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Former Professor Convicted in 1982 Murder of Wife Who Died from a ‘Strike in the Head with an Ax While She Slept’ 

James Krauseneck convicted of Brighton Ax Murder

James Krauseneck pictured in court.

A 70-year-old man in Upstate New York was convicted Monday in the 1982 slaying of his wife, who died from a single blow to the head from an ax while she slept, prosecutors announced.

A Monroe County jury found James Krauseneck Jr. guilty on one count of second-degree murder in the death of 29-year-old Cathleen Krauseneck.

As previously reported by Law&Crime, authorities alleged that Krauseneck “drove an ax into [Cathleen’s] head while she slept.” He then allegedly left for work, leaving the couple’s then-3-year-old daughter, Sara Krauseneck, alone in the house with the corpse.

According to a press release from Monroe County District Attorney Sandra Doorley, officers with the Brighton Police Department on Feb. 19, 1982 responded to a 911 call at a home located on Del Rio Drive. Upon entering the home, police located Cathleen’s lifeless body lying in the bed she shared with her husband.

“Cathleen was killed from a strike in the head with an ax while she slept,” the release states.

Krauseneck home

Krauseneck home, Image via WROC screengrab

The couple had reportedly moved into the home approximately six months at the time of Cathleen’s death. They had reportedly been fighting over Cathleen’s recent discovery that Krauseneck had apparently not finished his PhD, as he had represented when he worked at Kodak.

Krauseneck maintained that Cathleen was alive when he left for work that morning and that he discovered her body when he returned from his job at Eastman Kodak.

The slaying became known as “the Brighton Ax Murder” and inspired a 2021 Netflix horror film.

“Today’s conviction proves that the Monroe County District Attorney’s Office and our law enforcement partners will never give up on securing justice for crime victims,” Doorley said in a statement. “Cathleen Krauseneck deserved her day in court and I could not be more proud of the investigators and attorneys in my office who helped to bring this to trial and hold James Krauseneck accountable for her murder. After February 19, 1982, James Krauseneck moved away and went on with his life for 40 years. Cathleen did not have that privilege. I am grateful that we were able to provide this closure for Cathleen and her family. ”

The former Lynchburg College economics professor was arrested in 2019 and charged with his wife’s murder. At the time, Brighton Police Chief David Catholdi reportedly said that after “thousands” of hours of investigation, detectives found no evidence that anybody else had been in the home at the time of Cathleen’s death other than the defendant and their young daughter.

“No other physical evidence at the scene, including DNA, points to anyone except James Krauseneck, Jr.,” Catholdi said when Krauseneck was arrested. “What we did not find was any evidence that points to anyone else that was in that home.”

Prosecutors since 2015 had been investigating the circumstances of Cathleen’s death with the assistance of investigators from the Brighton Police Department, the Federal Bureau of Investigations, and the Monroe County Crime Lab.

James Krauseneck, Jr. booking photo (via Brighton Police)

James Krauseneck, Jr. (via Brighton Police).

In December of 2021, State Supreme Court Justice Charles Schiano Jr. refused to dismiss the murder charge against Krauseneck, citing the need to move quickly, noting that, among other things, the victim’s father was 94 at the time.

“I wanted to live long enough to [see] it,” Cathleen’s now-95-year-old father, Robert Schlosser reportedly told the Democrat & Chronicle following the verdict in the Rochester courtroom. “My wife passed away four years ago. She didn’t make it.”

Assistant District Attorney Patrick Gallagher, Chief of the Domestic Violence Bureau and one of the lead prosecutors on the case, applauded the verdict.

“I am proud to be a part of the team who found justice for Cathleen Krauseneck 40 years after James Krauseneck took an ax from his garage and used it to strike her head while she was asleep,” he said in a statement. “With help of District Attorney Doorley and former Chief of the Domestic Violence Bureau, William Gargan, we were able to lay out the evidence to secure today’s verdict. It has been one of the great pleasures of my career to get to know Cathy’s family and to be able to help in securing justice for their loved one.”

Krauseneck’s defense attorney Michael Wolford reportedly told the Chronicle that they planned to appeal the verdict.

“We think the law’s on our side and we’re confident we’re going to have a reversal,” Wolford reportedly said Monday.

Watch WROC’s report on the verdict below:

[Images via WROC/screengrab, Brighton Police]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.