The Brighton ax murder: A timeline of the 40-year-old cold case

FAN Editor

In the winter of 1982 in Rochester, New York, Jim Krauseneck says he came home from work to find his wife, Cathleen Krauseneck, lying in bed, dead with an ax lodged in her head. For over 30 years, no one was charged with Cathy’s murder, until the Brighton Police Department collaborated with the FBI to reopen the case in 2015 with their sights set on Krauseneck as the primary suspect.

The ax used to murder Cathy Krauseneck
The ax used to murder Cathy Krauseneck.  CBS News

The unsolved murder of Cathy Krauseneck ended with the conviction of her husband in 2022. But Jim Krauseneck and his supporters argue the jury got it wrong.

1966-1974: The early years
Krauseneck carpet store
Jim Krauseneck’s family owned a successful carpet store in Mount Clemens, Michigan. USA Today/IMAGN

Jim and Cathy Krauseneck grew up in the small town of Mount Clemens, Michigan. Jim’s family owned a carpet store; Cathy’s father was a truck driver. They met each other in high school and started dating while attending Western Michigan University.

May 3, 1974: Jim Krauseneck and Cathy Schlosser wed
Jim and Cathy Krauseneck
Jim and Cathy Krauseneck cutting the cake on their wedding day. Annet Schlosser

Soon after marrying, the young couple moved to Fort Collins, Colorado, where Jim attended graduate school at Colorado State University. Cathy worked as an orthopedic therapist.

April 1978: Cathy gave birth to a baby girl, Sara
1979 to 1981: Jim taught at Lynchburg College

The Krauseneck’s moved to Lynchburg, Virginia, where Jim taught economics at Lynchburg College. 

September 1981: New job, new city
Jim, Cathy and Sara Krauseneck
Jim, Cathy and Sara Krauseneck Annet Schlosser

Jim, Cathy and then 3-year-old Sara moved to Brighton, an upscale suburb of Rochester, New York. Jim started a new job as an economist for Kodak.

Feb. 16, 1982: Background check
Kodak Building Rochester, NY
Modern day photo of Kodak’s headquarters in Rochester, New York.    CBS News

Kodak reportedly discovered Jim Krauseneck did not complete his Ph.D. from Colorado State University.

Feb. 19, 1982 | Around 6:30 a.m.: Jim Krauseneck told investigators he left for work
Feb. 19, 1982 | 4:50 p.m.: Jim Krauseneck returns home
Krauseneck crime scene evidence
Evidence photo of the broken glass on the Krauseneck’s front door (lower right pane) and maul, a type of ax, on the ground. Monroe County District Attorney’s Office

Jim Krauseneck told investigators he returned home after work. He said he found the garage door open and saw broken glass on the floor by the front door along with a maul.

Jim said he then ran upstairs to the master bedroom where he found Cathy in bed with an ax embedded in her head. Sara was unharmed in the next bedroom. 

Feb. 19, 1982 | Around 5 p.m.: Jim Krauseneck runs to his neighbor’s home
Krauseneck crime scene evidence
Evidence photo of the ax handle. Monroe County District Attorney’s Office

Jim Krauseneck’s neighbor told investigators Krauseneck came to her door “clutching Sara in his arms” with the “look of terror on his face.” The neighbor called 911, frantically telling the operator she believes a murder occurred across the street.

Feb. 19, 1982 | Around  5:03 p.m.: Authorities start arriving at the scene
Krauseneck crime scene evidence
Valuables, including a silver tea set, were scattered across the floor in the Krauseneck family’s home.  Monroe County District Attorney’s Office

Although police were unable to find significant forensic clues like fingerprints, they did find what they say was evidence of a staged burglary. There were valuable items scattered across the dining room floor, including Cathy’s purse and a tea set. 

Investigators say nothing was taken and both the ax and the maul belonged to the Krausenecks.  

Believing a burglary could have been staged to cover up Cathy’s murder, investigators began to focus on Jim Krauseneck. 

Feb. 19, 1982: The crime scene
Krauseneck murder evidence
A shoe print (circled) was discovered inside a trash bag found at the crime scene. Monroe County District Attorney

Detectives discovered a faint shoe print inside a trash bag near the silver tea set.

