BRIGHTON, N.Y. — Sara Krauseneck was 3 years old the day her mother was found dead with an ax blade embedded in her skull.
Now 41, Sara Krauseneck stood by her father’s side Friday as he walked into an upstate New York courtroom to face charges that he killed Cathleen Schlosser Krauseneck and left their then-toddler daughter to spend the day alone with her mother’s dead body.
James Krauseneck Jr., 67, of Peoria, Arizona, is charged with second-degree murder in Cathleen Krauseneck's Feb. 19, 1982, slaying. The 29-year-old wife and mother was found slain in the bedroom of the couple's Brighton, New York, home.
Cathleen Krauseneck's sister, Annet Schlosser, told MSN via phone on Friday that the charges against her former brother-in-law were long-awaited by her family.
"My family will see justice for Cathy, we hope," Schlosser said. "We still have a way to go yet with the trial, but this is a huge step forward."
James Krauseneck pleaded not guilty during his arraignment Friday. He was released on $100,000 bail and was ordered to surrender his passport.
"This is one of the worst outcomes of domestic violence that this agency has investigated," Brighton Police Chief David Catholdi said at a news conference Tuesday morning. "And this was domestic violence."
Catholdi was surrounded by local, state and federal law enforcement officers, both active and retired, who worked on the 37-year-old homicide case.
“Hundreds, if not thousands, of investigative hours went into this case over the last few decades,” Catholdi said.
Ultimately, it was the assistance of renowned forensic pathologist Dr. Michael Baden that led to the murder charge against James Krauseneck, who claimed he was at work when his wife was killed.
Baden conducted a thorough review of the timeline of Cathleen Krauseneck’s death, the police chief said.
"We believe in examining the timeline of events, speaking with witnesses and James' timeline -- that he provided -- along with all other evidence, we will establish that James Krauseneck Jr. was home at the time of the murder," Catholdi said.
Baden, who briefly served as chief medical examiner for the City of New York in the late 1970s, chaired the forensic pathology panel of the House Select Committee on Assassinations, which probed both the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the 1968 assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
In the decades since then, he has testified in numerous high-profile cases -- often for the defense -- including the murder trials of former football great O.J. Simpson and record producer Phil Spector.
Now a private forensic pathologist, Baden most recently spurred controversy for disputing the official claim that disgraced financier and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein hanged himself in his jail cell Aug. 10. Baden said multiple broken bones in Epstein’s neck pointed instead to manual strangulation.
Jeremy Bell, a special agent with the FBI, said he hopes Friday’s charge against James Krauseneck brings some closure to the victim’s family, but also that it puts other suspected criminals on edge.
"I hope it puts criminals everywhere on notice: Just because the years go by doesn't mean you can stop looking over your shoulder," Bell said. "We're coming."
Monroe County District Attorney Sandra Doorley thanked the Brighton officers in a Facebook statement for never giving up on solving the Krauseneck case.
"I want to thank the Brighton Police Department, who has worked with the Monroe County District Attorney's Office since 1982, for never giving up on finding justice for Cathleen Krauseneck," Doorley wrote. "We look forward to bringing this case through the criminal justice system and finally bringing justice to Cathleen, her friends and family."
A shocking crime
Catholdi said police officers responded to the Krauseneck home at 33 Del Rio Drive in Brighton around 5 p.m. Feb. 19, 1982, after a neighbor called 911. The officers were ultimately led into the master bedroom of the family’s home, where they found a grisly scene.
Cathleen Krauseneck was dead, the victim of a single blow to the head with an ax.
The blade of the wood-cutting tool, which was taken from the couple’s unlocked garage, was still embedded in her forehead.
The handle of the ax had been wiped clean, testing would later show.
“What followed was an extensive investigation that led Brighton police officers, Brighton investigators and Brighton chiefs of police across the United States to Mount Clemens, Michigan; Fort Collins, Colorado; Lynchburg, Virginia; Gig Harbor, Washington; and Houston, Texas,” Catholdi said.
The Democrat & Chronicle in Rochester reported that James Krauseneck told police he found his wife dead when he came home from his job as an economist at Eastman Kodak Co.
At the time, Cathleen Krauseneck's estimated time of death could not be pinpointed to before or after 6:30 a.m., when James Krauseneck said he left for work. Krauseneck said his wife was asleep, but alive, when he left their home that morning, the Democrat & Chronicle reported.
