 2009.

  1. Marilynilpa

    Marilynilpa New Member

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    I have searched WS and did not find a thread for this case, so I have started this one.

    I have searched WS and did not find a thread for this case, so I have started this one.

    17 year old Holly Branagan lived in a wooded and exclusive neighborhood of Bethlehem, PA. She was a senior in high school. She was found dead on March 29, 1979 by her brother and a friend. She was found on the kitchen of her home with a 10-inch kitchen knife in her back.

    The police found no evidence of burglary or forced entry. She had been dead about 18 hours when she was found, had multiple stab wounds, and had not been sexually assaulted.

    Her father told the police that she would not have let a stranger into the house, and it was possible to see anyone standing at the door before letting them in.

    Holly's autopsy showed she had 15 serious knife wounds, three slight wounds, and two defensive wounds on her hands from apparently trying to ward off the knife attack.

    The time of her death was estimated at before dusk on March 28.

    Holly had been on the phone with a friend around 4:30 p.m. on the 28th, and ended that call by saying there was someone at the door. Shortly after that, she called her father's office at 4:45 p.m. to see if he had left for his business trip to New Jersey. That is the last anyone spoke to her. The phone in her bedroom was off the hook when the police arrived.

    There are investigators currently revisiting this case. Here is a link to the reopening of this cold case:

    http://www.lehighvalleylive.com/today/index.ssf/2009/04/district_attorney_to_review_co.html
     
  2. Marilynilpa

    Marilynilpa New Member

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    Here are a couple more links:

    http://www.nbcphiladelphia.com/news/local/Who-Killed-Holly.html

    http://www.mcall.com/news/local/all-a1_3coldcases.6887223may06,0,1426908.story?track=rss

    A quick Google search brings up numerous references to Holly, including a YouTube video of a t.v. show discussing her murder. I won't try to post all the links here, as there are a great many of them.

    After reading a little about this case, it seems to me that Holly probably did know her killer. The number of stab wounds is consistent with the attacker not being a stranger. In addition, a knife from Holly's kitchen was the murder weapon, so this was probably not a planned attack. Nothing was stolen, and Holly was not sexually assaulted. Sounds more like a spur of the moment attack brought on by extreme rage. Since she was not sexually assaulted, it's possible the attacker could have been a woman, but I'd be willing to bet it was a male.

    From what I can tell, Holly's brother Sean was a suspect for quite a while, but was never charged. In one article, it stated Sean had an alibi for the time of the murder, but another article states he did not. Sean is now deceased, having died from burns he suffered in a gasoline fire that started when he used gasoline to clean a car part in his garage. I believe some effort was made to get a "death-bed" confession from him, but he continued to deny any responsibility for the crime.
     
  3. morf13

    morf13 Ver. Insider Golden State Killer & Zodiac Killer

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    This case sounds similar to the murders of fellow PA residents,Lindy Sue Biechler (stabbed multiple times in her apt,a knife was left in her throat) and Dana Bailey(stabbed multiple times in her apartment)

    Holly Branagan was killed in Bethleham, PA

    Lindy Sue Biechler was kiled in Manor TWP in Lancaster county,about 80 miles away from Holly.

    Dana Bailey was killed in State College,PA which is aprox 120 miles from where Lindy was killed,and about 170 miles from where Holly was killed.

    Even though the crimes are spread out,they all have the similar MO of a girl,all alone in her apartment,being stabbed multiple times with no sign of rape or robbery.
     
  4. Lyn1001

    Lyn1001 In constant need of a nap

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    I find it interesting, in one of the articles it mentioned that her friends would not cooperate with the investigation. Why on earth, if there was nothing to hide, would her friends lawyer up and not cooperate? It makes me think this is deeper than it appears.
     
  5. gaia227

    gaia227 I have never taken any exercise except sleeping an

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    You beat me to it Morf! I was going to say the same thing. First person I thought of was Lindy.
     
  6. JulieR

    JulieR New Member

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    So lets say the killer came with a knife, that means he/she came to kill Lindy. This maybe a stupid question but can they tell if the DNA is from a female or male, I am thinking, no. So what makes them SO sure this is a man that killer her? They didn't seem to think sexual assault was a reason, till many years later. What reasons would someone want her dead? When I think of this case I always think of Laurie Show who was killed by two girl, one had the knife while the other helped hold her down. Laurie knew she was being stalked and she knew who was doing it. In Laurie's case she was very much afraid of the girl who was stalking her and while she had defensive wounds and put up a fight, she was also over come with fear. I guess my point is I can really see this being a woman that killed Lindy, maybe the way the letter was written appearing the second half was written by a Janice Crum was just to try and make police think it was a man. One thing about women they can hold a grudge/anger/hate a long time I can see a woman throwing paint on her grave a year later, for some reason I can't see a man doing that. Most men get angry, fight and its done they move on, now I know we are not talking about a normal person, but still. Just thinking again, scary huh.
     
