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Upstate New York Economist Found Guilty Of Wife's 1982 Ax Murder

A jury agreed with prosecutors that, 40 years ago, James Krauseneck left an ax embedded in his wife Cathy Krauseneck's skull — and also left the couple's 3-year-old daughter with the body.

By Jax Miller
Husbands Who Killed Their Wives

A man accused of using an ax to murder his wife more than 40 years ago has now been found guilty of her murder.

James Krauseneck, 70, was found guilty on Monday on charges of second-degree murder, according to a press release by the Monroe County District Attorney’s Office e-mailed to Oxygen.com. Prosecutors maintained that, in 1982, Krauseneck murdered his 29-year-old wife Cathleen ‘“Cathy” Krauseneck with a single ax blow to the head while she was sleeping in their shared home in Brighton, New York — a suburb of Rochester.

Investigators argued to a jury that, on the morning of Feb. 19, 1982, James used a long-handled ax to kill his wife of eight years before heading to work, leaving the weapon embedded in Cathy’s skull and their then-3-year-old daughter, Sara, with her mother’s body for the duration of the day.

The case became colloquially known as the “Brighton Ax Murder.”

James Krauseneck Pd

“I am proud to be part of the team who found justice for Cathleen Krauseneck 40 years after James Krauseneck took an ax from his garage and used it to strike her head while she was asleep,” said Assistant District Attorney Patrick Gallagher. “It has been one of the great pleasures of my career to get to know Cathy’s family and to be able to help in securing justice for their loved one.”

Cathy’s father, Robert Schlosser, 95, spoke with reporters following the guilty verdict, which came after one and a half days of jury deliberations, according to Rochester's Democrat & Chronicle.

“I’ve got one thing to do,” Mr. Schlosser said. “I’m going to get my daughter’s body removed from the Krauseneck plot and moved back with her mother and brother.”

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Schlosser explained he “wanted to live long enough” to see justice prevail before bringing Cathy’s body back to Michigan.

“My wife passed away four years ago,” he told reporters. “She didn’t make it.”

Monday’s verdict was an emotional one, as both Cathy’s family and the Krausenecks — including Sara Krauseneck, who told police back in 1982 that she saw a “bad man” on the morning of her mother’s murder — were in the courtroom, according to CBS Rochester affiliate WROC-TV.

Sara Krauseneck had taken her father’s side since he was indicted on murder charges back in 2019.

Moments before the guilty verdict was returned, Cathy’s sister, Annett Schlosser, spoke to her estranged niece, with whom she’s had years of no contact.

“I love you more than you’ll ever know,” said Annett, according to the station.

Sara responded by saying, “Thank you.”

“May my family finally be able to heal,” Annett said in an emotional statement outside the courtroom. “This has affected us for 40 years, that we have been dealing with pain and anguish over this man. And we saw him walk away in handcuffs today, and that’s what we wanted.”

The Schlossers expressed their hope that they could one day reconnect with Sara Krauseneck.

The case against James Krauseneck was a circumstantial one, as highlighted by his defense attorney, Michael Wolford, who told the Democrat & Chronicle he was “confident” that the verdict could be reversed.

Even District Attorney Sandra Doorley called it a “great circumstantial case,” according to the Democrat & Chronicle.

Still, prosecutors argued — and a jury agreed — that Krauseneck should be found guilty because no other suspect was implicated in Cathy’s murder.

Krauseneck has long maintained that he left Cathy and their daughter at around 6:30 a.m. and drove to Eastman Kodak, where he worked as an economist.

He told investigators he came home after work to find Cathy dead in their bed and the house in disarray. But prosecutors say the crime scene was only staged to look like a burglary and that items of evidence — including the ax handle — had been wiped clean of fingerprints.

However, nothing concrete ever tied Krauseneck to the murder, and the case went unsolved for years.

In the meantime, convicted murderer and sex offender Ed Laraby — who lived close to the Krauseneck home at the time of the murder — allegedly confessed while in prison to killing Cathy. However, detectives deemed Laraby a “serial confessor” and ruled him out as a suspect when Larry’s claims didn’t match the evidence.

Laraby confessed to killing several people, even some who were still alive, before dying in custody in 2014.

The “Brighton Ax Murder” case was reopened in 2015 after officials with the Monroe County District Attorney’s Office reviewed the case with the Brighton Police Department and the FBI, according to the release sent to Oxygen.com. The county crime lab and renowned medical examiner Dr. Michael Baden also assisted in the investigation.

Much of the murder trial focused on Cathy’s time of death, which was once believed to have taken place between 6:55 a.m. and 8:55 a.m. That had worked in James Krauseneck’s favor, as he reportedly left the Brighton home at 6:30 a.m., according to WROC-TV.

More modern screening tools helped investigators alleged that time of death was before 6:30. Dr. Baden — who has worked on many high-profile cases, including the O.J. Simpson trial and the case of George Floyd — said it was his opinion that Cathy died between 9:00 p.m. the previous evening and 4:00 a.m., hours before Krauseneck left for work.

Attorneys also focused on the theory that Krauseneck killed his wife after she discovered he’d lied about his background. Krauseneck allegedly began working at Eastman Kodak on the pretense that he held a Ph.D., though investigators later learned he hadn’t earned his doctorate.

The defense called that a stretch. 

In the district attorney’s office’s statement to Oxygen.com, Doorley said she and her partners “will never give up” seeking justice for victims.

“Cathleen Krauseneck deserved her day in court,” said Doorley. “I am grateful that we were able to provide this closure for Cathleen and her family.”

James Krauseneck is scheduled to appear before New York State Supreme Court Justice Charles Schiano on Nov. 7 for sentencing.