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Husband Found Guilty 40 Years After Murdering His Wife With an Axe

The Daily Beast 9/26/2022 Pilar Melendez
Brighton Police © Provided by The Daily Beast Brighton Police

On a cold afternoon in February 1982, James Krauseneck called the police to say he’d just arrived home from work and found his 29-year-old wife dead in their bedroom—with an axe in her head.

Their 3-year-old daughter, Sara, was still in her own room inside their New York home.

The gruesome discovery stumped Brighton authorities, who struggled to identify a suspect behind Cathleen “Cathy” Krauseneck’s murder. For decades, the cold case, which was dubbed the “Brighton Axe Murder,” remained unsolved, even after investigators enlisted the help of the FBI and a celebrity coroner.

But in 2019, authorities arrested Krauseneck, alleging he murdered his wife, staged the scene to look like a robbery gone wrong, and then went to work, leaving their daughter behind in the Del Rio Drive house. On Monday, a Rochester jury convicted Krauseneck, a one-time economist for Eastman Kodak who failed to complete his doctorate degree, of second-degree murder for the Feb. 19, 1982, crime.

“We did it, we did it, justice for Cathy. May my family be finally able to heal,” Annet Schlosser, Cathy’s sister, told reporters outside of the Hall of Justice courtroom. “This has affected us for 40 years. We have been dealing with pain and anguish over this man and we saw him walk away in handcuffs and that’s what we wanted. And I cannot thank these two people enough right here and the investigative team for doing this for us, this is unbelievable.”

During the trial, prosecutors argued that Krauseneck murdered his wife with a single blow to the back of the head inside their home, driving home that no other DNA was present at the scene to suggest another assailant had entered the home.

At the time of the murder, Krauseneck told police he’d left for his job at Eastman Kodak at around 6:30 a.m. the day his wife was killed. That timeline initially shifted the blame off of Krauseneck because a medical examiner first concluded that Cathy had died between 6:55 a.m. and 8:55 a.m. that day.

Later, when investigators revisited this case in 2015 with the help of the FBI, celebrity medical examiner Michael Baden determined that Cathy’s body temperature actually indicated that she could have been killed when Krauseneck was home.

Prosecutors told jurors that the FBI was able to use new forms of DNA testing on the physical evidence at the scene—and found plenty of Krauseneck’s DNA but nothing from any strangers. Assistant District Attorney Patrick Gallagher said after the guilty verdict that the jury on Monday “came to that conclusion because there was no other conclusion in this case.”

Prosecutors also noted that after the murder, investigators learned that Krauseneck never completed his doctorate in college, but still went on to teach at Lynchburg College and land a job at Eastman Kodak. Both roles, they said, hinged on Krauseneck having a doctorate. Authorities believe that Krauseneck’s false degree may have been a source of tension between him and his wife, noting that they found a marriage counseling pamphlet inside the family’s car.

The former economist’s defense team, however, insisted that the circumstantial evidence in the case did not necessarily point to Krauseneck. They also argued that police didn’t pay close enough attention to Edward Laraby—a convicted murderer—who confessed to killing Cathy in a 1986 letter he wrote just before he died in prison.

That 1986 letter contained false information about the crime, which led authorities to believe Laraby was not the true killer.

“It was written in the context that he was dying, about to face his enemy,” defense attorney Bill Easton argued during the trial. “There are some things wrong in the statement…but some are consistent...[like the]notion he wipes down the axe with a bath towel.”

Krauseneck will be sentenced in November, and faces at least 15 years in prison.

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