It was a cold February morning when three-year-old Sara Krauseneck woke up and went in search of her mum, 29-year-old Cathy.
The toddler wandered into the bedroom in the family home in Brighton, a suburb of Rochester, New York. There, Sara discovered her dead mother in bed with an axe lodged in her skull.
Sara bravely dressed herself in several warm layers and waited for her dad to return from work. She was alone with Cathy’s body for hours before James Krauseneck finally arrived home in the late afternoon.
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Sara showed him what she’d found and he was hysterical as he ran to get help from a neighbour, who would later say he could barely speak. The neighbour called 911. “Please come – there’s been, I think, a murder,” she said.
The house was a crime scene. A window had been broken from the outside and the axe, that had been taken from the garage, had been wiped clean of fingerprints. It looked like a burglary had gone horrifically wrong and the case would become known locally as the Brighton Axe Murder. But it would take nearly four decades to solve.
At the time of Cathy’s death on 19 February 1982 she’d been married to Krauseneck, then 30, for eight years. Cathy, a former orthopaedic therapist, was vivacious and likeable.
Her husband taught economics at a college and, after getting a job as an economist at Eastman Kodak in the state of New York, the family moved from Michigan to a two-storey home in the desirable area of Brighton.
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Within six months, full-time mum Cathy had already made friends, who were horrified by her gruesome killing. Cathy died from a single strike to the head from an axe, most likely while she was sleeping.
Krauseneck told police that he’d left for work that day at 6.30am and Cathy was still asleep. When he returned, he said he’d noticed the garage door was open and there was glass on the floor from a broken window.
He found Sara in the house and his wife still had the axe embedded in her head. Sara would only ever be able to say she’d seen a “bad man”.
Police started their investigation but were surprised when the day after Cathy’s death, Krauseneck missed an interview.
They discovered that within 24 hours he’d taken his daughter and had returned to Michigan. Police travelled there to speak to him and he seemed cooperative, but then got a lawyer and was less so. He never returned to live in Brighton.
At first, Cathy’s family defended her husband, but so much about the crime scene didn’t make sense and suspicions grew. The original theory was that it was a robbery, but money and jewellery in plain sight hadn’t been taken.
There was a shoe print on the first floor made by a boating-style shoe.
It was a style that Krauseneck wore, but why would a killer choose that style on such a cold, wintry day?
The killer had allegedly used one type of axe, a maul axe, to break the window, but a different one to kill Cathy, which seemed illogical. Both axes had been taken from the garage.
Why hadn’t the intruder brought his own weapon if he planned to kill and then dispose of it? Why kill a woman in her bed if she
was sleeping? There was no evidence she’d woken up and confronted the intruder. Most damning was that no other traces of DNA
were found in the house.
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The rumours about Krauseneck never went away but, while investigators followed leads, the infamous Brighton Axe Murder case eventually ran cold. Krauseneck would go on to marry three more times.
In 2014, a convicted sex offender who lived near the Krausenecks’ home at the time of the murder died in prison.
Before his death, Edward Laraby, who had murdered music teacher Stephanie Kupchynsky in 1991, wrote a letter saying he’d killed Cathy. But the authorities believed he was lying to negotiate his prison terms in his dying days.
Three years later, author Elizabeth Brundage released her novel, All Things Cease To Appear , loosely based on Cathy’s murder. It would inspire a Netflix film called Things Heard And Seen , where an unhappy young mum, played by Amanda Seyfried, is killed with an axe while her daughter is in the house. The husband, played by James Norton, leaves shortly after under a cloud of suspicion.
Police didn’t give up hope that Cathy’s family would get answers. In 2015, they reviewed the case with updated DNA technology – and still, there was no other physical evidence to suggest anyone else was in the house the day Cathy was killed.
Arrested at last
While there was no new proof that Krauseneck had murdered his wife, everything pointed to the fact that no one else could have been there.
In 2019, 37 years after Cathy’s death, Krauseneck was arrested at his holiday home in Arizona and charged with her murder. He was released on bail and surrendered his passport. Sara stood by him as he pleaded not guilty.
After delays due to the pandemic, the case finally came to trial in 2022. The defence said there was no new evidence to convict Krauseneck and if he had been guilty, he would have been arrested at the time.
They reminded the jury of Laraby’s confession – he was never investigated at the time despite living minutes from the scene – but the prosecution said his confession was rife with errors.
Experts for prosecution presented evidence to show Cathy’s murder was committed before Krauseneck had gone to work. At the time, the killing was placed between 6.55am and 8.55am but a review of Cathy’s body temperature, her stomach contents and rigor mortis moved the time of death to as early as 3am – before Krauseneck left.
He’d then had time to stage the scene and leave his daughter with the body of her mum, knowing he wouldn’t return for hours.
When it came to a motive, prosecutors said Krauseneck had lied about his credentials to get his teaching job and the role in Rochester. His employer had put pressure on him to prove his qualification and it was making Krauseneck irritable at home. There was a leaflet for marriage therapy found in the couple’s car.
Witnesses at the time said that Krauseneck hadn’t wanted to move to Rochester and they were not surprised he had returned to Michigan within a day of Cathy’s death.
In September 2022, the jury found Krauseneck, now 70, guilty of second-degree murder. At the sentencing this year, his daughter insisted he was a loving man, who’d never shown signs of a temper and that it was “absolutely inconceivable” that he could have killed Cathy.
Cathy’s dad, Robert Schlosser, 95, said he knew his former son- in-law was guilty, adding, “Jim, I hope you live for 100 years and enjoy your new home.”
Krauseneck maintained his innocence, saying, “I miss Cathy so much.”
The judge sentenced Krauseneck to the maximum 25 years to life in prison and said that although he sometimes has sleepless nights questioning the innocence or guilt of convicted individuals, “I lost no sleep over the verdict”. He called Cathy’s murder “heinous, brutal and unimaginable”.
One swing of an axe had ended Cathy’s life, but it had taken almost 40 years to finally prove the identity of the Brighton Axe Murderer.
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