From Sun Feb 15 03:41:30 1998

Newsgroups: alt.slack

Subject: Holly Branagan

From: (axel heyst)

Date: Sun, 15 Feb 1998 05:41:30 -0600



Although I've lived in cities a good portion of my life, I was raised

in Bethlehem, Pa. It's changed now but in my childhood it was mostly rural;

lots of cornfields, forests and open space. Finding something to do as a

teenager was, as is now, a challenge. The group that I hung around with

were campers, hikers, cross country skiers and overall outdoorsy types. We

were all pretty much confirmed potheads too, as I told you. None of us

thought much about it since everyone we knew smoked pot; it was just the

thing to do in a small town where every sixteen year old had a car but

nowhere to go. We'd drive around backroads endlesslly, passing a pipe

around, listening to Led Zep, The Who, Yes, speculating on subjects common

to all teenage boys: girls, our fast approaching college enrollment, life

outside of Bethlehem...

When the weather was nice we'd hang around on the banks of Monocacy

Creek or on the top of the wooded hill where my friends Andy S- and Greg W-

lived. This hill was so steep that it was not uncommon in winter for folks

to just park at the bottom and walk to their homes rather than risk sliding

backwards in the snow. I'd say that maybe there were ten houses on this

particular road that we used and maybe fifty or so draping the entire hill

in all directions. Andy's street-Pine Top Circle- was our preferred route

to the apple orchard that capped this small mountain. Andy's parents were

pretty easy going and they probably knew we were hanging out drinking beer

and smoking pot up in the orchard, but they let us park in their driveway

anyway and left us alone. The thing is, we really weren't rowdy or

anything; the pot smoking was I think, just a reason to get together and

talk about wonders unseen and experiences waiting to happen. We were all

honor students, upper middle class, good athletes, polite as can be and

incredibly pacifistic. We didn't even litter! Somebody always made sure to

bring a garbage bag along to make sure our little apple orchard stayed

clean. We would bring girls up there from time to time to makeout; it was

relatively secluded because all the roads leading up to it were dead-ends.

There wasn't anyway to drive through the orchard. And since the roads

dead-ended and the neighbors were pretty wary of kids hanging out up there,

the fact of my circle being able to park "legitimately" made it sort of a

private club.

So the picture I'm painting of my friends is mellow, and Bethlehem in

general was a sleepy town, rural and slow moving, pretty well integrated

socially, neither super rich nor super poor. The less well to do lived on

"Southside", near the dwindling steel mills, went to a different high

school ("Liberty"). They weren't particularily poor by my standards now,

and weren't then. They just weren't as well off as the other side of town,

with its own high school ("Freedom" - where I went), and people who mostly

wore suits to work.

Violence was a rarity, at least the type of violence that makes good

news copy, and murder was unheard of. To this day the only murder that I

can remember in my childhood town is the murder of Holly Branagan. There

were probably others but I'll always remember Holly because she went to my

school, was friends with my girlfriend Heather, and lived maybe two or

three hundred yards from where my friends and I smoked pot and talked the

summer days away. Also because of the horrific way that she was killed, and

the constellation of tragic events that surrounded her father.

The Branagans house was at roughly three o'clock on the face of the

hill, my friend Andy's at maybe four ot five o'clock. You could walk to

Holly's house from Andy's in five minutes or so. I never knew Holly well,

but she was good friends with Heather, and we were friendly to each other,

if not close. She was a typical "good" girl; an A student, cheerleader.

Outgoing and vivacious, involved in many school activities, well-liked by

all, Holly also was acting as a surrogate mother for her younger brother

and housekeeper for her father. Her mother had recently died after losing a

two year fight with cancer.

Since no one knows exactly what happened that late summer/early fall

day back in 1978, I can only tell you what was reported at the time,

diluted by my own memory's failings after twenty years (!). Holly arrived

home from school sometime around 3:30- 4:00 PM. She had driven herself home

alone and wasn't seen with anyone before she left. No one was home when she

arrived; this was normal as her father was at work and her brother had

after school activities. I don't remember if she called anyone or if she

just started getting supper ready for her family. Apparently someone, maybe

someone she knew, maybe she was just trusting in a town where crime was so

rare,came to the door and Holly let him in. There were no signs of forced

entry. There wasn't much of a struggle. Nothing was stolen. I don't think

she was raped but I'm not sure. Holly Branagan was stabbed forty some times

with a knife from her own kitchen and drowned in her own blood. She

probably didn't scream though that is uncertain. I know I didn't hear

anything and I was nearby, sitting in the apple orchard with my friends,

unaware that a couple of football fields away a seventeen year-old girl was

living her last minutes.

Friends of mine who lived nearby -Eric H-, Greg W-, Greg T-, Andy S--

were later interviewed by the police as to where they had been that day,

not really that they were suspected, more to try and see if they had seen

or heard anything. They hadn't. It was big news in Bethlehem for a while

there; a fund in Holly's memory was established, rewards were offered. The

cops could never even come up with a suspect. The various theories included

burglary gone bad, rape attempt, fight with boyfriend, and the like. In

hindsight I'd say it was probably a semi-planned rape attack by someone who

had seen Holly near her house and saw that she was pretty, alone, and her

house was secluded. Maybe they figured they could rob the place too. She

probably wasn't as easy a target as he thought, she struggled or maybe

even broke free. The guy panics or maybe he's enraged, starts stabbing her,

and that's that.

I don't know if anyone's ever been charged with the crime, but I've

never heard of anyone being charged with it. There sure wasn't anyone

charged while I was still living there. I did here some rumors a long time

ago that some inmate in a nearby-ish penitentiary had told a cellmate about

it, but I don't remember if anything happened as a result. I do know that

in the space of six months, Mr. Branagan had lost his wife to cancer and

his daughter Holly in an unprecedented act of violence for Bethlehem.

I can't even imagine the pain he must have felt, losing two-thirds of

his family so quickly. But that wasn't the end. Approximately ten months

later his son, his only son, was blown up in a gas station explosion. It

seems that he had been cleaning the floors of the service bays with some

solvent, maybe even gasoline, and a spark from a piece of machinery

triggered the explosion. I saw the place afterwards. It looked like those

pictures you see of bombed out buildings during wars. No one could have

survived. There were your usual conspiracy buffs trying to tie the

explosion to Holly's death but never any evidence to support it. It was

just bad luck.

And Mr. Branagan continued to live in his house for another year. This

guy was by all accounts the very picture of normalcy. He earned a good

living, stayed at home when he wasn't working, was a good father. He must

have been shattered. I never talked to him but I sure would have liked to.

I heard he finally found someone new and moved to Arizona, perhaps to start

over again. Who could blame him? I sometimes wonder if he talked about his

bad luck with his new love. I wonder if he believes in God. I wonder what

he would say to God about allowing events to unfold the way they did. If I

were him, I'd sure have some questions to ask the big guy.



axel heyst