Murder of Kitty Genovese
|Date||March 13, 1964|
|Location||Kew Gardens, Queens, New York City, US|
March 16, 1964|
New Canaan, Connecticut, US
|Trial||June 8–11, 1964|
|Sentence||Death (reduced to life imprisonment)|
In the early hours of March 13, 1964, Kitty Genovese was stabbed to death outside her apartment building in Kew Gardens, a neighborhood in the New York City borough of Queens. Two weeks later, The New York Times published an article claiming that 38 witnesses saw or heard the attack, but none of them called the police or came to her aid. The incident prompted inquiries into what became known as the bystander effect or "Genovese syndrome", and the murder became a staple of American psychology textbooks for the next four decades. However, researchers have since uncovered major inaccuracies in the New York Times article.
Reporters at a competing news organization discovered in 1964 that the article was inconsistent with the facts, but they were unwilling at the time to challenge New York Times editor Abe Rosenthal. In 2007, an article in the American Psychologist found "no evidence for the presence of 38 witnesses, or that witnesses observed the murder, or that witnesses remained inactive". In 2016, The New York Times called its own reporting "flawed", stating that the original story "grossly exaggerated the number of witnesses and what they had perceived".
Winston Moseley, a 29-year-old Manhattan native, was arrested during a house burglary six days after the murder. While in custody, he confessed to killing Genovese. At his trial, Moseley was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death; this sentence was later reduced to life imprisonment. Moseley died in prison on March 28, 2016, at the age of 81, having served 52 years.
Catherine Susan Genovese|
July 7, 1935
Brooklyn, New York City, US
March 13, 1964 (aged 28)|
Kew Gardens, Queens, New York City, New York, US
|Cause of death||Asphyxiation from stab to lung|
New Canaan, Connecticut, US
Catherine Susan "Kitty" Genovese (July 7, 1935 – March 13, 1964) was born in Brooklyn, New York City, the eldest of five children of Italian American parents Rachel (née Giordano) and Vincent Andronelle Genovese. She was raised Catholic, living in a brownstone home at 29 St. Johns Place in Park Slope, a western Brooklyn neighborhood populated mainly by families of Italian and Irish heritage. In her teenage years, she attended the all-girl Prospect Heights High School, where she was recalled as being "self-assured beyond her years" and having a "sunny disposition". After her mother witnessed a murder, her family moved to New Canaan, Connecticut in 1954, while Genovese, who had recently graduated from high school, remained in Brooklyn with her grandparents to prepare for her upcoming marriage. Later that year, the couple wed, but the marriage was annulled near the end of 1954.
After moving into an apartment in Brooklyn, Genovese worked in clerical jobs, which she found unappealing. By the late 1950s, she had accepted a job as a bartender; at the time of her murder, she was working as a bar manager at Ev's Eleventh Hour Bar on Jamaica Avenue and 193rd Street in Hollis, Queens. She shared her Kew Gardens apartment at 82–70 Austin Street with her girlfriend Mary Ann Zielonko whom she met in 1963.
At approximately 2:30 a.m. on March 13, 1964, Genovese left the bar where she worked and began driving home in her red Fiat. While waiting for a traffic light to change on Hoover Avenue, she was spotted by Winston Moseley, who was sitting in his parked car. Genovese arrived home around 3:15 a.m. and parked her car in the Kew Gardens Long Island Rail Road station parking lot, about 100 feet (30 m) from her apartment's door, in an alleyway at the rear of the building. As she walked toward the apartment complex, Moseley, who had followed her home, exited his vehicle, which he had parked at a corner bus stop on Austin Street. Armed with a hunting knife, he approached Genovese.
Genovese ran toward the front of the building, and Moseley ran after her, overtook her, and stabbed her twice in the back. Genovese screamed, "Oh my God, he stabbed me! Help me!" Several neighbors heard her cry, but only a few of them recognized the sound as a cry for help. When Robert Mozer, one of the neighbors, shouted at the attacker, "Let that girl alone!" Moseley ran away and Genovese slowly made her way toward the rear entrance of the building, seriously injured and out of view of any witnesses.