Investigators, who found a window broken from the outside, initially theorized that Cathleen Krauseneck was killed during a botched burglary, but nothing was reported stolen from the home. Along with the ax, a maul used for splitting wood was taken from the garage and, investigators theorized, was used to smash the window.
Their investigation shifted, however, to the possibility of a domestic situation that turned deadly.
The couple had been married since 1974, Catholdi said Tuesday. The News Tribune in Tacoma, Washington, reported that the couple attended high school together but began dating as students at Western Michigan University.
According to Cathleen Krauseneck's family, the couple lived in Colorado and Virginia before settling in their home in Brighton, the News Tribune reported.
The victim's family told the newspaper the couple began having problems in Brighton after James Krauseneck, then 30 years old, was accused at work of lying about having earned a doctorate. He also reportedly told administrators at Lynchburg College, where he was an assistant professor of economics, that he had a doctorate, the Democrat & Chronicle reported in 2016.
Cathleen Krauseneck had confronted her husband about the alleged lies, her family told authorities.
Neighbors and friends also indicated there may have been domestic abuse in the couple’s relationship, according to police officials.
The Democrat & Chronicle reported in 2017, when the former Krauseneck home went on the market, that Cathleen Krauseneck was not the first resident of the house to die there. In 1977, five years before the killing, homeowners Dr. Anthony Schifino and his wife, Estelle, died of carbon monoxide poisoning.
The newspaper reported that the couple accidentally left their car running in the garage.
Authorities said James Krauseneck participated in a police interview the night his wife was found dead but failed to show up for a follow-up interview the next day. Investigators learned he had taken his daughter and moved to his Michigan hometown of Mount Clemens.
Investigators went to Michigan to speak to James Krauseneck. The News Tribune reported that, although he agreed to have a child psychologist talk to his young daughter about what she may have witnessed, that appointment never took place.
According to the Press & Sun-Bulletin in Binghamton, New York, Sara Krauseneck initially told police she saw a “bad man” in the room with her mother and said the man had a hammer. She was not allowed to speak to authorities again, however.
James Krauseneck also stopped cooperating with police, as did his family, authorities said.
"They're all reluctant to offer information," a Brighton detective told The Macomb Daily in a 1985 article, according to the News Tribune. "It's like Cathleen was murdered, taken off the face of the Earth, and no one wants to help."
James Krauseneck later moved to Gig Harbor, just outside of Tacoma. Investigators from Brighton spoke to him there in April 2016, the News Tribune reported.
He retained attorneys in both Washington and New York at that time.
Two days after detectives left Washington, James Krauseneck and his wife -- his fourth at that point -- put their home up for sale, the newspaper reported. The couple moved to Arizona after he retired as vice-president from what his attorneys described in a statement as a Fortune 500 company.
James Krauseneck’s wife, Sharon Krauseneck, was also in court with him Friday.
Watch the entire Brighton Police Department news conference below.
‘Not a proverbial smoking gun’
Retired Brighton Police Chief Mark Henderson began taking a fresh look at the Krauseneck homicide case in 2015, Catholdi said Tuesday. Agents with the FBI's Cold Case Working Group digitized the boxes of handwritten case notes and other evidence.
"In 1982, there were not computers," Henderson said Tuesday. "Our files, our paperwork was not digitized. One of the first things that the FBI did was to convert everything from handwritten paper to digital, searchable files."
Investigators had a theory, an “idea which way to go,” Henderson said. They met with Doorley, the district attorney, whose own investigators began looking into the case.
"This path was over a number of years," Henderson said. "When I heard that there was an arrest made, an indictment that was going to be unsealed on Friday, I knew that it would lead to the husband of the individual."
No one piece of evidence has led investigators to charge James Krauseneck, Catholdi said.
“I understand people want a singular piece of evidence that can directly point to James Krauseneck Jr.,” Catholdi said. “This is not one of those cases.”
The chief said the “totality of the circumstances,” along with the evidence and the timeline of events led to James Krauseneck’s arrest. FBI testing showed no DNA from anyone but James Krauseneck on any of the evidence gathered 37 years ago.
"DNA, fingerprints, or the lack thereof, can speak volumes," Catholdi said. "James lived at 33 Del Rio Drive, and one would suspect his DNA would be in his house.
“It is telling no other physical evidence at the scene, to include DNA, points to anyone other than James Krauseneck Jr.”
