Monday, March 20, 2017

Scripted Interview with Crime Writer Catherine Pelonero: All About KITTY GENOVESE

Christal Cooper

Chris Rice Cooper’s Scripted Interview with Catherine Pelonero
*Author of the New York Times Bestseller
Kitty Genovese:
A True Account of a Public Murder and Its Private Consequences

When do you remember hearing about Kitty Genovese?

I first heard about Kitty Genovese when the movie Death Scream, which was loosely based on Kitty’s murder, was broadcast on TV in the 1970s. I was a kid and when I saw the movie promo, I said, “I want to see that!” My mother said, “You’re not watching that. I remember when that happened. It was terrible.” My curiosity was piqued. I didn’t know much about the real case until I was an adult. I stumbled on a website that had the famous New York Times article by Martin Gansberg. 

After reading what little I could find on the Internet about Kitty, I wanted to know more, so I decided I’d look for a book on her case. I figured there must be several because it was such a notorious incident, but the only one was A.M. Rosenthal’s very short book 38 Witnesses, written in 1964, which is basically a slightly extended version of the famous New York Times article. It had no information at all about Kitty Genovese as a person, nor Winston Moseley for that matter. I ended up writing the book I wanted to read.

Can you describe the step by step of writing KITTY GENOVESE from the moment the idea was first conceived in your brain until final book form?

It was a long process because I had never written nonfiction before. I was a playwright, primarily a comedy writer, believe it or not. It was seven years from the time I decided to write the book until it was actually finished, and most of that time was devoted to research. I had to start from scratch and read a lot of how-to books, because nonfiction is worlds away from writing for theatre. I also read scores of true crime books to learn how to structure a story. I made a point of reading the very famous ones and also the lesser known books, and I made notes on what worked best and why. In a nutshell, the best true stories tell us something about the people, really bring them alive. Crimes are not interesting, but people are.

Can you talk about the physical environment in which you wrote Kitty Genovese?  Did you write in a room of your house or at a coffee house?  Can you describe the room/house you wrote in?  What time of day?  What weather was like?  Did you have a window to look out of?  What was your view?  Did you have something to drink?  Do eat?  Did you listen to music?  If so what was it?  How did you write it – in longhand or on computer? 

I laugh to think back on that. I wrote Kitty Genovese in my garage in the sweltering summer of 2013. I live in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles and most days the temperature hovered around 100 degrees. I’d get up in the morning, put on shorts and a tank top, drop my kids off at summer camp, and then head out to the garage with my laptop and a supply of Diet Coke. I kept my mountain of research material out there. I needed a small fan pointed at my aging laptop to keep it from overheating and a bigger fan to keep me from melting.

Sometimes I listen to music when I’m writing but that can change from moment to moment. At times I need the music for background but other times I need silence for a while. I typically handwrite a bulleted list of things to include in a chapter along with some notes, then do the actual writing of the manuscript on laptop.

What are some of the similarities that you and Kitty share?

Kitty and I are both the oldest of five children from Italian-American families (although my heritage is also mixed with Irish, Scandinavian, and who knows what else.) 

We both grew up in New York state - she in Brooklyn, me in Buffalo - and worked as bartenders in our early 20s. Both of us came from large, close-knit families and we were both Catholic. I learned that Kitty loved to crack jokes and make people laugh, and I’m the same way.

Did you feel a connection with Kitty? And if so can you describe the connection you felt?

Absolutely. There were the similarities in our backgrounds but there was also a connection that’s very difficult to explain. On the one hand I kept thinking about her coming home late from the bar and suddenly falling victim to a random attack by a stranger, and there was a part of me that thought, there but for the grace of God go I. It made me think of all those nights when I drove home alone in the wee hours of the morning. It’s frightening to think that any of us could become a victim of violent crime. Beyond that, though, it’s hard for me to put my finger on why I connected so strongly with Kitty, and felt so driven to learn about her and give her an identity beyond “murder victim.” In a sense, I feel like stories choose me rather than the other way around. 

In your biography you state that your father was a police officer.  Is this where your interest in crime reporting was conceived?

My dad was a police officer for over 30 years but I didn’t start out writing true crime. I never planned to write nonfiction, much less crime, and no one was more surprised than I that my career turned in that direction.

Again, I feel like it chose me rather than me choosing it, but that said, my dad’s career in law enforcement definitely buoyed my interest in the realities of crime, particularly of the human cost.