Witnesses saw Moseley enter his car, drive away and return ten minutes later. Shadowing his face with a wide-brimmed hat, he systematically searched the parking lot, the train station and an apartment complex, eventually finding Genovese, who was barely conscious and lying in a hallway at the back of the building, where a locked door had prevented her from going inside. Out of view of the street and of those who may have heard or seen any sign of the initial attack, Moseley stabbed Genovese several more times before raping her, stealing $49 from her and running away again. The attacks spanned approximately half an hour, and knife wounds in Genovese's hands suggested that she attempted to defend herself from him. A neighbor, Sophia Farrar, found her shortly after and held her in her arms.
Records of the earliest calls to police are unclear and were not given a high priority. One witness said his father called the police after the initial attack and reported that a woman was "beat up, but got up and was staggering around". A few minutes after the final attack, another witness, Karl Ross, called the police, who arrived at the scene within minutes of his call. Genovese was picked up by an ambulance at 4:15 a.m. and died en route to the hospital. She was buried on March 16, 1964 in Lakeview Cemetery in New Canaan.
Booking photograph (April 1, 1964)
March 2, 1935|
Clinton Correctional Facility, New York, United States
|Occupation||Remington Rand machine operator|
Murder A1 (degree-less prior to September 1, 1974, in the State of New York)|
Robbery (second degree)
Attempted kidnapping (second degree)
|Criminal penalty||Death reduced to life imprisonment plus two 15-year sentences|
Winston Moseley (March 2, 1935 – March 28, 2016) was 29 years old at the time he murdered Genovese. He was from Ozone Park, Queens, where he was apprehended by police during a burglary on March 19, 1964, six days after the stabbing. At the time of his arrest, Moseley was working as a Remington Rand tab operator, had no prior criminal record and was married with three children.
While in custody, Moseley confessed to killing Genovese. He detailed the attack, corroborating the physical evidence at the scene. He said that his motive for the attack was simply "to kill a woman", saying he preferred to kill women because "they were easier and didn't fight back". He stated that he got up that night around 2 a.m., leaving his wife asleep at home, and drove through Queens to find a victim. He saw Genovese on her way home and followed her to the parking lot before killing her. He also confessed to murdering and sexually assaulting two other women and to committing between 30 and 40 burglaries. Subsequent psychiatric examinations suggested that Moseley was a necrophile.
Moseley's trial began on June 8, 1964, and was presided over by Judge J. Irwin Shapiro. Moseley initially pleaded not guilty, but his attorney later changed his plea to not guilty by reason of insanity. During his testimony, Moseley described the events on the night he murdered Genovese, along with the two other murders to which he had confessed and numerous other burglaries and rapes. The jury deliberated for seven hours before returning a guilty verdict at around 10:30 p.m on June 11. On June 15, Moseley was sentenced to death for the murder of Genovese. When the jury foreman read the sentence, Moseley showed no emotion, while some spectators applauded and cheered. Judge Shapiro added, "I don't believe in capital punishment, but when I see a monster like this, I wouldn't hesitate to pull the switch myself." On June 1, 1967, the New York Court of Appeals found that Moseley should have been able to argue that he was medically insane at the sentencing hearing when the trial court found that he had been legally sane, and the sentence was reduced to lifetime imprisonment.
Imprisonment and death
On March 18, 1968, Moseley escaped from prison while being transported back from Meyer Memorial Hospital in Buffalo, New York, where he had undergone minor surgery for a self-inflicted injury. He hit the transporting correctional officer, stole his weapon and fled to a nearby vacant house owned by a Grand Island, New York couple, Mr. and Mrs. Matthew Kulaga, where he stayed undetected for three days. On March 21, the Kulagas went to check on the house, where they encountered Moseley, who held them hostage for more than an hour, binding and gagging Matthew and raping his wife. He then took the couple's car and fled. Moseley traveled to Grand Island, where, on March 22, he broke into another house and held a woman and her daughter hostage for two hours before releasing them unharmed. He surrendered to police shortly afterward, and was charged with escape and kidnapping, to which he pleaded guilty. Moseley was given two additional 15-year sentences to run concurrently with his life sentence.