Feb. 19, 1982 | Later in the evening: Brighton Police Det. Bill Flood interviews Sara Krauseneck
Sara Krauseneck, left, and Det. Bill Flood.
Sara Krauseneck, left, and Det. Bill Flood. Annet Schlosser/Bill Flood

Sara, 3-and-a-half years old, mentioned seeing a “bad man,” but she first said the man had a hammer in his head. Then she said an ax. She also described the man’s face as “many colors.” Detective Flood believed Sara was not seeing a “man” at all… but rather her dead mother, covered in blood.

Feb. 20, 1982:  Cathy’s autopsy is conducted and Jim heads to Michigan
Jim Krauseneck
Jim Krauseneck USA Today/Imagn

Jim Krauseneck spoke to investigators again and agreed to another meeting with investigators in the afternoon. But when the time came, Jim and Sara had left to be with family in Michigan.

Meanwhile, the medical examiner concluded Cathy Krauseneck’s cause of death was from the ax wound to the head.

During the autopsy, the medical examiner reportedly found no evidence of sexual assault and narrowed Cathy’s time of death somewhere between 4:30 a.m and 7:30 a.m. Authorities could not prove Jim Krauseneck had been home at the time she died.

With no direct evidence against Jim Krauseneck nor any clear motive, the case went cold for decades.

Jim and Sara Krauseneck moved out west. He would briefly wed twice more before marrying his current wife Sharon.

1997: Jim Krauseneck meets his current wife, Sharon
Jim and Sharon Krauseneck
Jim Krauseneck married Sharon James in 1999. Sharon Krauseneck

While at a trade show, Krauseneck runs into Sharon James, an old friend. The two date for the next two years and marry in 1999.

2014:  A Rochester career criminal “confesses” to Cathy’s murder
Edward Laraby mugshot
Edward Laraby Monroe County District Attorney’s Office

Before dying from ALS, Edward Laraby, a career criminal who had been locked up on charges of attempted murder, robbery and sexual abuse, wrote a confession claiming he killed Cathy Krauseneck. Authorities said Laraby’s confession was riddled with errors that didn’t match up to the facts of the case. Laraby mischaracterized Cathy as a brunette and heavy set. He said he sexually assaulted her and then killed her. But investigators at the scene found no evidence of sexual abuse. Due to these inconsistencies, prosecutors and authorities do not take action.

2015: The case is reopened and the FBI gets involved

In April 2015, at the direction of former Brighton Police Chief Mark Henderson, a thorough review of the case, including travel to interview potential witnesses, persons with knowledge and suspects, was to be conducted.

In June 2015, then-Police Chief Henderson and then-Captain Catholdi attended a meeting of the FBI Buffalo Cold Case Group and presented the Krauseneck case to the group. After a Q & A period in which several ideas on how to proceed were discussed, the entire case file was given to the FBI to be digitized.

Chief Henderson contacted Cathy Krauseneck’s family to let them know the new status of the case.

April 2016:  Investigators interview Jim Krauseneck again
Jim Krauseneck
Jim Krauseneck Sharon Krauseneck

Brighton, N.Y., investigators Mark Liberatore and Steven Hunt pay Jim Krauseneck a surprise visit at his home in Gig Harbor, Washington, for an interview. During the interview, Det. Liberatore asks Krauseneck outright if he had something to do with his wife’s death. After Krauseneck told him he didn’t kill Cathy, Liberatore said he disagreed and thinks he did do it.

2018: Authorities contact pathologist Dr. Michael Baden
Dr. Baden at press conference related to private autopsy of Jeffery Epstein
In 2018, prosecutors turned to forensic pathologist Dr. Michael Baden, who has been hired to work on a “who’s who” of whodunit cases, from the assassination of JFK to the reported suicide of disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein, often raising eyebrows and generating controversy.   AP Newsroom

Seeking another opinion on when Cathy Krauseneck could have been killed, the Brighton Police Department and the Monroe County District Attorney’s office asked pathologist and former New York Chief Medical Examiner Michael Baden to review the evidence.

