John Dolenc

Allegheny County, Pennsylvania
Date of Crime:  July 8, 1975

John Dolenc was convicted of murdering his wife, Patricia. The couple had separated for a week, but agreed to meet in Bridgeville on Saturday night, July 5, 1975. Dolenc said Patricia did not show up. The prosecution argued that she did show up, and Dolenc murdered her that night. Dolenc spent that night barhopping in Bridgeville with his uncle. He was able to prove that he had been at some bars, although police did not check them all. Even if they did, the prosecution later argued that he would have had time to murder his wife between some of the visits.

Patricia was found dead on July 8, three days later, in a parking lot behind her apartment. She appeared to be the victim of a sexual assault. A pathologist testified that Patricia probably was dead for less than 72 hours. Her body was still warm and rigor mortis – which usually disappears within 12 hours of death – was still present. Two of Dolenc's relatives later told a private investigator that they saw Patricia on July 7 in an Oakdale bank. Receipts show that Patricia and one of her aunts conducted business in the bank that day. Two other acquaintances also said they saw Patricia on July 7 at a store where she bought two cans of tuna. One of the men who saw her there said he also had beer and pizza with her later that day at a local pub.

Not long after Patricia's death, a former boyfriend of hers named Ed Zombeck began to involve himself in the case, telling Dolenc that he was conducting his own investigation. At the time, Dolenc did not know that his wife's father had reported Zombeck to the police for threatening her after she broke off their relationship. Thanks to Zombeck and Mt. Lebanon police, Dolenc said he learned about the crime scene and other elements of the murder that police later said only the killer would know. “Ed Zombeck kept turning up during the investigation like a bad penny,” one Mt. Lebanon police officer said later.

Six months after the murder, police charged Zombeck with the crime after a federal drug agent told them that Zombeck's wife had screamed “tell them you did it” in the background as the agent and Zombeck were talking on the telephone. The charges were dismissed later that day. Zombeck denied involvement. He said his wife had mental problems and made the statement during a domestic dispute. Charges were not filed against Dolenc until 1981. They were then dismissed for insufficient evidence following a coroner's inquest. Eight months later, charges were re-filed and Dolenc was tried six years after the murder.

At trial, the prosecutor suggested some of the blood found on Patricia belonged to Dolenc. However, both shared the same blood type. The prosecutor paraded a series of witnesses who testified about the couple's marital problems. He pounded away at minor inconsistencies in statements Dolenc had given police about his movements on the Saturday night when Patricia was allegedly murdered. While Dolenc claimed he was with his uncle that night, his uncle testified he had suffered a brain injury since the murder and could not remember dates, times or events. Dolenc's sister possessed a bracelet owned by his dead wife. Both Dolenc and his sister said it was a gift Patricia had given her shortly before she died.

Dolenc's lawyer did not yet know about the four people who claim to have seen Patricia after the prosecution said she was dead. But he did get the Allegheny County Coroner to admit that it was unlikely her body had been in the parking lot for three days. Dolenc sought DNA tests on blood found at the crime scene. The state opposed the tests and maintained that the finding of a third person's blood would not prove Dolenc's innocence. Dolenc, then 54, died in prison of natural causes on Dec. 13, 2007.  [10/07]


Reference:  Innocence Institute

Posted in:  Victims of the State, Western Pennsylvania Cases, Timeline Discrepancies, Wife Murder Cases