We are now more than 40 years after Cathleen "Cathy" Krauseneck was discovered in the bed of her Brighton home dead from an ax blow to the head. Known locally as the "Brighton ax murder," her husband, James Krauseneck Jr., is now on trial, accused of murdering Cathleen.
Closing arguments could be this week in the trial, followed by jury deliberations and, unless no consensus among jurors is possible, a verdict.
How did we get here, four decades after the crime? Here are some of the questions commonly asked about the homicide, the subsequent investigations, and the current trial.
Was James Krauseneck an early suspect in the crime?
Krauseneck, now 70, was not publicly identified as a suspect early on, and he did give a statement to police about his whereabouts the day of the homicide.
He and his daughter, Sara, left Rochester shortly after the killing, returning to family in Michigan. The quick exodus from Rochester has been interpreted by some as signs of guilt. However, the Krauseneck family had only lived in Rochester for months, and both had family in Michigan. Brighton police did travel to Michigan to re-interview Krauseneck. He did speak with police there, and did retain a lawyer, Michael Wolford, who is part of Krauseneck's current defense team.
Police have said Krauseneck became hesitant to speak once he left the area, but it is not unusual for individuals, if they think they are being targeted by police as suspects in a crime, to be wary to speak to law enforcement.
He also provided hair and saliva samples in 1982.
Did Sara witness the crime?
Sara was 3½ when her mother was murdered, and was in the house throughout the day. She did tell police she thought a man was in the bed of her parents, but it's believed she could not recognize her mother because of the grisly scene. There is no indication she saw the homicide. She was unable to provide other information of consequence. Through the years, she has been supportive of her father, and has been attending the trial.
Why was James Krauseneck charged now?
This is a question that has been part of the foundation of Krauseneck's defense — a claim that there is no new evidence that connects him with the homicide, so there was no more reason to criminally charge him now than there has been in the past four decades. Krauseneck was indicted by a grand jury in late 2019. The pandemic and subsequent pretrial arguments delayed the trial until now.
To answer why now, it's worth looking at the recent history of the investigation into the cold case, because some of the answers lie within a restart of the investigation.
Was the investigation recently resumed, and why?
Brighton police will say the investigation was never closed, but it had, before 2015, been somewhat dormant. If leads came, they were pursued, but leads became less common as the years passed.
In 2015, then Brighton Chief Mark Henderson decided the case should be presented to a new local law enforcement collaborative that included the FBI. The collaborative focused on cold cases, and utilized the FBI resources.
Physical evidence from the scene — there had been signs of a burglary (more on that later) — was sent to the FBI lab, and the FBI digitized the voluminous police files, so they could be easily searched. The FBI lab, however, was backed up, and some of the evidence ended up being analyzed at the Monroe County Crime Laboratory as well as at the FBI laboratory.
Did the forensics evidence implicate James Krauseneck?
It depends on whom you ask. The defense contends it did not, and there were no forensics connections to Krauseneck that would not be expected in the home where he lived. Prosecutors say that the lack of evidence implicating someone else is, in itself, some proof of Krauseneck's guilt. This is one reason they decided to present the allegations against James Krauseneck to a grand jury in 2019, a move that led to the indictment on a charge of second-degree murder.
Prosecutors and police maintain that they were not myopically focused on Krauseneck and the attempts to forensically re-examine the evidence was as much to find proof of other possible suspects as it was to narrow the choices to Krauseneck.
Was the home burglarized?
Again, there are varying opinions here. Police say an apparent burglary scene at the home looked staged, with silver and jewelry too neatly arranged on the first floor as if left behind by the burglar. There also appeared to be nothing stolen.
"Upstairs and downstairs, money and jewelry lay in plain sight," wrote reporter Laurie Bennett in a 1991 Detroit News article about the crime. "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."
What were the determinations of when Cathy Krauseneck was murdered?
This is an integral part of the case. The medical examiner, now deceased, decided in 1982 that the window for the killing was from 4:30 a.m. to 7:30 a.m., with a possible two hours outside that window. This is key, because James Krauseneck left for his job at Eastman Kodak Co. at 6:30 a.m. and has a firm alibi thereafter.
Well known forensics pathologist Dr. Michael Baden has testified for the prosecution, setting a time more firmly before 6:30 a.m. The defense responded with its own expert, saying that the science has not greatly changed since the 1982 analysis and that it would be wrong to eliminate times after 6:30 a.m.
What is the story behind the Ph.D. and why does it matter?
Krauseneck did not complete his doctorate in college — his dissertation was not accepted and some work was requested for its completion — but he went onto a teaching job at Lynchburg (Virginia) College and then Eastman Kodak Co. in Rochester as an economist, partly relying on claims that he did have his doctoral degree.
Before Cathleen's death, Kodak officials had learned of his failure to complete his doctorate. Prosecutors portray this as a likely agitation for the couple, and note there was a pamphlet for marriage counseling in the family car.
Defense lawyers say it's quite a stretch to think this issue could prompt a murder, and that the pamphlet advertised other services as well as marriage counseling.
Have there been other suspects?
Through the years, police have eyed other possible suspects, eliminating them. The defense argues that police ignored a very likely suspect, a sadistic criminal, Edward Laraby, who was convicted of multiple sexual assaults and lived minutes from the Krausenecks in 1982.
Before dying in prison in 2014, Laraby made admissions to multiple crimes. Police believe he did kill Stephanie Kupchynsky, a Greece music teacher murdered in 1991. His details to that crime were specific and included facts that could only have been known to the killer. The other crimes he alleged to have committed were attempts to secure medical treatment outside of prison, police say, and were vastly off on details.
The defense says that Brighton police were alerted to Laraby in 1982 and did very little if anything to determine his whereabouts the morning of the murder. His details were likely askew in his confession because of the passage of time and his deteriorating health, defense lawyers say.
Is this trial receiving notice beyond Rochester?
Yes. Producers for both "Dateline" and "48 Hours" have been attending the trial.
Also monitoring the trial is Laurie Bennett. Bennett covered the case in the 1980s, as a court reporter for the Rochester Times-Union, and later for the Detroit News. (That's where the mention earlier in this story originates.) She's working on a book with Nancy Monaghan, who covered courts for the Democrat and Chronicle and went on to become a managing editor at USA Today.
The criminal case was also the foundation of a suspense novel, "All Things Cease to Appear" from author Elizabeth Brundage. And that book became the cornerstone of a Netflix film, "Things Heard & Seen."
Also, this year, author Rachel Rear's book, "Catch the Sparrow: A Search for a Sister and the Truth of Her Murder," focused on her investigation into the death of her stepsister, Stephanie Kupchynsky. Laraby is a central figure in the book, which also touches on the Brighton ax killing and Laraby's claims to have been the murderer.
Contact Gary Craig at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @gcraig1.
This article originally appeared on Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Brighton ax murder trial nearing end: What do we now know?