In the pre-dawn hours of March 13, 1964, Mary Ann Zielonko was awakened by a knock at the door. Maybe she noticed that Kitty hadn’t come home the night before. Maybe, as Mary Ann approached the door, her chest swelled with anxiety, that premonition some claim to get before receiving bad news. It was shortly after 4 AM on the couple’s first anniversary when Mary Ann opened the door to the police, who told her Catherine Genovese was dead. Around 6 AM, Kitty’s family was delivered the same news in Connecticut. “We were all half asleep, and all of a sudden a bomb exploded,” her brother, Vincent said. Maybe, that’s how Mary Ann had felt too—like a bomb had exploded, decimating the life she had built. In New Canaan, Kitty’s mother had to be sedated, and her father could not bring himself to identify the body. The burden fell on Mary Ann.
The coroner counted 13 stab wounds. There were an impressive number of defensive wounds, too, indicating she had fought hard. She had a chance. She might have lived, even, if the police had been called earlier. Another detail the media forgot: maybe the police were called earlier. One witness, a teenager at the time, claimed his father called the police during the first attack. No one followed up on the call, and no one came. That mythical call, untraceable, unverifiable, points towards a less known, more disturbing conclusion—maybe residents were right to distrust the police.
In any case, Karl Ross was right to be fearful of the police as a gay man. After being woken up at dawn to hear the news, after identifying her girlfriend’s body in the morgue, Mary Ann Zielonko became a prime suspect in the murder investigation. Kitty and Mary Ann were careful about who they disclosed their relationship to—Sophie Farrar, the woman who held Kitty as she lay dying, was one of the only neighbors who knew the full truth, and Vincent Sr. and Rachel Genovese simply knew Mary Ann as Kitty’s good friend, though they suspected there was more to it. But the police discerned the true nature of the girls’ relationship quickly. At the time, homosexuals were thought to be more prone to jealousy than heterosexuals, which only fueled suspicion of Mary Ann. She was interrogated for hours about Kitty and their relationship, their sex life, of which Mary Ann said, “What right did they have to know?”