Netflix horror film inspired by New York ax murder

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New Yorkers might get freaky flashbacks while they watch the new Netflix horror film “Things Heard & Seen.”

An unhappy young mother (Amanda Seyfried) is brutally murdered with an ax, her child is found eerily seated on the couch downstairs and a studious husband (James Norton) leaves shortly after the crime.

That depraved déjà vu is because the supernatural movie, which is based on Elizabeth Brundage’s novel “All Things Cease To Appear,” was partly inspired by the gruesome 1982 death of Cathleen Krauseneck in Brighton, NY — dubbed “the Brighton Ax Murder.”

On Feb. 19, 1982, James Krauseneck Jr. returned to his new house on Del Rio Drive near Rochester from his job as an economist at Eastman Kodak Co., spotted broken glass inside from a window and called the cops. He had found his 29-year-old wife, Cathleen, dead in bed with an ax lodged in her head and their 3-year-old daughter seated calmly in her own bedroom, dressed to go out.

“She had a red sweater over a pink sweater with blue ABC corduroy pants and two pair of socks,” James said of his little girl in a statement to the police reported by the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle. “She looked dazed to me. I picked her up from her bed and ran downstairs and out the front door with her.”

And to another state, in fact. James and daughter Sara headed to Michigan, where he grew up, one day after the horrific crime.

Under suspicion, James’ alibi was that he’d been at work all day. Brighton Police Chief Eugene Shaw, according to the Journal-Register, opted not to question the daughter a month later because “too much time has gone by.” Cathleen’s murder, meanwhile, has gone unsolved for 39 years.  

The Netflix film gives the characters different names (Catherine is played by Seyfried and Norton plays George), changes up their circumstances (they have a son and live in the Hudson Valley) and throws in some ghosts. But the real-life crime is just as spooky. 

Early on in the case, for example, the police department hired two psychics, according to the Journal-Register.

The mediums’ efforts failed, and so the police sought leads across the country — particularly in Michigan. Cathleen was born in Mt. Clemens, and the couple attended Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, where she was a cheerleader. For nearly four decades, investigators came up empty. 

Then, in November 2019, James was finally indicted by a grand jury on a second-degree murder charge. He pleaded not guilty. The Brighton Police Chief chalked the delayed charges up to improved forensic technology that’s clarified the timeline of the murder — calling James’ alibi into question — and has shed more light on the crime scene.

“I understand people want a singular piece of evidence that can directly point to James Krauseneck Jr.,” the current Brighton Police Chief David Catholdi told the Tacoma News Tribune. “This is not one of those cases.”

At the Del Rio Drive house, no other DNA was found other than the family’s. Also, shortly before her death, Cathleen reportedly learned that James had not completed his doctorate and lied to his employers.

Later he moved to Gig Harbor, Wash., where he worked as a vice president of sales for a timberland company called Weyerhaeuser. When he was charged, James was living in Peoria, Ariz., with his fourth wife.

Further complicating matters was another man’s confession. Before he died of Lou Gehrig’s disease in 2014, serial rapist Ed Laraby claimed to the Democrat & Chronicle he killed Cathleen and committed at least a dozen more crimes. The defense has seized on his yet unproven admission.

“Ed Laraby is a notorious self-described sociopathic killer of women,” Krauseneck’s defense attorney said. “The issue is he lived really within basically a half mile, or less than a half mile, and has confessed to this murder as he lay dying in prison.”

Unlike the ending of the movie it inspired, Cathleen Krauseneck’s murder has not been so cleanly wrapped up. James, now 69, was freed on $100,000 bail and is awaiting a trial that was delayed by the pandemic — the next pretrial hearing is set for June.

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