“For more than half an hour 38 respectable, law-abiding citizens in Queens watched a killer stalk and stab a woman in three separate attacks in Kew Gardens.”
– Martin Gansburg, New York Times, March 27, 1964
“(The case) caught the spirit of the time…. It seemed to symbolize that society no longer cared about other people.”
– Thomas Reppetto, police historian
Early on today’s date, March 13, in 1964, FIFTY YEARS AGO, a bright and friendly young 28 year old woman named Kitty Genovese (above) was murdered outside her apartment building in New York City. The case garnered national attention when it was reported in the New York Times some days later that a total of 38 people had heard her screams and witnessed the crime and did nothing, saying that they didn’t want to get involved. The outrage that this public display of apathy caused opened a whole new area of social science, but it may have been based on faulty reporting in the Times.
Kitty Genovese is Stalked and Murdered
At about 3:15 a.m. on this date, Ms. Genovese arrived home from her job as Manager of at “Ev’s Eleventh Hour Sports Bar” on Jamaica Avenue and 193rd Street in Hollis, Queens. She lived at the Kew Apartments in Queens (below) where she shared # 80-20
with her partner, Mary Ann Zielonko. She was at this time attacked by Winston Moseley, a married 29 year old father of two children who was driven by a psycho- pathic need to kill and who had been out searching for a victim (in his own words). Moseley stabbed Kitty several times with a knife and she screamed: “Oh my God, he stabbed me! Help me!” Her cries were heard by one of her neighbors, Robert Mozer, who yelled out through his window: “Let that girl alone!” This scared off Moseley who retreated to his car. Kitty was able in spite of her wounds to crawl to an outside hallway at the back of her building, some small distance from where she had been attacked. Barely conscious, she was kept from entering the building by a locked door, but had crawled into the vestibule. By this point, about ten minutes later Moseley returned, and attacked her again, stabbing her several more times. As she lay dying, Moseley then raped her, stole $49.00 from her wallet and finally left her. Genovese died on the way to the hospital.
The Story is Printed in the New York Times
This was certainly brutal crime, but it did not make major headlines until the Metro Editor of the Times, A.M Rosenthal had lunch a few days later with Police Commissioner Michael Murphy. The reporting from officers at the scene had emphasized that there had been many witnesses to the crime, 38 in fact and that the police had not been called until it was too late. When
Commissioner Murphy told this to Rosenthal he was so shocked that he assigned a reporter to do a story on the apathy of the neighbors towards the crime. The resulting article, quoted at the top of this posting painted a damning picture of uncaring people: “Twice their chatter and the sudden glow of their bedroom lights interrupted him and frightened him off. Each time he returned, sought her out, and stabbed her again. Not one person telephoned the police during the assault; one witness called after the woman was dead.” The resulting publicity created a firestorm of public condemnation about this story of the callousness or apathy of life in big cities, especially in New York. The story was picked up by “Life” magazine, and then by newspapers all over the world. New York became a place of infamy, filled with callous uncaring people. Since that time the image has been very tough to combat. And an entire branch of sociology has risen from this crime, centering on the “bystander effect” which along with the Genovese case has become a staple of social psychology textbooks.
Did 38 People Really See It Happen?
But a study of the crime completed in 2007 found many of the reported “facts” of the crime to be unfounded. The report in fact concluded that there was “…no evidence for the presence of 38 witnesses, or that witnesses observed the murder, or that witnesses remained inactive”. There were in fact a total of two separate attacks, the first one of which was ended by a witness yelling to leave the girl alone. It was cold that night, so most of the windows were closed, and were several floors up (Another part of the scene is pictured below). Thus what may have been
heard by those few who were awake sounded like a drunken argument to those who heard it, especially in the second portion of the attack which was hidden from any one’s view. Further, just one witness, Joseph Fink, was aware she was stabbed in the first attack, and Karl Ross was aware of it in the second attack, and he did in fact call the police. And the fact is that one woman – Sophie Farrar – who was all of 4ft.11″ tall actually did go down to the scene of the crime, and stayed with Ms. Genovese until the ambulance arrived. So it is likely that the report of 38 law-abiding citizens just blowing off was to say the least exaggerated. Nevertheless, there are many who believe that bystanders could and should have done more. Author Catherine Pelonero has said “Many people heard the screams and had very good reasonable cause to believe that a crime was taking place…..The most chilling part is that once she reached the back of the building, she was lying down there for several minutes calling for help.”
Whatever the case with the witnesses, Winston Moseley (below) was caught a short time after on another crime and confessed to
the Genovese murder. He was sentenced to death, but that penalty was reduced to life imprisonment on a technicality by an appeals court. After escaping in March of 1968, and committing more hideous crimes including rape and murder, he was recaptured and is now in prison with two more 15 year sentences added to his life sentence running concurrently. He was denied parole for the 17th time in December of 2013