October 2019: Dr. Baden reports his findings
Dr. Baden’s report. CBS News

After reviewing the Monroe County autopsy, toxicology reports, the scene, autopsy photographs and police reports, Dr. Baden stated that it appeared that Cathy died around 3:30 a.m. Prosecutors believe that means Jim Krauseneck would have been home during the time Cathy was killed.

November 2019: Jim Krauseneck indicted and arrested
Jim Krauseneck mugshot
Jim Krauseneck was indicted on Nov. 1, 2019. He voluntarily surrendered to authorities a week later. Monroe County Sheriff’s Office

The grand jury indictment was signed on Nov. 1 and a week later Krauseneck surrendered to authorities at the Hall of Justice in Rochester, NY. The then-67-year-old pleaded not guilty.

Sept. 6, 2022: The trial begins
Jim Krauseneck at trial
In September 2022, Jim Krauseneck was tried for the 1982 murder of his first wife, Cathy. Shawn Dowd/Pool

Forty years after Cathy Krauseneck was killed in her sleep, her husband Jim Krauseneck stands trial for her murder. Monroe County District Attorney Sandra Doorley insists she has “absolutely no doubt that Jim Krauseneck killed Cathy that day.” Defense attorney Bill Easton says his client is innocent and told “48 Hours,” “There really is no evidence that Jim Krauseneck killed his wife.”    

September 2022: Expert shoe witness called to the stand
Krauseneck crime scene evidence
A crime scene photo shows a pair of boat shoes, like her husband was known to wear, by her Cathy Krauseneck’s bed. The shows were never tested. Forty years later, detectives believe the faint shoe print in that garbage bag was made by those boat shoes.   Monroe County District Attorney’s Office

Prosecutors called an expert witness who testified the footprint found inside the trash bag was from a special footwear – a boat shoe. A pair was captured in one of the 1982 crime scene photographs of the bedroom. But the shoes Krauseneck wore back then were not tested to see if they were a match. Jim Krauseneck’s lawyers say investigators have the wrong theory and the wrong man.

Sept. 22, 2022: Closing arguments
Sara and Jim Krauseneck
Jim Krauseneck’s daughter Sara gives her father a hug in court. Shawn Dowd/Pool

The morning after closing arguments are heard, the court hands the case to the jury, who will determine whether Jim Krauseneck is guilty or not guilty of Cathy’s murder. The jurors’ decision will also affect the futures of his wife Sharon and his daughter Sara, who was 3-and-a-half years old when her mother was killed. Sara, now 44, attended the trial to support her father.

Sept. 26, 2022: A verdict
Jim Krauseneck trial
James Krauseneck is led away in handcuffs after he was found guilty for the 1982 murder of Cathy Krauseneck in Brighton, New York. Jamie Germano

A jury finds Jim Krauseneck guilty of second-degree murder of his first wife Cathy. Deputies immediately take him into custody.

Nov. 7, 2022: Jim Krauseneck sentenced
Jim Krauseneck sentencing
Sara and Jim Krauseneck read their statements in court ahead of Jim’s sentencing. Shawn Dowd/Pool

During sentencing, Sara, the girl left in the house at the time of her mother’s murder, read a statement in which she expressed her disappointment in the verdict.  

“My mother’s killer got away with her murder, and my father’s life has been taken by a failed justice system that convicted him of a crime he did not commit,” she said.

In his statement before sentencing, Jim Krauseneck, 71, spoke to the court for the first time. Krauseneck read a note in which he reaffirmed his love for Cathy and his innocence. 

“In closing, I did not murder Cathy. I love Cathy. With all my heart and with all my soul,” he said.

The judge sentenced Krauseneck to 25 years in prison.

November 2022: Jim Krauseneck plans to appeal

While Krauseneck was found guilty by a jury, his supporters, including his daughter Sara, his wife Sharon, and his immediate family are still sure of his innocence and convinced that he was convicted of a crime he did not commit. 

In her statement at court, Sharon Krauseneck said they plan to appeal the jury’s guilty verdict “so that justice can truly and honestly be served.”

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