You mention a blue typewriter you got for your 7th birthday. What is your you first writing memory?

The blue typewriter! The best birthday gift I ever got. The first thing I remember writing - not counting the plays I forced my younger siblings and friends to perform in - is a poem called “The Clover,” when I was in third grade. 

Did you and your Dad ever talk about the Kitty Genovese case? And if so what did he say?

No, sadly my dad passed away in 2005 before I started writing true crime. I miss him every day, and I so wish he was still here to guide me. We always had a lot to talk about anyway, and we’d have even more now. There are so many times when I wish I could ask him about a case. My new book (Absolute Madness) is dedicated to my dad, and in fact, I feel like he’s helped my career tremendously. Because of him, I have always felt right at home speaking with police officers, and he is very well remembered by the people who worked with him. You could honestly say he paved the way for me.

Where were you born and in what year?

I was born in Virginia in 1967 and my parents moved to Buffalo, New York when I was an infant. Buffalo is my hometown.

                     Catherine's childhood home in Buffalo

 Where do you live now?

Lovely Los Angeles, my second hometown. And I still write in my garage.

What was the publication process like for KITTY GENOVESE?

It was exciting for me because it was my first published book. My prior publications were stage plays, which is a whole different ballgame. We went through a few rounds of edits and then the proofreading of the galleys. The process actually went very quickly and I really enjoyed it. I was blessed to work with a wonderful editor, Julie Ganz at Skyhorse Publishing. ( I first saw the manuscript in book form when the ARCs (advance reader copies) came out a couple months ahead of publication. That was exciting. Later, when I got my first copies of the actual hardcover book, I was over the moon with joy and awe.

                                       Julie Ganz 

Contact info:

I love hearing from readers and they’re welcome to contact me anytime via my website

                              Catherine with son Brent.
                              Photo taken in March of 2017

Anything you would like to add?

I think if you have a true passion for a story, a burning need to tell someone, that passion translates to a reader and gives a book its drive.

*Permission granted by Catherine Pelonero and Skyhorse Publishing
*Photographs are not included in the book 


Covered with ashes, tearing my hair, my face scored by clawing, but with
piercing eyes, I stand before all humanity recapitulating my shames without losing sight of the effect I am producing, and saying: I was the lowest of the low. Then imperceptibly I pass from the I to the we. . . . I am like them, to be sure; we are in the soup together.

The Fall by Albert Camus




I was seven years old when it happened. There was a patch of grass in the rear of the buildings alongside the train tracks where we would play ball and a big bush where numerous intercepted catches and foul balls ended up. For years afterward, no kid wanted to fetch a ball that had found its way into that bush. We knew there was a murdered girl in there. She had—I have no idea where we got this number from but we all knew it—38 wounds in her body. She was waiting there to get us. We used to ask why. The answers varied between, Thats a long story, and Because you didnt save her . . .

Of course, the fact that it happened in this idyllic neighborhood had a lot to do with it. If it had happened in the South Bronx, I dont think it would ve even made page 15 of the Daily News.

Peter Mueller, former resident of
Kew Gardens

chapter  1
FRIDAY, MARCH 13, 1964

IF SHE HAD walked out onto Jamaica Avenue a minute sooner or a min- ute later, he would never have seen her. They would have missed each other entirely.
But he did see her.
He saw a young woman getting into her car, alone.
He had been searching for her for more than an hour. Not this woman specifically; he had never seen her before, and that also was key. The other keys were woman and alone.
The woman, when at last he found her, had been easy to spot since there was no one else around and very little traffic at this time of night, at least not here in Queens. Streets in Manhattan may still have been busy at 3:00 a.m. but he wouldnt know, since he never did this kind of thing in Manhattan; only in Queens. He felt more secure in Queens, especially around this area, since he lived nearby.
And that was another key—sticking fairly close to home, because at some point after the thing was done, he had to get home and check his dogs and his kids, and get some sleep so he could be ready for work in the morning. He always showed up at the office on time, no matter how late he had been out the night before.
Nothing in particular about this woman had caught his eye, other than the feminine shape and the skirt she wore, both of which assured him that the figure stepping out into the darkness was female, and she looked young.


