Moira “Holly” Branagan (Dec 8, 1962 – March 28, 1979) was murdered 40 years ago today.
In 2014, it looked like the 1979 case was breaking open. However, Det. Thomas Galloway, in charge of the investigation, did not release any information except for this: “I have developed a suspect, but we’re not ready to move forward.”
Moira Holly Branagan was a senior at Freedom High School, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Branagan was found stabbed 18 times in the back with a 10-inch kitchen knife.
The autopsy showed she had 15 serious knife wounds, three less serious wounds, and two defensive wounds on her hands from apparently trying to ward off the knife attack. The attack was so violent that the kitchen knife that was used to kill her, broke off in her back.
The time of her death was estimated at before dusk on March 28, 1979. Sunset according to locals was around 630pm. The police found no evidence of burglary or forced entry. Branagan had been dead about 18 hours before she was found. She had not been sexually assaulted.
No fingerprints were found on the murder weapon. It was wiped clean. After the attack was over, someone took the time to clean up. This opens up two scenarios:
1: the killer calmed down, cleared their head, and had the wisdom to remove traces and prints.
2: the killer called for help and the person who arrived then directed the killer what to do or, while the killer cleaned themselves, cleaned up for the killer.
Branagan’s body was drenched in blood so it is hard to believe that the killer didn’t get blood on themselves. They had to clean up and I suspect that was done inside the Branagan home. Walking around even in the dark would have carried the risk of detection. I assume the killer knew that nobody else was home and that nobody was expected to return home that night. Branagan most likely told her killer that her dad had left for a business trip and that her brother Sean was hanging out with his friends.
The killer most likely used the shower or a big sink in the laundry room to clean up. This means that the drains could hold clues and I am sure police checked the drains and have preserved what they found there.
I suspect that the killer was a friend or someone Branagan knew, someone around the same age. After this young killer realized what their rage caused, they did the only thing a teen could think off at such a time: call for help. And not just any help, no. Call the one person who will not refuse, who will always be there to help: the parent(s).
This parent showed up unseen, most likely by foot, with a fresh set of clothes including shoes, and cleaning supplies. This parent gave precise directions what to do and made sure that everything that was touched got wiped off. They collected every cloth that was used for cleaning and took that out of the Branagan home. Those cloths and the young killer’s bloodied clothes most likely went into a bonfire, the fire place, etc. This parent helped erase all the traces of what had happened.
I think the young killer’s family then moved away citing new career opportunities, health care reasons, family emergencies, etc. It is the kind of family where a move to advance their careers is expected. So most likely this was a family that worked for a company where such transfers are common, an international company, oil company, etc.
I’d like to know who moved away, who committed suicide, who was checked into a mental health facility or, who suddenly got into trouble with the law (maybe drinking, stealing to support an addiction, etc.) or, who became a recluse. I know that for a while a few reporters where looking into these angles but I never heard anything about it again.
Forty years ago, a young life (17) was taken by a young killer who now should be in their mid-50s or very early 60s. Hopefully they will come forward one day. Branagan’s dad passed away in 2016. Her mom had laerady passed away.
Rest in peace, dear Moira “Holly” Branagan.