More than 37 years after James Krauseneck Jr. told police he found his wife with a woodcutting ax buried deep into her head, he has been accused of her murder.
The Feb. 19, 1982 homicide, which became known in New York state as the unsolved “Brighton ax murder,” has perplexed police for nearly four decades — a tragic story made all the more heart-wrenching because the couple’s then 3½-year-old daughter, Sara, may have witnessed the killing before spending hours alone in the home with her mother's bloodied corpse.
In an indictment unsealed Friday morning, Krauseneck is accused of second-degree murder in the homicide of his wife, Cathleen “Cathy” Krauseneck, who was 29 when killed. Krauseneck pleaded not guilty Friday before state Supreme Court Justice Charles Schiano Jr. His daughter Sara accompanied her father to the court appearance.
Krauseneck, 67, is being represented by local attorneys William Easton and Michael Wolford. Wolford represented Krauseneck in 1982 during the original investigation.
His attorneys insist on his innocence.
"Over 37 years ago, Sara Krauseneck lost her mother and Jim Krauseneck lost his wife," Wolford said after the plea. "Today marks a further tragedy — Jim being charged with Kathleen's murder.
"Jim's innocence was clear 37 years ago," Wolford said. "It's clear today. At the end of the case I have no doubt Jim will be vindicated."
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Krauseneck remains free on a bail of $25,000 cash, and a partially secured amount of another $75,000, meaning that money would be owed if he tries to flees. He surrendered his passport.
Cathleen Krauseneck's sister, Annet Schlosser, said in a telephone interview Friday that her family has long waited for criminal charges against James Krauseneck Jr.
Police stumped by crime
As weeks and then months passed with the crime unsolved, the 1982 homicide rattled the quiet neighborhood, prompting a rush at local hardware stores for deadbolts and other home security measures. In the year after the homicide, Brighton police traveled to three states where the Krausenecks previously lived and interviewed more than 300 people, even speaking with psychics.
Then-Brighton Police Chief Eugene Shaw kept the case file on his desk as years passed.
“I look at it every morning when I come in,” he told the Democrat and Chronicle in 1985. “It’s right in the forefront of our minds. Police officers live these things; they don’t forget about it.”
It wasn’t until 2016, when Brighton police and FBI officials said they were conducting DNA testing on the ax handle and other pieces of crime scene evidence, when police even hinted at Krauseneck, who was then living in Washington state, as a suspect.
Police have not said what, if any, results came from the DNA testing.
Krauseneck was at first cooperative with police in the days after the homicide but then refused to continue talking to police unless certain conditions were met. Those conditions were not identified in news coverage in 1982; police declined to agree to the terms.
It's likely prosecutors did not want to offer Krauseneck immunity before a grand jury. The grand jury that this month handed up the indictment accusing Krauseneck of murder appears to be the first ever convened to hear evidence in the criminal case.
In 1982, police said Cathleen Krauseneck may have been killed during a burglary. A window was found shattered from the outside; the ax wielded in the homicide and a maul, used for splitting wood, were found in the home.
Police said the window was apparently smashed with the maul. Also found was a sock that may have been used to hold the maul.
Former Rochester Times-Union reporter Laurie Bennett, who covered the case extensively and interviewed James Krauseneck nine years after the homicide, wrote in a 1991 article that police ultimately decided that the burglary appeared "too neat."
"Upstairs and downstairs, money and jewelry lay in plain sight," wrote Bennett, who was working at the Detroit News at the time of the 1991 article. "A silver tea set and two candelabra had been placed on the dining room floor, near a plastic bag. Cathleen Krauseneck's purse was nearby, its contents strewn across the carpet."
Police provided new details of the crime to Bennett for the 1991 story, in hopes it would generate new leads and tips.
In that same story, Bennett interviewed Krauseneck, who was living in Michigan at the time and who had not spoken to police since 1982. In the interview, Krauseneck said his daughter, who was then 12, had some independent memories of the night of the killing.
"I think Sara knows what happened to her mom," said Krauseneck, who then still refused to allow her to be interviewed by police. "She was there that day.
"It's not something we talk about very often. I think she has her own way of thinking about it. She's had to figure out her way of dealing with it."
A loving couple
In the years after the homicide, Cathleen's family stood by her husband, saying that the investigation appeared myopically and unfairly focused on James. It was in recent years that they began to think he committed the killing.
In 1982 neighbors, family, and friends portrayed the couple as extremely close and loving. Both parents doted over Sara.
Not long before the killing, an issue arose for Krauseneck at his job. He had maintained that he had a doctorate, but it turned out he had not completed his doctoral work.
He had told his previous employer — a college in Virginia, where he taught economics — the same thing.
It's unclear whether Krauseneck's employment was at risk, or whether his wife knew. At the time of the homicide, the Krauseneck family had lived in the Rochester area for less than a year.
Krauseneck recently retired from his job as a vice-president at Weyerhaeuser in the state of Washington. He and his wife, Sharon, now live in Arizona.
At Cathleen Krauseneck's memorial service in Michigan, the priest said, "The two prevailing emotions today are grief and bewilderment. We are brought together by circumstances that have neither rhyme nor reason.
"She and her husband had just begun their home. Although this tragedy has destroyed the life of her body, no number of tragedies can destroy the life of her soul."
Follow Gary Craig on Twitter: @gcraig1
This article originally appeared on Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Brighton ax murder: James Krauseneck Jr charged in murder of wife