  7. JulieR

    JulieR New Member

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    WOW I feel horrible for Holly's whole family, the mother dies, then Holly is murdered. Her brother is a suspect, till he dies in a fire and the father is left without a family, wow how do you deal with all that, poor man I hope he finds some peace in his life.
     
  8. morf13

    morf13 Ver. Insider Golden State Killer & Zodiac Killer

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    I think that a possible reason for going after Lindy was for the sole purpose of murdering her! Wrong place at wrong time,or she was stalked,etc. The person could have brought a knife to scare her,or control her,not neccessarily murder her.

    As i said,the Detective i talked to,when i asked if there was any sign of a sexual attack on Lindy,sort of struggled for a second before answering,then he said "yeah there was some sexual aspect to it". He didnt elaborate. Maybe he cant since they are holding back clues,i dont know
     
  9. starkrial

    starkrial New Member

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    Hello,
    Myself and Jim Friedman have been working on Holly's case for years. The video posted here on this thread was created by Jim. We have a huge amount of information regarding Holly's case as well as many of the original articles from 1979. I am just now trying to make sense of them as three different papers ran them and they were a bit conflicting in the first 72 hours after Holly's body was discovered. I am attempting to chronicle them so they make some sense. It was 1979. This was a small close knit community. There were not any murders this heinous committed in upscale neighborhoods in Bethlehem PA. I have added "one" of the 30 year articles below to anyone interested. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask.


    BETHLEHEM -Decades after Holly Branagan's murder at her Bethlehem home, police still search for clues. Police know a lot about the brutal, now 30-year-old murder of Holly Branagan, a pretty senior with a bright smile who sang in the concert choir at Freedom High School.

    But her killer remains elusive today, 30 years to the day after the crime.

    Branagan was stabbed 18 times -- 15 of the wounds were "serious" according to an autopsy. The knife came from her kitchen. The attack was so fierce the blade of the knife snapped off in Branagan's back. Her older brother, Sean, found her body the next day.

    Bethlehem Detective Sgt. Mark DiLuzio said he still gets regular phone calls from people interested in the case. There is a suspect list. But the limited amount of forensic evidence adds to investigators' mounting frustration over a case unsolved for three decades.

    "It never has been closed," DiLuzio said. "At least 30 different detectives and investigators have worked on the case.

    "When people look at cold cases they look at it from the perspective of 2009 TV shows like 'CSI.' This was 1979."

    Searching for answers

    DiLuzio and investigator Thomas Galloway hit the case hard since swimming into the file earlier this year. They interviewed 20 to 30 people, spoke to Holly's father, Richard Branagan, submitted evidence for testing and asked an expert to profile the killer. DiLuzio said there are fresh leads, but it's too soon to know if they will bear fruit.

    Richard Branagan, 90, still lives in the home on Pine Top Trail. He expressed weariness about the long search for an answer.

    "I had the detective out here and I don't see any need to talk about it," Branagan said. "I'd just be rehashing it again and I've lived with it for 30 years."

    Other members of Branagan's family met tragic ends. Her mother died two years before the murder and her brother, a Lehigh University student, was killed in an explosion at a gas station six months later. Police said much has been made of the family's foul fortune, but no evidence suggests a link between the siblings' deaths.

    Galloway said people contact him to see if any new clues have popped up. He said the community can't forget the Branagan murder.

    "They can't let go of the thoughts of it," Galloway said. "It is like a scab being picked."

    'I still know her phone number'

    Sally Siegfried, Branagan's childhood neighbor and good friend, said she stopped at Holly's house to pick her up for school March 29, 1979. She honked the car horn and knocked on the front door while the Branagans' dog, Clancy, pawed the window.

    Holly never came out.

    Siegfried went as far as climbing the steps to the second-floor porch to peer into the kitchen for her friend, but something -- she's not sure what -- stopped her. Holly's body was found in the kitchen.

    Siegfried was the first recipient of the Holly M. Branagan award, which goes to a senior in the Freedom choir who exhibits Branagan's personality and joy. The award, which comes with a small scholarship, remains a staple of the school's choral program.

    Galloway said Branagan was smart and popular. Newspaper clips from the time said she planned to attend Penn State University. A page of the insert to the 1979 Freedom yearbook was dedicated to her. It marked her as generous, helpful, happy.

    Siegfried remains hopeful that justice will come to her best friend's killer. There are blogs about the murder and a page on Gonetoosoon.org where a number of people posted virtual "candles" or short notes.

    "I keep thinking somebody will tell me it has finally been solved," Siegfried said. "I hope it is in my lifetime.

