Year­long wait for sus­pected killer leads wid­ower to­ward clo­sure

Two more charged with har­bor­ing sus­pect

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - - Front Page - Jesse Garza Milwaukee Jour­nal Sen­tinel USA TO­DAY NET­WORK - WIS­CON­SIN

Karen Simek reached her peak of 2,500 an­nual miles on her bike by Jan­uary 2017, de­spite the chal­lenges posed by a blood clot and com­pres­sion socks from a bro­ken leg al­most 20 years be­fore.

Most of those miles were with her hus­band, Kevin Sasse — treks along the farm­lands of the Glacial Drum­lin State Trail, or the rolling ter­rain of the Lake Coun­try Trail.

Dur­ing win­ter, she used a por­ta­ble trainer, upon which Sasse mounted her bike at home the morn­ing of Jan. 31 so Karen could ride when she re­turned from her job at Gar­den-Fresh Foods in Milwaukee.

But a phone call about 6 a.m. from a cry­ing re­cep­tion­ist at Gar­den-Fresh let Sasse know his wife wouldn’t be com­ing home.

“Sud­denly, I’m star­ing at a bike in my liv­ing room I know she’ll never ride,” Sasse re­mem­bered.

For the first time Fri­day, at a pre­lim­i­nary hear­ing for Carl W. Knight, Sasse looked at the man ac­cused of killing his 53-year-old wife out­side the en­trance of Gar­den-Fresh at S. 12th St. and W. Na­tional Ave.

For al­most a year un­til Knight was fi­nally ap­pre­hended, Sasse’s im­age of the per­son who ended his 25-year mar­riage was some­one with no name, no face, “an empty blank hole that needed to be filled.”

“I came here want­ing to see his face, hear his voice,” Sasse said af­ter the hear­ing.

“And I’ve done that.”

Knight, 28, is charged with felony mur­der and pos­ses­sion of a firearm by a felon for al­legedly shooting Simek in the face af­ter grab­bing her purse.

“She wasn’t the kind of per­son who would walk down the street look­ing left and right, wor­ried about what was around ev­ery dark cor­ner,” Sasse said in an in­ter­view be­fore the hear­ing. “She didn’t think that way.” Simek was a per­son who canned peaches in the fall, loved hik­ing in na­tional parks, do­nated to guide dog char­i­ties for the blind and spent hours bak­ing batches of fruit cakes to give as Christ­mas presents.

“She would al­ways find her­self on com­mit­tees and groups, any­thing set up to help some­one,” her hus­band re­called.

Raised in Wauwatosa and Menomonee Falls, Simek earned a bach­e­lor’s de­gree in home eco­nom­ics from Mount Mary Col­lege be­fore be­com­ing a food tech­nol­o­gist at But­ter Buds Food In­gre­di­ents in Racine in 1986.

By the time she and Sasse mar­ried in 1991, Simek was work­ing at Riche­lieu Foods Inc. in Beaver Dam.

In 2002, she be­gan work­ing at Coun­try Maid sal­ads in Milwaukee be­fore mov­ing to Gar­den-Fresh in 2005.

“Each move was an ad­vance­ment, more re­spon­si­bil­ity,” Sasse said of his wife’s ca­reer path through qual­ity con­trol, prod­uct test­ing and for­mu­lat­ing recipes for sal­ads, hot en­trees and deli counter foods.

The bro­ken leg and blood clot in 1999 prompted Simek to take up hik­ing and bik­ing with her hus­band.

“She’d say her great­est achieve­ment was hik­ing up and down the Grand Canyon” at age 51, Sasse said.

But the hike was not an easy one, and on the way up, about a mile from the rim, she thought she wasn’t go­ing to make it.

“I let her have a good cry,” Sasse re­mem­bered.

“She fi­nally man­aged to get back up and make it to the top. You could see the mix­ture of pain and joy that she had done this.”

The month be­fore her death, Simek reached the hap­pi­est point in her ca­reer with a suc­cess­ful pre­sen­ta­tion at Great Lakes Naval Sta­tion in Chicago, Sasse said.

“The Navy was go­ing to be buy­ing sal­ads that she de­vel­oped,” he said. “She was beam­ing.”

The grief Sasse suf­fered af­ter his

“But a week af­ter her fu­neral, when no news came out, that’s when I lost some of that con­fi­dence. As time went on I was less in­clined to ex­pect news that they caught some­one.” Kevin Sasse

wife’s killing was ag­gra­vated by the al­most year-long search for a sus­pect.

“Ini­tially, I ex­pected to hear some­thing (from po­lice) any minute,” he said.

“But a week af­ter her fu­neral, when no news came out, that’s when I lost some of that con­fi­dence.

“As time went on I was less in­clined to ex­pect news that they caught some­one.”

He said, “My thoughts dur­ing that time were less about vengeance or pun­ish­ment for this crim­i­nal than think­ing he’s out there, and some­one who has so lit­tle self-con­trol is go­ing to do some­thing like this again and hurt some­body else.”

Then there was the heart-wrench­ing ad­just­ment to life with­out his wife.

“I’m try­ing to come up with a plan for the rest of my life for some­thing I didn’t think would ever hap­pen,” Sasse said.

“I al­ways fig­ured that some­day, when one of us died, the other would be alone. But not when we’re in our early 50s. That was some­thing far off, years af­ter re­tire­ment.”

The hard­est thing Sasse has had to ad­just to is the lone­li­ness of a hus­band sud­denly turned wid­ower just af­ter cel­e­brat­ing a 25th wed­ding an­niver­sary.

“It’s not the same as if she’s gone to work or she’s gone on a busi­ness trip,” he said.

“It’s com­ing home ev­ery day to an empty house, know­ing that trip is never go­ing to end, know­ing she’s not com­ing back.”

David D. McLau­rin, 25, and Saman­tha L. Niber-Gustafson, 20, are charged with har­bor­ing Knight af­ter the killing. McLau­rin’s ar­rest on a sep­a­rate charge in De­cem­ber even­tu­ally led to Knight’s cap­ture.

On Fri­day, Sasse sat mo­tion­less, ex­pres­sion­less, star­ing at the man ac­cused of up­end­ing his world af­ter a year-long trek that ap­pears to have taken a fi­nal turn.

“It’s the be­gin­ning of a long road to an ac­tual con­clu­sion to this case,” he said.

“But I’m in a bet­ter place now know­ing that we are ac­tu­ally on that path.”



Carl W. Knight is led into court in Milwaukee County for a pre­lim­i­nary hear­ing. He is ac­cused with killing Karen A. Simek.


Kevin Sasse sits in Milwaukee County Cir­cuit Court for the pre­lim­i­nary hear­ing of the man charged with mur­der­ing his wife, Karen A. Simek, a food tech­nol­o­gist killed as she en­tered her work­place on Milwaukee's near south side. The man charged with be­ing the shooter is Carl Knight, 28.

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