During the 1970s, Moseley participated in the Attica Prison riot, and late in the decade obtained a Bachelor of Arts in sociology in prison from Niagara University. He became eligible for parole in 1984. During his first parole hearing, he told the parole board that the notoriety he faced due to his crimes made him a victim, stating, "For a victim outside, it's a one-time or one-hour or one-minute affair, but for the person who's caught, it's forever." At the same hearing, Moseley claimed he never intended to kill Genovese and that he considered her murder to be a mugging because "[...] people do kill people when they mug them sometimes." The board denied his request for parole. He returned for a parole hearing on March 13, 2008, the 44th anniversary of Genovese's murder. He continued to show little remorse for Genovese's murder and parole was again denied. Genovese's brother Vincent was unaware of the 2008 hearing until he was contacted by New York Daily News reporters. Vincent Genovese has reportedly never recovered from the horror of his sister's murder. "This brings back what happened to her," Vincent had said; "the whole family remembers".
Moseley was denied parole an 18th time in November 2015, and died in prison on March 28, 2016, at the age of 81. He had served 52 years, making him one of the longest-serving inmates in the New York State prison system.
In the days following the murder, it did not receive much media attention. It took a remark from the New York City Police Commissioner Michael J. Murphy to New York Times metropolitan editor A. M. Rosenthal over lunch — Rosenthal later quoted Murphy as saying, "That Queens story is one for the books" — to motivate the Times into publishing an investigative report. The article, written by Martin Gansberg and published on March 27, 1964, two weeks after the murder, claimed that 38 witnesses saw the murder, but an error reduced the number of witnesses by one in the headline, "37 Who Saw Murder Didn't Call the Police". It has been quoted and reproduced since 1964 with a corrected headline of "Thirty-Eight Who Saw Murder Didn't Call the Police". The public view of the story crystallized around a quote from the article by an unidentified neighbor who saw part of the attack but deliberated before finally getting another neighbor to call the police, saying, "I didn't want to get involved." Many then saw the story of Genovese's murder as emblematic of the callousness or apathy of life in big cities, and New York in particular.
Science-fiction author and cultural provocateur Harlan Ellison, in articles published in 1970 and 1971 in the Los Angeles Free Press and in Rolling Stone, referred to the witnesses as "thirty-six motherfuckers" and stated that they "stood by and watched" Genovese "get knifed to death right in front of them, and wouldn't make a move" and that "thirty-eight people watched" Genovese "get knifed to death in a New York street". In an article in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, published in June 1988 and later reprinted in his book Harlan Ellison's Watching, Ellison referred to the murder as "witnessed by thirty-eight neighbors, not one of whom made the slightest effort to save her, to scream at the killer, or even to call the police". He cited reports he claimed to have read that one man, "viewing the murder from his third-floor apartment window, stated later that he rushed to turn up his radio so he wouldn't hear the woman's screams". Ellison says that the reports attributed the "get involved" quote to nearly all of the 38 who supposedly witnessed the attack.
Public reaction to murders happening in the neighborhood supposedly did not change. According to a The New York Times article dated December 28, 1974, ten years after Genovese's murder, 25-year-old Sandra Zahler was beaten to death early Christmas morning in an apartment within a building that overlooked the site of the Genovese attack. Neighbors again said they heard screams and "fierce struggles" but did nothing.
In an interview on NPR on March 3, 2014, Kevin Cook, author of Kitty Genovese: The Murder, the Bystanders, the Crime That Changed America, said:
Thirty-eight witnesses — that was the story that came from the police. And it really is what made the story stick. Over the course of many months of research, I wound up finding a document that was a collection of the first interviews. Oddly enough, there were 49 witnesses. I was puzzled by that until I added up the entries themselves. Some of them were interviews with two or three people [who] lived in the same apartment. I believe that some harried civil servant gave that number to the police commissioner who gave it to Rosenthal, and it entered the modern history of America after that.
