Journalist and editor Nancy Monaghan discusses her career in journalism and how and why she began writing the story of the 1982 Cathleen Krauseneck ax murder.
Nancy and her colleague Laurie Bennett were once reporters who wrote about crime for two competing newspapers in Rochester, New York. They covered Krauseneck’s shocking murder, a case that gripped the Rochester area and made national headlines.
In the early evening of February 19, 1982 in the Rochester, New York suburb of Brighton, 29-year-old Cathy Krauseneck was discovered at home dead with an ax in her head. Her 3 ½-year-old daughter Sara had been alone all day with her mother’s corpse. Cathy’s husband Jim, an economist for Eastman Kodak Company headquartered in Rochester, reported discovering his wife’s body when he came home from work just before 5 p.m. He told police his wife and daughter had been asleep when he left for work that morning about 6:30. While he spoke with investigators at police headquarters immediately after his wife was discovered, he did not appear as promised at the Brighton Town Hall the following morning to continue their conversation. His parents had driven from their home in Mt. Clemens MI the night before. They took their son and granddaughter back with them to Michigan. Jim hired a Rochester criminal lawyer to represent him, and neither he nor his daughter spoke again to investigators for many years. Without enough evidence to charge anyone, no arrest was made.
The case grew cold for 37 years. Then in 2019 a Monroe County NY Grand Jury indicted Jim Krauseneck for the murder of his wife. Monaghan and Bennett have resurrected their research and are currently writing a book about the case. Krauseneck is currently out on bail and awaiting trial at his home in Arizona.
An Interview with Nancy Monaghan
SK: Hi, Nancy! Thank you so much for taking the time to talk about the Krauseneck murder case. I understand that Jim Krauseneck’s Covid-postponed pre-trial hearings are under way and that his trial date may soon be set. You and your fellow journalist Laurie Bennett are collaborating on a book about the case and have done a lot of work coming up to the trial, is that right?
NM: Yes, we have. Laurie has done most of the case reporting and has reams of information, and I’ve done a variety of interviews and background research. Between us, we’ve interviewed many of the original players in the case and have extensive details about the investigation, but we can’t finish the book until the trial is over. The next court hearing is scheduled for June, but I don’t hold out much hope that the trial will be scheduled any time soon. So many cases have been postponed due to Covid.
SK: How did you first become interested in writing about murder?
NM: Besides the fact this story has so many fascinating aspects, my initial interest began well before the Krauseneck case. In the 1970s I worked as a legal secretary for the U.S. Attorney’s Office. I was really interested in law more than crime, and writing had always been a passion. I worked my way into journalism starting at a weekly newspaper helping out as a volunteer covering night meetings.After more than a year writing stories and features for the paper, then known as City East, I was hired as the paper’s first staff reporter.
At that time Rochester had two daily newspapers owned by the Gannett Company, the morning Democrat and Chronicle and the afternoon Times-Union. After four years at City East I applied to the D&C and was hired, then after three months was assigned to the court beat, which I covered for more than four years. Both Laurie and I have covered all sorts of criminal court cases, including murders. In 1981 I was promoted to Day Metro Editor, and then I became the first female Metro Editor. Those were interesting days for local journalists: A Mafia war was raging, which I covered as a reporter, and then in early 1982 the Krauseneck case happened and was big news for months. Laurie was the court reporter for our competitor, the Times-Union, so of course we knew each other well. She did some of that early reporting on the Krauseneck case and much much more in the years that followed. I was Metro Editor when Cathy Krauseneck was killed, and I’m sorry to say Laurie’s paper was beating us pretty badly on developments. In July 1982 I left the D&C to join the start-up team for USA Today.
Laurie moved from Rochester and took a job in Michigan with The Detroit News and later, the Detroit Free Press. While she was in Detroit, near the Krauseneck family home in Mt. Clemens, she did substantial reporting on the case and got to know Cathy’s family members. Along the way, she knew the details of the case would make a rich foundation for a book.
By 2015 we had both retired from the newspaper business. Laurie called me out of the blue and asked whether I would be interested in collaborating on a book about the Krauseneck case. I didn’t hesitate for an instant before saying yes. The connections between us from so long ago and between us and many of the people involved in the case at the time on a story like this are impossible to pass up.
SK: What prompted her interest then?
The case had gnawed at the Brighton Police Department for more than 30 years, starting with Eugene Shaw who was the police chief when it happened in 1982. He told Laurie shortly before his death in 1993 that he had suspected Jim Krauseneck early in the investigation, but there was not enough evidence to present to a grand jury. Homicide cases never close until they are solved, and he hoped for a future confession or more evidence. Shaw was tortured by the case for the rest of his career.
In 2015 Police Chief Mark Henderson requested the assistance of the FBI Cold Case Unit to re-evaluate the case history, to look at it with fresh eyes and current forensic tools. The Cold Case Team did an extensive review of every aspect of the considerable file, and a decision was made to take the case to the grand jury.
SK: I have read that Michael Baden, former medical examiner for New York City, will testify for the defense. Tell me about that.
NM: I am currently researching a chapter about Dr. Baden for the book. Baden is a nationally known pathologist who was chief medical examiner in New York City and later was medical examiner for the New York State Police. But he has also been at the center of some controversial cases. He testified for the defense in the O.J. Simpson case and disagreed with the Los Angeles medical examiner on some key issues – namely the timing of the deaths. He was also a consultant in the murder investigations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Medgar Evers. More recently he was engaged by Jeffrey Epstein’s brother and gave evidence suggesting that Epstein may have been strangled while he was in prison in Manhattan, despite an official finding that he committed suicide.
SK: Is there enough substance in the Krauseneck case for a book? Can you write it if Jim Krauseneck is found not guilty?
NM: The book will be important whether Jim is convicted or not. The verdict will determine the theme of the story. Laurie is following the specifics of the case while I am writing about the broader issues: How do expert witnesses like Dr. Baden affect the trial outcome? Do ax murderers have common characteristics? There are different legal standards in states that can also affect outcomes? This has always been what is called a circumstantial case, with no “smoking gun” so to speak pointing directly at Jim Krauseneck. In New York State, for example, there are certain legal requirements the prosecutor must meet to overcome the possibility someone other than the defendant on trial committed the crime. For people like Laurie and me, who love trials as intricacies and surprises of a case unfold in a courtroom, this is going to be one interesting trial.
SK You make me very excited to read your book! How can readers keep up with your progress investigating the case?
NM: We have a website with a lot of background information about the Krauseneck murder. It will be updated as the case progresses. It is online at www.krauseneck.com.
SK: I will follow the website and look forward to seeing your progress with the case; Maybe 2021 will be a year of resolution and will finally bring some peace to Cathy’s family. The best of luck, Nancy!