He slowed his car and watched as she stepped off the curb and walked around to the drivers side of a red sports car. Perhaps he held his breath as he waited to see if anyone would join her, or his heart beat faster when he looked in his rearview mirror and saw that no one had, that she was definitely in the car alone, now pulling away from the curb; but it was just as likely that he remained steady and calm, because control was something he always maintained. Control  and discipline. Equally important to him were preparation and organiza- tion, traits he showed in both his career and home life, and in situ- ations like this one now. The gloves he wore tonight  were not just to protect his hands from the biting cold, nor was the purpose of the stocking cap he wore solely to keep his head warm. He also had another hat with him—a dark brimmed fedora—and he wore a three- quarter length overcoat that looked indistinct, a bland and common color, with a pocket deep enough to hold a long bladed hunting knife.
He made a U-turn  as the little red sports car shot ahead down Jamaica Avenue and turned the corner onto 188th Street. She drove fast and he had to pick up his speed to keep up with her—and that was exciting, chasing her like this, because he had never had to do that before. She drove on to the Grand Central Parkway and he followed at a safe distance until she exited at Queens Boulevard. Now they were driving on side streets, first one and then another, the little red sports car and a white Chevy Corvair making all the same turns. The last street onto which they turned was still and silent, its boundaries lined with tall trees, bare of leaves now in the final grip of winter. The street was called Austin, though the man did not know it at the time, as he was not familiar with this neighborhood. But he thought it looked just right, exactly the kind of place to which he hoped she would lead him.
The red car made a final turn into a parking lot. The white car crept ahead on Austin Street and stopped on the street in front of a bus stop. Quickly he shut off the engine, stepped out, and closed the door, careful not to slam it.
The woman was still in her car as he stood some yards away in the shadows, facing toward her, waiting. Standing at the edge of the


parking lot, he vaguely noticed it was a Long Island Railroad station. A few other parked cars sat dark and empty, windows frosted from the night air. Off to the extreme right sat a small commuter train depot, deserted at this hour. Directly ahead stood a pale, two-story building, a Tudor-style structure, unlit and noiseless. No one was around. No one at all, except himself and the young woman who now stepped out of her car and into the cold and silent darkness.
She closed the door of the little red car.
He slid his hand into the deep pocket of his coat.
She was standing by her car door with the key in the lock when she turned her head and saw him, a thin, small man in a stocking cap, over at the far end of the parking lot, looking at her. He had already taken a few steps in her direction and now, as she looked up and it was clear that she had seen him, he wondered if he had fouled this up; moved too soon and given himself away. He worried she would get back in her car. With some relief, he saw that she did not.
She was walking now. She turned and strode quickly toward the building in front of her, veering to her right in the direction of the buildings rear entrances down a wide alleyway adjacent to the train tracks. Her brisk walk betrayed an urgency, and it could be that an awareness had dawned on her of how alone she was at this moment, alone in the gloom and chill with the odd man in the parking lot, as if suddenly they were the only two souls left on earth. She hurried along, turning her back on the man; and thats when he came at her faster. He was not quite running, not yet, but he quickened his pace and came rushing across the parking lot, his right arm held down at his side so she would not see the hunting knife gripped in his gloved hand.
She looked over her shoulder and saw him again, the stranger who had been staring at her, and the feeling of uneasiness she may have felt a second before turned into panic. Now she knew. He was coming for her. There could be no doubt. He was coming for her and she needed to do something.
Suddenly she changed direction, darting sharply to her left and running full speed up toward Austin Street. She must have seen him change his course to intercept her, or perhaps it was simply


instinct and fear and panic compelling her because by the time she set foot on the corner of Austin Street she screamed at the top of her lungs Help!”
HELP!” again as she dashed around the corner, the man now in full pursuit. She kept screaming it—“HELP! HELP!”—as she ran down Austin Street toward Lefferts Boulevard, past the corner drug- store, a tiny grocery, a dry cleaner, and now a bookstore, all shuttered for the night.
It was 3:20 a.m. There was only one business on this block that could have been open at this hour and that may have been where she was headed, to the safety of a neighborhood bar called Austin Bar & Grill, just four more doors away.  
But he caught up to her now between the bookstore and the liquor store and she stopped running suddenly, clumsily, halted by a knife thrust in her upper back that turned her cry of Help! into a tremendous piercing shriek. Again he plunged the knife into her upper back and her long scream intensified. She fell to her knees on the sidewalk with the man standing above her, his knife poised, and for a second they remained this way, the man panting, flushed, exhilarated, the woman shocked, stricken, perhaps  disbelieving. She  raised  her  head  and screamed, Oh my God, he stabbed me! Help me! Somebody please help me!” As if her shattering cry were a cue, the man bent over and lunged
the knife at her again. Instinctively the woman crouched lower as he continued to jab at her.
Another young woman, this one watching through a window in an apartment building across the street, thought the man was beating the screaming woman, who was now crouched almost flat on the pave- ment, her wounded back parallel to the sidewalk. But in fact he was stabbing at her again and the knife connected twice more in her back before two other  screams, both  male, sounded from across Austin Street. The first was the angry voice of a young man, reacting to the clamor outside with a shout of, Shut the fuck up!” The second fol- lowed immediately after and this one came booming from a window high above, a more mature and commanding male voice demanding, Whats going on down there!?”