In his book, Rosenthal asked a series of behavioral scientists to explain why people do or do not help a victim and, sadly, he found none could offer an evidence-based answer. How ironic that this same question was answered separately by a non-scientist. When the killer was apprehended, and Chief of Detectives Albert Seedman asked him how he dared to attack a woman in front of so many witnesses, the psychopath calmly replied, 'I knew they wouldn't do anything, people never do'— Seedman & Hellman, 1974, p. 100.
The apparent lack of reaction by numerous neighbors purported to have watched the scene or to have heard Genovese's cries for help, although erroneously reported, prompted research into diffusion of responsibility and the bystander effect. Social psychologists John M. Darley and Bibb Latané started this line of research, showing that contrary to common expectations, larger numbers of bystanders decrease the likelihood that someone will step forward and help a victim. The reasons include the fact that onlookers see that others are not helping either, that onlookers believe others will know better how to help, and that onlookers feel uncertain about helping while others are watching. The Genovese case thus became a classic feature of social psychology textbooks in the United States and the United Kingdom.
In September 2007, the American Psychologist published an examination of the factual basis of coverage of the Genovese murder in psychology textbooks. The three authors concluded that the story was more parable than fact, largely because of inaccurate newspaper coverage at the time of the incident. According to the authors, "despite this absence of evidence, the story continues to inhabit our introductory social psychology textbooks (and thus the minds of future social psychologists)." A survey of ten leading undergraduate psychology textbooks found the Genovese case in all ten of them, with eight textbooks suggesting that witnesses watched from their windows as Genovese was murdered, and two textbooks stating that some or most of the witnesses heard but could not see the attack. One interpretation of the parable is that the drama and ease of teaching the exaggerated story make it easier for professors to capture student attention and interest.
Psychologist Frances Cherry has suggested the interpretation of the murder as an issue of bystander intervention is incomplete. She has pointed to additional research such as that of Borofsky and Shotland demonstrating that people, especially at that time, were unlikely to intervene if they believed a man was attacking his wife or girlfriend. She has suggested that the issue might be better understood in terms of male/female power relations.
Accuracy of original reports
More recent investigations have questioned the original version of events. A 2004 article in the New York Times by Jim Rasenberger, published on the 40th anniversary of Genovese's murder, raised numerous questions about claims in the original Times article. A 2007 study found many of the purported facts about the murder to be unfounded, stating there was "no evidence for the presence of 38 witnesses, or that witnesses observed the murder, or that witnesses remained inactive". After Moseley's death in March 2016, The New York Times called their second story "flawed", stating:
While there was no question that the attack occurred, and that some neighbors ignored cries for help, the portrayal of 38 witnesses as fully aware and unresponsive was erroneous. The article grossly exaggerated the number of witnesses and what they had perceived. None saw the attack in its entirety. Only a few had glimpsed parts of it, or recognized the cries for help. Many thought they had heard lovers or drunks quarreling. There were two attacks, not three. And afterward, two people did call the police. A 70-year-old woman ventured out and cradled the dying victim in her arms until they arrived. Ms. Genovese died on the way to a hospital.
Because of the layout of the complex and the fact that the attacks took place in different locations, no witness saw the entire sequence of events. Investigation by police and prosecutors showed that approximately a dozen individuals had heard or seen portions of the attack, though none saw or was aware of the entire incident. Only one witness, Joseph Fink, was aware she was stabbed in the first attack, and only Karl Ross was aware of it in the second attack. Many were entirely unaware that an assault or homicide had taken place; some thought what they saw or heard was a domestic quarrel, a drunken brawl or a group of friends leaving the bar when Moseley first approached Genovese. After the initial attack punctured her lungs, leading to her eventual death from asphyxiation, it is unlikely that Genovese was able to scream at any volume.
