Partner of Kitty Genovese, Whose Murder Sparked Bystander Effect Study, Dies at 85

Mary Ann Zielonko, the partner of Kitty Genovese, whose 1964 murder in Queens, New York, led to the study of the bystander effect, passed away at the age of 85. Zielonko died from pneumonia aspiration in Rutland, Vermont, on April 3, according to her domestic partner, Rebecca Jones, as reported by the New York Times.

Zielonko, who lived a mostly private life, met Genovese at a lesbian bar in Greenwich Village during the early 1960s. Their relationship blossomed quickly, but societal norms of the time forced them to keep their bond hidden. They had been living together for a year when Genovese was brutally stabbed to death on March 13, 1964, while returning home from her bartending shift.

During the half-hour long attack, Zielonko was asleep in their Austin Street apartment, less than 100 feet away. In a 2016 interview with the Times’ Retro Report series, Zielonko expressed her feelings of numbness and regret, believing she could have saved Genovese had she been aware of the situation.

The suspect in Genovese’s murder, Winston Moseley, was arrested six days after the stabbing and was eventually convicted of the crime. He died in prison in 2016.

Genovese’s murder gained widespread attention two weeks after the incident when the New York Times published an article claiming that 38 witnesses had heard or seen the attack but did nothing to intervene. This revelation sparked the study of the bystander effect, which examined the psychological phenomenon of individuals failing to assist in emergency situations.

However, in 2016, the New York Times admitted to significant inaccuracies in their original report, stating that they had “grossly exaggerated” the number of witnesses and their actions. Genovese’s brother, Bill, later interviewed some of the neighbors involved in a documentary aimed at setting the record straight.

Throughout the years, Zielonko remained in the shadows, as Genovese’s family initially refused to acknowledge their relationship. The media often referred to them as “roommates.” Zielonko even faced brief questioning by the police as a suspect in the murder once her romantic involvement with Genovese was revealed.

Following Genovese’s death, Zielonko worked at General Dynamics Electric Boat in Groton, Connecticut, where she built submarines. Her obituary in the Rutland Herald mentioned her hobbies, which included drawing, needlepoint, wood carving, and camping. She had been living in Vermont for nearly 25 years at the time of her passing.

Despite living a quiet life, the legacy of Genovese’s murder influenced Zielonko’s actions. She shared an incident where she intervened to help a woman being assaulted by a man on the side of the road. Zielonko’s decision to stop and offer assistance demonstrated her commitment to aiding others in need.

Author: CrimeDoor

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