Yearlong wait for suspected killer leads widower toward closure
Two more charged with harboring suspect
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.