    "I still miss her. I still know her phone number."

    'Everyone we are looking at is still alive'

    The detectives believe Branagan knew her killer, and that killers often talk about their deeds.

    But DiLuzio said the investigation froze quickly when the families of the teens police wanted to question refused to allow their children to be interviewed. No one wanted to be associated with the crime, police said.

    Prior to the murder Branagan was talking on the phone with a friend. Someone came to the door of her home and Branagan told the friend she would call her back. She never spoke again.

    Galloway said the murder appears unplanned -- killers with a plan bring their own tools -- and the act's viciousness points to a crime of high emotion. He said Branagan didn't live long into the struggle, but that 30 to 40 seconds might have felt like an eternity to her.

    The murderer may have left behind a few clues. Items sent to a lab earlier this year include hair and fibers. Police also have the knife handle and blade.

    Galloway said police need a confession backed by physical evidence.

    "They talked about it at some point in time," Galloway said of the killer. "They had to have."

    He said the killer would have exhibited post-murder behavior: a change in a routine or some subtle shift in his or her actions or personality.

    "It would have seemed odd, but the person may have explained it away," Galloway said.

    DiLuzio hopes the years of guilt press someone to come forward or that the years have eased some of the fear that halted the initial investigation.

    Galloway declined to reveal the length of the list of suspects, but said "everyone we are looking at is still alive."
     
  10. Balthazar

    Balthazar Active Member

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    It's interesting to me that the police are careful not to label the murderer as he or she and they have defined the suspects as "teens." This makes me think that it was someone she knew from school and they got into an arguement - maybe Holly had been asked out by someone and it was a female who was upset about that and went off the deep end and attacked Holly.

    I also found a link where someone claimed a suspect was "B" who had been Mr. Branagan's secretary. Apparently "B" had MPD and three sets of friends who all knew her as a different person/name.

    http://boards.aetv.com/topic/Have-Any-Cases/Who-Murdered-Holly/500006137&start=15
     
  11. starkrial

    starkrial New Member

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    I have had recent contact with Holly's friends and I haven't heard anyone they were suspicious of. Holly may have had other circles of friends and it's absolutely possible that she had someone asking her out and his GF got pissed. But the degree of the crime. Absolute rage. The blade snapping in half. Did you see the video? That knife was huge. That's what freaks me out the most. The "overkill" aspect.
    As for "B" the secretary, the detectives have not mentioned her current status as far as any interest in her. A few months ago they indicated she was not on their "A" list. The story is truly bizarre. The author of the original post and a few of us have talked about "B", talked to people who knew her and the story is just strange. We actually had a guy claiming to know "who killed Holly" and it was "B" he said did the deed. After weeks of emailing and trying to get a straight answer from him, we all contacted the LE involved and sent them the information for them to cipher it out.
    It's really a complex case that should have been so easy to solve. The newly formed cold case unit and the fact that they say new leads have surfaced is a good positive thing. I have recently compiled a timeline and the killer really had to have cleaned up a bit to arrive at 4:30 PM, elevate to this amount of rage, kill Holly, A clock was stopped at 5:20 PM, clean any prints off of the knife handle and get out while it was still only dusk. The murderer went somewhere that night. Let's hope someone remembers having contact with someone who may have had "issues" so to speak. Clumsy, nervous, shaking, whatever.
    A teen? Not unless someone helped them cover their trail. Don't you think? It was a horrible bloody mess. Clothes were saturated with blood.
    Let's hope for the day to come that Mr. Branagan has his answer....he wants to know why?
     
  12. Balthazar

    Balthazar Active Member

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    Have you heard of the Candace Montgomery case? This case somewhat reminds me of that case. Candace Montgomery went to visit her friend Betty Gore and somehow, in the midst of the visit, the two of them got into a fight and Candace wound up killing Betty Gore with an axe. Candace Montgomery explained that when Candace confirmed her affair with Betty's husband, Betty got the axe from her garage and they got into a life or death struggle where Candace got control of the axe and killed Betty. The police were initially convinced, due to the overkill and number of axe wounds on Betty that she must have been killed by a man, but Candace did confess to killing Betty - in self defense.

    http://www.trutv.com/library/crime/notorious_murders/classics/betty_gore/1_index.html
     
  13. starkrial

    starkrial New Member

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    It sounds like it was more the parents then the kids. I have heard from Holly's friends and they said they spoke to police more than once. Perhaps a bit of journalistic creativity, to spice up the "original" articles from 1979. That was the main theme, that cops couldn't talk to certain individuals. Not all of Holly's friends refused. I have heard from six different friends/classmates. Everyone of them that was interviewed spoke to the police. Maybe they ran into a lawyer Dad or two or three as that is the case with some friends and these guys were putting up the fuss. To find that a teen could be murdered in our little town was bad enough. To think another of our kids could be capable, horrifying as much as the murder.
    Now a parent who might have been covering for a young person, well they might have refused to let their child talk.
    It will be very interesting to see how this case is solved. Looks like good old fashioned police work is at work.
     