The man in the stocking cap jerked upright and looked up into the blackness, startled and suddenly fearful. Across the street stood an immense ten-story apartment building that ran the length of the entire block. Lights were coming on, first one and then another and another, as if a giant stone creature had suddenly awakened and begun to open its many rectangular eyes. He  was standing straight across from a recessed entryway to the building where lights in the lobby shone through a large bay window. Worse, he and his shrieking victim on the sidewalk were directly beneath a street lamp.
The booming male voice from above—it sounded like the same one—shouted again, Leave that girl alone!”
The man in the  stocking cap turned  and darted down Austin Street back toward the train station. Some who watched him go saw him disappear into the darkness as he ran past the parking lot. Others were able to see him get into his car, throw it in reverse, quickly back it down Austin Street and then, still in reverse, up a one-way side street called 82nd Road.
The injured young woman lay alone on the sidewalk in front of the bookstore. She was no longer screaming, but crying—the pitiful, unguarded weeping of a child.
Help!” she called out through sobs. If somebody doesnt help me
Im going to die!”
Any reply she may have hoped for did not come. The street was once again silent except for the sounds of her own plaintive weeping. No one stirred or peaked out from the Austin Bar & Grill; it had closed early tonight. All of the businesses were deserted. Some of the apartment lights that had snapped on a minute before went dark again. Some people went back to bed. Of the others who remained at their windows, a few felt they could see the street better with their inside lights off.
The woman tilted on her side and slumped over on her back, facing up toward the night sky and the yellow glow of the street lamp above, blood from the wounds in her back forming fresh stains on the pave- ment beneath her. Almost immediately she tried to get up and away; but, as one onlooker later described it, she was not having an easy


time of it. Her legs moved as if in slow motion as she tried to regain her bearings and stand. She rolled to her side, propping herself on an elbow, and gradually climbed to her feet. A few faltering steps got her to a nearby parked car, which she leaned on for support. From there she lurched to a tall tree by the curb, resting for a moment against its trunk. Pushing off from the tree, she bent unsteadily and grabbed something—her wallet?—from where it had fallen on the sidewalk. Slowly she started down Austin Street the way she had come, back toward the corner drugstore at the edge of the train station parking lot.
Accounts of how she moved would vary. Some would describe her as staggering, others as walking dreamlike. One woman watching from a second-floor apartment  above the  bookstore described her as zigzagging down the street. However she moved, it was a labored journey. Her winter jacket had tempered some of the hunting knifes thrust; her wounds were not very deep nor imminently fatal, but two had reached far enough to put small punctures in each of the lobes of her lungs. Air slowly leaked into her chest cavity. The incisions were sharp, and the shock and fear that surely coursed through her could have overshadowed the physical pain, might have pushed it into the background as a lesser and perhaps almost minor cog in this solitary nightmare. What she certainly felt other than a need to find help was a mounting pressure in her chest, a gradual tightening that slowly but steadily gained in intensity with every step and breath, as if a python had coiled around her, making each inhalation a little more difficult than the last. The constriction added to her fear and desperation but also drove her forward toward the promise of salvation; her attacker had fled and she had only to make it to the safety of home, not ter- ribly far away. Less than a minutes walk from here, normally. She kept moving down Austin Street, accompanied by the sound of her own crying and mumbled pleas and eyes that peered at her through win- dows up and down the block.
Midway to the corner she retreated to the building for support, groping along the walls of the storefronts. She passed the darkened windows of the dry cleaner, the grocery, the drugstore—businesses she patronized during the day. The building she now clung to housed


