Washington State

Former Gig Harbor man charged in 1982 ax murder of his first wife

Cathleen and James Krauseneck are pictured with their daughter. The family moved to Brighton, New York, in 1981. Cathleen Krauseneck was killed in their home in 1982.
Cathleen and James Krauseneck are pictured with their daughter. The family moved to Brighton, New York, in 1981. Cathleen Krauseneck was killed in their home in 1982. Courtesy

A former Gig Harbor man and Weyerhaeuser executive has been charged with the 1982 ax murder of his first wife in New York state.

On Friday, an indictment was unsealed charging James Krauseneck Jr., 67, with second-degree murder in the death of Cathleen Krauseneck, 29, the first of his four wives.

The cold case for decades troubled detectives, who were suspicious of James Krauseneck shortly after his wife was found with an ax in her forehead Feb. 19, 1982.

The couple’s daughter Sara, then 3 1/2-years-old, was found safe in her room after spending all day alone with her mother’s body in the family’s Brighton home.

Krauseneck’s daughter accompanied him to Monroe County Superior Court on Friday when he pleaded not guilty.

His two attorneys, one of whom represented him during the 1982 investigation, claim Krauseneck is innocent.

“Over 37 years ago, Sara Krauseneck lost her mother and Jim Krauseneck lost his wife,” Michael Wolford told the Democrat and Chronicle after the plea. “Today marks a further tragedy — Jim being charged with Cathleen’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.”

James
James Krauseneck (Rochester, N.Y.) Democrat and Chronicle Courtesy

Media and police accounts at the time give the following account:

Krauseneck told police he went to work that morning and returned home just before 5 p.m. to find his wife still in bed with an ax from the garage buried in her skull.

He called for help from a neighbor’s house.

Police initially believed a burglar may have killed Cathleen Krauseneck because a window had been broken from the outside. An ax and maul, used for splitting wood, were taken from the couple’s unlocked garage.

The 2 1/2-foot handle of the ax had been wiped clean, leaving no fingerprints.

Although investigators spoke with Krauseneck the night his wife died, they were confused when he did not show up for a follow-up interview the next day. Turns out he had taken his daughter and left for his hometown, Mount Clemens, Michigan.

“He gave the appearance of wanting to be cooperative,” lead investigator Mark Liberatore told The News Tribune in 2016. “But then he got a lawyer, and we never talked to him again for 34 years.”

Nearly four years ago, investigators came to Gig Harbor to again speak with Krauseneck.

By then, Krauseneck was living in Pierce County and working as vice president of sales for Federal Way-based Weyerhaeuser, one of the world’s largest private owners of timberlands.

The company back then declined to comment on the murder investigation. Krauseneck himself did not return repeated phone calls or emails for comment.

The renewed push on the case stemmed from the FBI’s Cold Case Working Group, which brings together three dozen or so people from federal agencies, local police, district attorney offices, crime labs and medical examiner offices.

Case materials from Cathleen Krauseneck’s homicide were digitized and some evidence was tested for DNA.

Results from the forensic testing have not been made public.

Two days after Brighton police interviewed Krauseneck and left Gig Harbor, he and his current wife listed for sale their 3,352-square-foot house at Canterwood Golf & Country Club.

He was living in Arizona when he was arrested.

Stacia Glenn covers crime and breaking news in Pierce County. She started with The News Tribune in 2010. Before that, she spent six years writing about crime in Southern California for another newspaper.
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