Thirty years later, Holly Branagan's brutal murder remains unsolved.
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."