sixteen apartments, all on the second floor, one of which was her own. The entrances to most of the apartments, including hers, were in the rear along the wide walkway next to the train tracks.
She rounded  the  corner and continued inching along the  side of the building. The train station parking lot was now to her right. Directly beyond the lot stood a seven-story apartment building where a man and his wife on the sixth floor watched the young woman make her way toward the rear walkway. They would both later say that the woman definitely staggered at this point and that her move- ment had slowed from what it had been on the opposite side of Austin Street. Others who still had her in view would agree.
Partway along the side of the building—and now several min- utes into her ordeal—panic overcame her. She cried out, Im dying! Im dying!”
This outburst, coupled with the fresh horror about to come, caused at least two people listening to think the woman had been attacked again, here next to the parking lot. That was not the case, however. The womans cries were yet another reaction to her deepening mortal distress, and perhaps the certainty that she would not be able to go much farther.
She made it to the  next turn  at the  far edge of the  building, where a darkened coffee shop with large glass windows overlooking the walkway occupied the ground floor corner lot. Laboring past the locked door of the coffee shop she came finally to an unlocked door— an apartment entrance. Clutching the door knob, she pushed inward with her remaining strength. The man and his wife up on the sixth floor across the parking lot watched her disappear inside, watched the door close behind her.
It was right after this that the man with the hunting knife returned.

Who Was Kitty Genovese?
Compiled By Chris Rice Cooper

Catherine Susan “Kitty” Genovese was born in New York City in July 7, 1935 to Italian American parents Vincent and Rachel Genovese.  
Her father ran the Bay Ridge Coat & Apron Supply Company and her mother was a homemaker.  She was reared in a Brooklyn Italian neighborhood along with her four younger siblings, in a close-knit Catholic family. 

Kitty attended an all girls’ high school Prospect Heights High School where she excelled in English and Music.  She was known as the talkative girl with self-confidence, with a sunny disposition, and always full of laughter.  She was never at a loss for telling jokes and as a result she was elected  “Class Cut Up” in her senior year.  She graduated in a class of 712 girls in June of 1953.

In 1954 Rachel witnessed a shooting near their neighborhood and she and Vincent decided it was best to move the family to New Canaan, Connecticut. 
Kitty remained in the city with her grandmother planning her wedding to her first and only husband.  The marriage would be annulled within the same year.

Kitty would later reveal to her family and close friends that she was gay.  Her family remained loving and accepting to their daughter, never denying their daughter status in the family. 

Kitty moved into a Brooklyn apartment and worked in clerical jobs.  She also worked as a hostess, barmaid, bar manager and a bartender, which she loved.

Kitty was reliable, dependable, hard worker and had a gift with handling money.  She was working double shifts and was earning an income of $750 per month, the equivalent of $5,835.32 in 2016 dollars.  Her dream was to make enough money to open up her own Italian restaurant.

Her father loved to brag that the moment she no longer lived in the Genovese household he never had to send her one single penny.  Vincent remembers his daughter telling him, “No man could support me because I make more than a man.”

               Kitty's father Vincent Genovese

On March 13, 1963, Kitty met Mary Ann Zielonko at Swing Rendezvous, an underground lesbian bar in Greenwich Village. The two fell in love and moved in to an apartment on 82-70 Austin Street, next to the Long Island Rail Road Station in Kew Gardens, a neighborhood in Queens. They lived on the second floor in one of 14 units in a two-story building with stores and shops on the ground floor, all the apartments on the second floor.

                       Mary Ann Zielonko 

  Mary Ann and Kitty's apartment on 82-70 Austin Street

Since 1953 when she first ventured out on her own, Kitty never forgot about her family and her younger siblings, three younger brothers (Bill, Vinnie, and Frank) and one younger sister (Susan).  Every weekend she had off, she would drive to Connecticut to visit her parents, and her siblings.  Her siblings viewed her as a second mother (she was 12 years older than the oldest son Bill) and would ask her for advice. 

It seems fitting to quote Catherine Pelonero in the AFTERWORD of KITTY GENOVESE:

There was something else that I really hoped readers would glean from my book.  A lot of people have written me and I sincerely appreciate the comments, questions, and feedback from readers.  For me, the most personally meaningful message I received was from a man in Northern California who wrote that he never knew anything about Kitty Genovese before reading my book.  Now that he did, he wrote, “I wish Kitty had been my friend.”
No book review has ever meant more to me

I wish she were my friend too.