Draft:Murder of Holly Branagan

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Holly Moira Branagan ((1961-12-08)December 8, 1961 – (1979-03-28)March 28, 1979) was a 17-year-old American student from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, who was stabbed to death on March 28, 1979, in her home.

Holly Branagan
Holly Moira Branagan

(1961-12-08)December 8, 1961
DiedMarch 28, 1979(1979-03-28) (aged 17)
Cause of death
  • Blood loss[1]
  • 18 Stab wounds (15 Fatal)
Known forMurder victim


Branagan had been attending Freedom High School, located in Bethlehem, PA, in March 1979, where she had been manager of the boy's soccer team and participated in the school choir.[2] Branagan was scheduled to attend Pennsylvania State University.[3] During high school, Branagan worked part-time as a waitress at a nearby Holiday Inn patio restaurant.

Prior to her murder, she lived with her father, Richard Branagan, and brother Sean Branagan. Richard had served as a navigator in the United States Army Air Corps and was working at a local cement company, Lone Star Industries, at the time of the murder.[4] Sean was attending Lehigh University, which is located near Freedom High School. The three lived at 469 Pine Top Trail in Bethlehem, PA.[2]

Peg Branagan, Holly's mother, had previously passed away from leukemia in 1976.[5]

On Wednesday, March 28, 1979, Holly attended an average day at school. During the day, she and her friends made plans to go out to dinner for pizza that night.[6]

After school, Branagan was home alone. Her father Richard was driving to attending a business conference in Atlantic City for the weekend, and her brother Sean was at a friends fixing a car.[7] Holly had been talking to a friend on the upstairs house phone for about an hour. Around 4:30 pm, Branagan heard the doorbell ring at her door while still on the phone. She left the phone off the hook while going downstairs to open the door. After a few minutes, Branagan told the friend she'd call her back, and hung up. At around 4:45 pm, Branagan then placed a call to Lone Star, where her father worked. She then asked the receptionist if her father was there, but was told that he had already left for his business trip. The receptionist then hung up.[5]

At around 6 pm of the same day, a girlfriend of Holly's arrived at her house to pick her up for their planned pizza dinner. After receiving no answer at the front door for several minutes, the friend eventually made her way to the back of the house to try the back door, but ultimately left before knocking.

Throughout the remainder of the day, several calls were placed to the Branagan house, all of which were unanswered. Some incoming calls were rerouted to surrounding houses on the same block, though this is believed to be a phone error where lines were accident crossed.[8]

Sean had decided to stay the night at a friend's house and also unsuccessfully tried to call Holly at home.


The following morning, March 29, 1979, Sean made more unsuccessful phone calls to the residence. He and a friend decided to go to the house to check on Holly when they found her murdered. She was laying on the floor in a pool of blood with a snapped half of a 10-inch blade still protruding from her back.[2]

Police were called to the scene. Branagan had been stabbed 18 times, 15 of the stabs being fatal stabs to the back, with 3 shallow defensive wounds. There appeared to be signs of a struggle, including but not limited to tossed furniture and a broken clock.

The scene appeared to be tampered with, and evidence was recovered from the scene.

Death of Sean Branagan[edit]

Following Holly's murder, Sean had attempted to scare the murderer out of hiding.[2] Ignoring the advice of his father, Sean had been telling people around the community that he knew who committed the murder in hopes of flushing out the killer, although this was seen as a farce.

Several months later, on September 9, 1979, Sean was working a shift a Mobil gas station at 2130 Schoenersville Road.[9] He and another youth employee were cleaning the property using gasoline at around 9:30 AM when a spark from a cleaning machine ignited the gasoline fumes. This caused a violent explosion and fire. While the other employee made it out of the fire unharmed, Sean was critically injured. He was brought to the then Sacred Heart Hospital Center Burn Unit where he was unable to talk, ultimately dying nine days later.

Because of the events leading up to the incident, it has been speculated by the local Bethlehem Police Department that gas explosion may have been caused on purpose. However, it has never been conclusively ruled as accident or murder.[2]


Over the course of 40 years, a number of Grand Jury hearings were held. District Attorney John Morganelli said, "We are no closer today than we were then." Bethlehem police Detective Thomas Galloway said, "I have developed a suspect, but we're not ready to move forward."

As of 2015, in an interview with lead Detective Tom Galloway, it was stated that most people had been ruled out with only two to three people still being looked at. While it was once thought that drugs may have been involved, this was ruled out. Police believe Holly was murdered by someone she knew.[6]


  1. ^ Shortell , Tom (March 24, 2014). [1].
  2. ^ a b c d e "Police have suspect in Holly Branagan cold case". The Morning Call. The Morning Call. March 22, 2014.
  3. ^ "Bethlehem police identify suspect in 1979 murder of Holly Branagan, district attorney confirms". Leigh Valley Live. March 24, 2014. p. 1.
  4. ^ "Murder of Bethlehem girl still unsolved 25 years after she was stabbed in home". The Morning Call.
  5. ^ a b "Police investigation continues a decade after student's slaying". The Gettysburg Times. March 27, 1989.
  6. ^ a b "Cold Case Murder; Holly Branagan". The Freedom Forum. February 2015.
  7. ^ "Justice For Holly". The Morning Call.
  8. ^ Friedman, Jim (July 17, 2009). "Holly Branagan's Murder: 30 Years Later". NBC Philadelphia.
  9. ^ "Explosion-fire at gas station burns 2 teens". The Morning Call from. September 10, 1979.