  14. starkrial

    starkrial New Member

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    I have from March 30th, '79, when I first heard of this murder, thought that a woman did this. I have since been on the fence a few times but still my gut says female rage. Kids with this much rage....it happens. So who helped this person, whether young or 20-something, male or female, who helped them hide this act?
     
  15. morf13

    morf13 Ver. Insider Golden State Killer & Zodiac Killer

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    This case fits in with Lindy Biechler in the following ways.
    1-Same State
    2-Both girls killed in their house
    3-Both girls killed with knives from their own home
    4- An overkill aspect to both
    5-The knife was found sticking in their bodies

    Wonder if police ever looked at links in these cases?
     
  16. Julessleuther

    Julessleuther Active Member

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    Why was she not found for 18 hours? Her mother was dead and her brother was at college, but was her father out of town? Why was she there alone overnight? It does sound like overkill, true rage/anger. Did she have a boyfriend? Was there a boy that she had shunned? A girl? Do they have DNA available on the knife that is not hers?
     
  17. starkrial

    starkrial New Member

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    As far as the cops putting two and two together and looking for a link, I have no clue. When I spoke to detectives, you can imagine I am sure, they don't tell much. They do take our opinions very seriously. And now that they have actual people working on Holly's case, they can weed out obvious BS and concentrate on the evidence and new leads.

    There was a lack of technology and understanding of crime scenes still in 1979. There were no rubber gloves, not as much scientific finesse, etc. add to that fact that this was a murder committed in an upscale neighborhood in a small. fairly tight knit community. Holly was from all accounts I have received a popular girl, friendly and down to earth. She had no enemies or boyfriends (or girlfriends) that her closest friends were aware of. But let's face it teenagers can be very secretive when they want to be. So when she told her girlfriend at 4:30PM that "someone was at the door" and she would call her back I often wondered, why not just say who it was.....she had plans to go out with friend on the phone at 6. Friend actually drove to house to pick her up at 6 and no answer. She left and went home. The clock was stopped at 5:20 the pendulum was on the floor. The TOD was set at around 5 PM. There are a few old articles that did contradict one another in the first few days but the later ones seem to have the time down pretty well.

    As for her brother, he was at a friends house not far away and was calling the house to tell her he wasn't coming home, he was sleeping at his best friends house and working on a car. The family was home and know that Sean was there all night. He kept getting a busy signal. Not unusual for a teenaged girl to be on the phone. When he still got a busy signal in the AM he and his friend went to the house, they found her.

    Holly was, from accounts from teachers at Freedon High, and her friends, a very mature girl. Her Mom died from cancer and was sick for years. She had stepped in as woman of the house and adjusted well. She was almost 18, ready to graduate in two months so being alone would not be out of the question.

    I have many thoughts on this case. I have been collecting information for many years but recently, in January, I found a story (it's posted here) and I began researching like a maniac. I have since met with friends and emailed with others and I am trying to stay positive that the new cold case unit will solve this terrible murder. All I can do is try to help keep Holly's case and others from slipping back to the deep freeze status they once were.

    Sites like this make it possible.

    I am not an expert on Holly's case but I have every article I could find about both Holly's case and her brother tragic "freak" explosion accident that killed him six months after the murder of his sister. I live a few minutes from the Branagan house so I am reminded daily about both tragedies. The whole community is still haunted although some "friends" still hesitate to relive the horror that took their friend away.
     
  18. starkrial

    starkrial New Member

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    The detectives say they have "new" information, that's all I know. The knife handle was wiped clean but there are other things like nail clippings, fibers, etc. That's hopefully going to come into play for this heightened review of Holly's case.
     
  19. JulieR

    JulieR New Member

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    Sure would love to know who the 6 persons of interest are and what makes them persons of interest. This person had to have a lot of force to stab Holly 18 times, so much rage. When Holly's brother was in the fire was anyone else hurt in that, I didn't see the article? I seen it was mentioned a garage fire and another post said explosion, which was it? Can anyone post pictures of the house and area this happened at?
     
  20. JulieR

    JulieR New Member

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    The friend Holly was talking to said she had to go at 4:30 someone was at the door, Holly would call her back. Yet Holly called her father @ 4:45 to make sure he was in NJ. So it makes me think the person that did this had Holly call to make sure he was not coming home. The killer was with Holly when she called her father. The killer not only knew Holly, they knew the father and that he traveled.
     

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