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Accident or Murder?: The Death of Cynthia Hrisco

Updated: Sep 11, 2023

On Christmas Day in 1999, Cynthia Hrisco and her husband Frank Buschauer were spending their first holiday season as parents. The couple adopted a baby boy from Russia, whom they named David. Home videos show a happy holiday with a family over the moon happy with their young son. It was not only Cynthia’s first holiday as a mom, but it would also be her last. On February 28th, 2000, Frank Buschauer called 911 to report his wife was dead in their bathtub.

Cynthia Hrisco was born August 8th, 1952, in Chicago, Illinois. Frank Buschauer was born November 26th, 1948. The couple married and settled in South Barrington, Illinois. Frank worked as an engineer and he and Cynthia were well off financially. The couple decided to build their dream home, and the majority of the construction was performed by Frank’s cousin. There were many issues with the construction of the home, which started an ongoing argument among the couple. Cynthia wanted to sue the cousin, but Frank refused. Frank’s sister described Cynthia as materialistic and hard to get along with but stated that her brother and his wife were in marriage counseling. Family members said that the couple were thrilled to adopt their son David from Russia on Thanksgiving Day 1999. The couple even talked about adopting a little girl next.

Frank and Cynthia’s plans came to a screeching halt on February 28th, 2000. After the baby was in bed, Frank retired to the bedroom while Cynthia settled in her whirlpool tub for a nice, long bath. According to Frank, he awoke some hours later to hear his son crying. When he walked in the bathroom, he found his wife face down in the bathtub. He said he scooped her out of the tub, lying her on the bathroom floor. However, it was too late. Cynthia was dead.

Frank made a hysterical 911 call, explaining that his wife was dead and had drowned in the bathtub. He seemed breathless and panicked throughout the call. A local patrolman was nearby and was the first to respond. According to the officer, Cynthia was deceased upon his arrival and had likely been gone for a while. He described the scene as very neat with no signs of a struggle. He found it odd, however, that Frank had no water on his clothing despite stating he scooped his wife out of the bathtub. Cynthia was found to have bruises and abrasions to her face, neck, and head.

On the morning of her autopsy, the pathologist performed the autopsy without law enforcement present. Because of this, detectives state that the pathologist did not have all the information needed to determine the manner of death. The cause of death was obvious, as Cynthia had a large amount of water in her lungs. The manner of death, however, was undetermined. Authorities were not able to determine if the death was accidental or homicidal. Despite suspicion that Frank had something to do with his wife’s death, no evidence implicated Frank strongly enough for murder charges to be brought.

Frank’s sister believed that Cynthia took some medication and passed out related to the intense heat of her warm bath, drowning accidentally. From 2000-2010, the public believed this to be the cause of Cynthia’s death as well. However, the patrol officer never forgot about this case and firmly believed it had been a homicide. When he made detective in 2010, he asked to reopen this case.

This time, the bathtub from the Buschauer-Hrisco home was removed and taken into evidence. A second autopsy revealed several injuries to Cynthia’s body including a large hemorrhage to her neck, scalp, and left eye. Several abrasions were also noted on her body. Some of the injuries were not explainable, until the water death expert performed an experiment. The death was reconstructed with a model the same height and weight as Cynthia and another the same height and weight as Frank. A scenario in which Frank is forcibly drowning his wife as she fought back revealed injuries similar to those that Cynthia had suffered. The model, however, was only shoved down for a few minutes, much less time than detectives theorized Frank held Cynthia under the water.

The detectives also tried to lift a body from the tub without getting water on themselves or knocking over shampoo bottles from the side of the tub. It was impossible. This indicated to authorities that Frank had staged the scene- setting bottles up neatly after the crime and either changing his clothing or lifting the body straight up and carefully, not in a panic, after his wife was already dead, thus avoiding signs of a struggle.

A letter found in the home of Frank Buschauer to his wife Cynthia also added suspicion. He wrote that “divorce was better than assault or murder”. Her friends said that Frank had threatened to kill Cynthia at one point, had once grabbed her by the neck, and that Cynthia was afraid of her husband, and described him as having a “Jekyll and Hyde” personality. However, Frank’s sister said that the couple were writing letters as part of therapy and were working on their marriage.

On April 23rd, 2013, Illinois officers arrested Frank Buschauer. Frank and his son were living in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin at the time. His thirteen-year-old son was devastated by this father’s arrest. Under questioning this time, Frank admitted that his fights with Cynthia were often violent and that he had told her once before “he could kill her”. He said that it was possible he had killed her, but claimed he had no memory of it. He denied being his wife’s killer. Frank also said that, to this day, he regrets marrying Cynthia. An odd thing to say while under questioning for murder.

Between his 2013 arrest, thirteen years after the murder, and his trial in 2019, several pre-trial motions were filed. Frank Buschauer’s defense wanted the judge to rule the letter he wrote to his wife and his statements to police as inadmissible. He also wanted the statements Cynthia made to her friends excluded. Eventually, it was determined this evidence should be presented at trial. Six years after his arrest, and nearly twenty years after Cynthia’s death, Frank Buschauer went on trial for her murder.

With a judge deciding Frank Buschauer’s innocence or guilt, he was found guilty of Cynthia’s murder. According to Judge Cataldo, “much of the evidence in the case was circumstantial and relied on the testimony of three forensic pathologists who declared Hrisco’s death a homicide”. He also stated that Frank’s incriminating comments to police were telling, saying, “The defendant dipped his toe in the waters of confession. The defendant told witnesses he didn’t know if he did it in a fit of rage, he couldn’t remember”.

The judge went on to explain that the injuries Cynthia suffered were indicative of a violent struggle and only Frank and the couple’s infant son were home at the time. “The only person who could commit this crime was the defendant” the judge said. In 2019, seventy-year-old Frank Buschauer was sentenced to twenty-five years in prison for the murder of his wife. He is currently incarcerated at Menard Correctional Facility. He continues to appeal his case with his son David standing by him with full support. His earliest possible parole date will be in 2047, at which time Frank will be 99 years old.

Some believe that Cynthia Hrisco finally got the justice she deserves. However, others believe that this was a gross miscarriage of justice. Did a crime occur? Was it possible, as Frank’s sister claims, that the jets of the tub caused the bruising to Cynthia’s body? Was it possible that this was just a terrible accident? Was there enough evidence to prove it was murder and convict Frank Buschauer? Was this an accident or murder?


Evil Lives Here: Shadows of Death Season 2 Episode 2 The Bathtub

Houde, G. (2018). Judge: Deceased wife’s comments OK as evidence. Chicago Tribune

House, G. (2019). S. Barrington man who cops say killed wife to go on trial. Chicago Tribune

Journal Gazette. (2013). Wis. Man charged in drowning death in Ill. Journal Gazette.

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1 Comment

Honestly watching the episode the "detective" really framed him. They know that man aint kill his wife. It is possible he could have been sleep and woke up to the baby and was probably wondering if the wife had the baby or if she was still in the tub. That woman was older not saying this could have happened but back then my grandmother would take baths and take naps in the tub and I would have to check on her to make sure everything was okay. So if she did that she could have fell asleep and drowned, and just like the daughter said the hot tub has the things on the side and I've seen recent stories with…

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