Catholdi said Baden’s timeline will be crucial to the case when it comes up for trial.
“There’s not a proverbial smoking gun,” he said. “What really cinched the case was the fresh look at it.”
James Krauseneck’s attorneys, Michael Wolford and William Easton, dispute there is any evidence linking their client to Cathleen Krauseneck’s murder.
“Jim’s innocence was clear 37 years ago. It’s clear today,” the attorneys said in a written statement. “At the end of the case, I have no doubt Jim will be vindicated.”
Wolford and Easton said James Krauseneck was cooperative with the investigation, “repeatedly giving statements to the police, consenting to the search of his home and his car.”
Wolford, who represented Krauseneck at the time of the killing, said he placed “reasonable conditions” on further questioning once he realized his client was the target of the investigation.
William Gargan, who heads the domestic violence unit for the Monroe County District Attorney’s Office, countered the attorneys’ claims that their client cooperated with police.
"I think the word 'cooperation' may have a different meaning for Mr. Wolford than it does for me and the Brighton Police Department," Gargan said Tuesday.
Gargan also disputed Wolford and Easton’s description of the prosecution, which they called “misguided” in their written statement.
"I can tell you that there has been only one thing that DA Doorley, the Brighton Police Department and the town of Brighton have sought to do. And that is to seek the truth, wherever the facts, wherever the evidence may lead them," Gargan said.
‘To have her die like that is so unfair’
Catholdi said Tuesday that following James Krauseneck’s arraignment, he, Henderson and other members of the investigative team called the victim’s family to tell them of the arrest.
“They were grateful for our efforts and plan to attend the upcoming trial next year,” Catholdi said.
Catholdi closed his comments with a statement that now-deceased Brighton Police Chief Eugene Shaw made to a newspaper in February 1983, days before the first anniversary of Cathleen Krauseneck’s death.
“I’m not known to be a pessimist, so I’d say optimistically, hopefully, yes,” Shaw said when asked if the case would end in a successful prosecution.
Catholdi expressed his own optimism about the outcome of a trial, which is tentatively slated for next summer.
"Please know that the police across this region will never forget our victims," Catholdi said. "These cases stay with us forever.
“We know we are the only ones able to speak for victims. We will investigate cases like this as long as it takes, and we will use all of our investigative abilities to bring justice for victims and their families.”
Henderson said Tuesday that the crime had a significant impact on the community, the Police Department and Shaw, who was never able to forget the unsolved case.
“I know that the inability to bring this case forward really weighed heavily on Chief Shaw,” Henderson said.
Henderson said he did not “reopen” the case in 2015 because it was never closed. Tips and prospective leads came in through the years and each was investigated, he said.
In 2015, an FBI agent approached investigators about the FBI’s Cold Case Working Group, offering its services on any unsolved cases the department might have, Henderson said. Henderson said the department decided to start from “ground zero” on the case, working in conjunction with the FBI group.
The retired chief said he met with the Schlosser family in 2015 at their home in Michigan.
"I talked about the commitment that the town of Brighton was going to make to a fresh look at this case," Henderson said.
He and Brighton police Detective Mark Liberatore, the lead investigator on the case, sat across the dining room table from Cathleen Krauseneck’s parents, Robert and Theresa Schlosser. Theresa Schlosser has since died but Robert Schlosser, now 92, has lived to see an arrest made in his daughter’s killing.
"I assured them that we would be looking at this case, that we would commit every resource that we had in 2015 and 2016 … and that justice would be served for their daughter Cathleen," Henderson said.
Annet Schlosser watched the news conference Tuesday from her home in Warren, Michigan. She told the Press & Sun-Bulletin that her family initially thought James Krauseneck incapable of killing her older sister. His lack of cooperation with investigators made them think twice.
"Why would a man ... not try to seek justice for his wife?" Schlosser said. "That never made sense to us.
“It’s been 37 years. I would say that it was at least 20 years ago that we started to think he did it.”
Schlosser told the newspaper James Krauseneck turned her niece against the Schlosser family, whose members have gone years without seeing Sara Krauseneck -- or her two children.
“They’re no longer part of our life, and that’s devastating to us,” she said.
In 2016, Schlosser described her sister for the Democrat & Chronicle as her best friend, despite a 10-year age difference.
"She was the most genuine, intelligent, loving person," Schlosser said. "There isn't a bad word that you can think about when describing my sister, and to have her die like that is so unfair."
Cox Media Group