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Trial Begins For Upstate New York Man Accused Of Wife’s 1982 Ax Murder

Prosecutors say James Krauseneck murdered his wife, Cathy Krauseneck, early in the morning and left their 3-year-old daughter alone with her body while he went to work. 

By Jax Miller
Husbands Who Killed Their Wives

The trial for a former economist accused of murdering his wife with an ax more than 40 years ago has started.

Jury selection began Monday for the murder trial of James Krauseneck, the upstate New York man accused of being behind the “Brighton Ax Murder,” according to ABC Rochester affiliate WHAM-TV. The trial, which is expected to last up to a month, revolves around the murder of Krauseneck’s wife, Cathleen "Cathy" Krauseneck, 29, who was found dead in their Brighton home on Feb. 19, 1982.

Krauseneck maintains that he found Cathy dead in the couple’s bedroom after he returned home from work, with a long-handled ax still lodged in her skull. She died as a result of that single blow, and it was believed she was asleep when the attack occurred.

The couple’s then-3-year-old daughter was also at the home in the Rochester suburbs, though she was physically unharmed. At the time, she allegedly told police she saw a “bad man.”

At a pre-trial session on Friday, state Supreme Court Justice Charles Schiano barred the now-adult daughter, Sara Krauseneck, from attending the trial, according to WHAM-TV, as she may be called to testify on behalf of the defense.

Sara continues to stand by her father despite the allegations, according to the Democrat & Chronicle.

James Krauseneck Pd

Krauseneck has long denied having a role in his wife’s death, but was indicted in 2019 on charges of second-degree murder. According to the Democrat & Chronicle, investigators could find no forensic evidence that tied anyone else to Cathy’s murder.

He was extradited from Arizona to New York to face charges, according to AZ Central. The trial was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

James maintains he left to go to work at Eastman Kodak at around 6:30 a.m. on Feb. 19, 1982, leaving Cathy and Sara at home. He said he'd discovered his wife's body after returning from his job.

But prosecutors allege that he actually murdered Cathy before leaving for work and then staged the home to make it look like she was killed as part of a burglary, according to the Democrat & Chronicle. A window was broken, though money and valuables reportedly in plain sight had been left behind, per AZ Central. The ax handle and other items in the home had been wiped clean of fingerprints.

The prosecution — as well as Cathy Krauseneck’s family — believe James decided to kill his wife of eight years after she allegedly caught him in a lie: He'd reportedly told both his employers and Cathy that he'd earned his doctorate, according to the ABC affiliate.

Krauseneck had not completed his Ph.D., and denied his educational background was the source of problems between the couple, according to the Rochester paper.

James Krauseneck’s defense tried to have the murder charges dismissed in 2021, noting that many of the case’s witnesses and investigators had died throughout the years.

However, Judge Schiano dismissed that concern and argued it might instead be good for Krauseneck’s case: His now-deceased co-workers, for instance, had said the man appeared totally normal between when Cathy was murdered and when her body was discovered.

Lawyers for Krauseneck also noted in their motion to dismiss that convicted killer and sex offender, Ed Laraby — now deceased — had lived near the couple at the time of Cathy's murder, according to the Democrat & Chronicle, and even confessed to killing her while in prison.

Though the the details of his story did not match the evidence in the case and state police contend he was a serial confessor — having even admitted to killing people who were, in fact, still living — the judge will permit Laraby's statements to be entered into the trial. 

Laraby died in prison in 2014 after confessing to a separate murder.

The gruesome events were the basis for Netflix’s 2021 horror film “Things Heard & Seen,” starring Amanda Seyfried and Natalia Dyer, according to the New York Post.

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