New York authorities who charged an Arizona man with the 1982 ax-murder of his wife said Tuesday that the case wasn’t solved through DNA but by the absence of it.
The defendant, James Krauseneck Jr., told investigators at the time that he arrived from work to find his wife of six years, Cathleen, 29, dead in their Brighton home.
“She died from a single blow to the head from an axe,” Brighton Police Chief David Catholdi said at press conference.
The couple’s 3-year-old daughter, Sara, was also there but unharmed.
Police said they initially investigated the slaying as a burglary gone wrong, but their theory of the case eventually shifted to a possible domestic violence incident.
By then, Krauseneck, an economist for Eastman Kodak, had left the Rochester suburb with his daughter and moved back to Michigan. The investigation stalled, but police took a fresh look in 2015 and teamed up with the FBI’s Cold Case Working Group.
Catholdi said the FBI was able to use new forms of DNA testing on all the evidence that had been collected decades ago. They found plenty from Krauseneck, as expected, but nothing from any strangers.
“I think that speaks volumes,” he said. “There’s no bogeyman out there.”
Catholdi said the lack of suspect DNA wasn’t the only evidence gathered. He said the FBI also digitized boxes worth of handwritten case notes from 1982, when the department had no computers.
They hired celebrity medical examiner Michael Baden to examine the autopsy and forensic reports and come up with a timeline. Comparing that to the timeline provided by Krauseneck to conclude that he “was in the home at the time of the homicide,” the chief said.
Baden is an independent investigator who has worked on a slew of high-profile cases and hosted a TV show. He recently made headlines by saying that he believes the cause of Jeffrey Epstein’s jailhouse death is more likely to be homicide than suicide.
In the last couple of years, a growing number of cold cases across the country have been solved through new analysis of DNA or fresh identification of DNA samples through genetic family history databases.
Catholdi acknowledged that the case against Krauseneck is different. “It’s a timeline case,” he said. “It’s not a proverbial smoking gun.”
Krauseneck, 67, who now lives in Peoria, Arizona, surrendered and appeared in a New York courtroom on Friday with his second wife and now-grown daughter. His pleaded not guilty and was released on $100,000 bond after surrendering his passport.
His attorney, Michael Wolford, who represented him during the 1982 investigation, blasted police and prosecutors.
“Over 37 years ago, Sara Krauseneck lost her mother and Jim Krauseneck lost his wife,” he said after the hearing, according to the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. “Today marks a further tragedy—Jim being charged with Kathleen’s murder.
“Jim’s innocence was clear 37 years ago,” Wolford said. “It’s clear today. At the end of the case I have no doubt Jim will be vindicated.”
Wolford said that his client had cooperated fully with the investigation for years, but investigators said they didn’t get full cooperation. Catholdi also said there are witnesses who “may indicate” the couple had a history of domestic incidents.
Brighton Town Supervisor William Moehle said he lived near the Krausenecks at the time of the murder and it had a “devastating impact” on the community. “This community needed closure,” he said at a press conference.
FBI Assistant Special Agent in Charge Jeremy Bell said the arrest and indictment of the husband 37 years after the crime has another effect.
“It puts criminals everywhere on notice: Just because the years go by doesn’t mean you can stop looking over the shoulder,” he said. “We’re coming.”