"Girl, 4, Is Witness to Murder" - Dolores Urkowski (1930-1978)

Dolores Urkowski is my 2nd cousin once removed. She was the sole witness to the murder of her 20 year old nursemaid, Jennie Zablocki, in 1933. This is what I know of the story. 

Dolores Urkowski (1930-1978)

On the evening of December 6th, 1933 Miss Jennie Zablocki was murdered at the home of my 1st cousin 2x removed, Cecilia Pawlowski Urkowski (1908-1973) and her husband, Walter Urkowski (1901-1980). The only witness to the murder was their daughter, Dolores Urkowski (1930-1978), my 2nd cousin 1x removed. She was 4 years old at the time. 

Dolores's grandparents, John Pawlowski (1882-1920) and Paulina Grzeskowiak Pawlowski (1883-1941), were my 2nd great aunt and uncle. In fact, John was the brother of my great grandfather, Adam Pawlowski (1879-1959), and Paulina was the sister of my great grandmother, Marianna Grzeskowiak Pawlowski (1879-1941).

Two Pawlowski brothers married two Grzeskowiak sisters.

The murder took place at the Urkowski's home on 6338 Rugg Ave. in Detroit, MI. Miss Zablocki was employed as the nursemaid for the family taking care of Dolores and her younger brother, Donald. A third sibling, Walter Jr., was born later in 1937.

Here is the first mention of the crime in the Detroit Free Press on December 7th, 1933. The initial account points to jealous rage by a controlling boyfriend as the motive. 

The primary suspect as reported by the Free Press was Elton Cebelak (pictured right), Miss Zablocki's fiancé whom she planned to marry on Valentine's day the following year. The article states that Miss Zablocki was a distant relative of the Urkowskis but I have no information about how she might be related.

The murder of Miss Zablocki made national news. There were several national news articles about the murder including this one published a week after the crime in the Casper Star-Tribune in Casper, Wyoming.

A follow up article three days after the murder suggested that Mr. Cebelak had a strong alibi (he was at work) but that the police were still questioning him. This article also reported on some of four year old Dolores's account of the murder. She said that a man: "struck Miss Jennie on the head with a stick."  

From there the story took an interesting turn, as laid out in this Detroit Free Press article on December 11, 1933. A new suspect was charged and Elton Cebelak was cleared!

This reads like some good old fashioned 1930s detective work. The new suspect, 19 year old Ernest Di Oro, was arrested four days after the murder. He was identified by a companion, George Miotke, who apparently drove Di Oro to the Urkowski's home unaware that Ernest had his mind on murder. 

Here are the some of the more interesting highlights of the situation, as reported:

  • The initial "suspect", Mr. Cebelak, was strategically held at police headquarters in hopes of luring Mr. Di Oro, the real suspect, home thinking that he was cleared.
  • Jealousy was the motive. However, it was Mr. Di Oro's jealousy in response to Miss Zablocki having "induced Di Oro's sweetheart to go out with another man."
  • Mr. Di Oro was a milk wagon driver.
  • Mr. Di Oro went into the Urkowski home empty handed, but came out wearing leather gloves, with bloodstained shirtsleeves, and carrying an accordion.
  • You read that correctly: In addition to the murder, Di Oro STOLE AN ACCORDIAN that belonged to the Urkowskis.

The details of the murder at this point in the reporting were still a little murky. Here are some follow up articles that provided answers.

This one from December 12, 1933, in addition to correction the suspects name to "Di'Orio", details the man's confession, motive, and state of mind. Before his confession, in an effort to appear innocent, Dr'Orio even attended the wake of his victim and donated 50 cents to a flower fund for her funeral!

Here is a picture of Mr. Di'Orio, the confessed killer, with his friend, Sophie Morzyko. Allegedly, Miss Zablocki was attempting to get Sophie to discontinue her friendship with Dr'Orio. This stoked the fire of Mr. Di'Orio's murderous rage.  

It is not clear when the photo was taken. 

Here is a short description of Dr'Orio's court appearance on December 12, 1933 after his confession.

One month later, on January 12, 1934, it was reported that Dr'Orio was sentence to 20-40 years in Jackson Prison for murder.  

Miss Zablocki, obviously, is the primary victim in this case and we shouldn't lose site of that. That said, what drew me to this story was the fact that a four year old girl, Dolores Urkowski, witnessed such a horrific tragedy.

Dolores lived until 1978. Until I started researching my family tree I had no knowledge that she existed or that this crime was part of my extended family. I need to research some more, but I don't believe she Dolores ever married and I don't think she had children. No one in my immediate family knew of this branch of the family tree. 


As I think about Dolores Urkowski and my family tree I am reminded of the mission of The Psychologenealogist: Exploring the spaces where psychology, genealogy, and history converge - one story at a time. Here are some of the questions I have about Patrick:

Genealogy questions:

  • Other than newspaper articles, what sort of documents are available from legal sources or police departments when crimes are involved?
  • What are the facts of Dolores's life after she witnessed this murder?
  • What ever happened to Mr. Di'Orio?

Psychology Questions:

  • How did witnessing this murder impact the rest of Dolores's life?
  • Was she scared? Did she even remember the event as an adult? Did she experiencing nightmares, anxiety, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?
  • How would you describe the personality of the assailant, Mr. Di'Orio?
  • How do traumatic stories like this get remembered and told (or forgotten and concealed) in families generations after they occur?

This is the 11th of 52 weekly posts planned for 2018. It was inspired by the #52Ancestors writing challenge issued by professional genealogist, Amy Crow Johnson. The challenge: once a week, for all 52 weeks of the year, write about a relative in your family tree.