A 2015 documentary, featuring Kitty's brother William, discovered that other crime reporters knew of many problems with the story even in 1964. Immediately after the story broke, WNBC police reporter Danny Meehan discovered many inconsistencies in the original article in The New York Times. Meehan asked New York Times reporter Martin Gansberg why his article failed to reveal that witnesses did not feel that a murder was happening. Gansberg replied, "It would have ruined the story." Not wishing to jeopardize his career by attacking powerful New York Times editor Abe Rosenthal, Meehan kept his findings secret and passed his notes to fellow WNBC reporter Gabe Pressman. Later, Pressman taught a journalism course in which some of his students called Rosenthal and confronted him with the evidence. Rosenthal was irate that his editorial decisions were being questioned by journalism students and angrily berated Pressman in a phone call.
On October 12, 2016, The New York Times appended an Editor's Note to the online version of its 1964 article, stating that "Later reporting by The Times and others has called into question significant elements of this account."
In popular culture
The story of the witnesses who did nothing "is taught in every introduction-to-psychology textbook in the United States and Britain, and in many other countries ... and has been made popularly known through television programs and books," and songs.
Film and television
- The Perry Mason episode, "The Case of the Silent Six" (November 21, 1965), portrays the brutal beating of a young woman whose screams for help are ignored by the six residents of her small apartment building. The "get involved" quote is spoken once by Paul Drake and paraphrased by several other characters.
- An American television movie, Death Scream (1975), starring Raúl Juliá, was based on the murder.
- The Law & Order episode "Remand" (1996), is loosely based on the Genovese case, as is the Law & Order: SVU episode "41 Witnesses" (2015). In the season 1 Law & Order episode, "The Violence of Summer" (1991), Detective Logan remarks: "It's the post-Kitty Genovese era, nobody wants to look, they think they'll get involved", when lamenting the lack of witnesses to a rape.
- The crime thriller film The Boondock Saints (1999) mentions the incident at the beginning of the movie as an example of good men doing nothing.
- History's Mysteries, episode 15.2 "Silent Witnesses: The Kitty Genovese Murder" (2006) on the History Channel, is a documentary of the murder.
- The film 38 témoins (2012, 38 Witnesses), directed by Lucas Belvaux, is based on Didier Decoin's 2009 novel about the case and reset in Le Havre, France.
- Season 2, episode 1 of the Investigation Discovery Channel's A Crime to Remember series, "38 Witnesses" (2014), is about the Genovese murder.
- The 2015 film The Witness reexamines the murder with interviews of both Genovese's and her killer's families.
- The 2016 film 37 is a fictional account of the night Genovese was murdered.
- Season 5, episode 7 of Girls (2016), "Hello Kitty" follows the characters as they navigate through an interactive theatrical version of Genovese's murder.
- Genovese's murder inspired Harlan Ellison's short story "The Whimper of Whipped Dogs", first published in Bad Moon Rising: An Anthology of Political Forebodings (1973).
- Dean Koontz's horror novel, Twilight Eyes (1985), refers to the murder as motivation for the main characters to take action.
- In the comic series Watchmen (1986–1987), Genovese's murder inspired protagonist Rorschach to become a masked vigilante. His unique mask made from the signature "Moving Ink Blot" material was created from a dress that was originally intended for Genovese.
- In his book, The Tipping Point (2000), Malcolm Gladwell refers to the case and the "bystander effect" as evidence of contextual cues for human responses.
- Ryan David Jahn's novel Good Neighbors (2009) is based on the murder.
- Didier Decoin's novel Est-ce ainsi que les femmes meurent? (2009; Is This How Women Die?, ISBN 2246682215) is based on the murder.
- SuperFreakonomics (2009), by Steven Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, uses the murder of Genovese as a case study in the book's chapter on altruism.
- The story is mentioned in Robert Cialdini￼￼'s Influence as an example of the concept of social proof.
- In Twisted Confessions: The True Story Behind the Kitty Genovese and Barbara Kralik Murder Trials (ISBN 978-1481746144), Charles Skoller, the lead prosecutor from the Genovese murder trial, recalls the events and mass attention surrounding the crime.
- In 2016, the book "No One Helped": Kitty Genovese, New York City, and the Myth of Urban Apathy, by Marcia M. Gallo, won in the category of LGBT Nonfiction at the Lambda Literary Awards.
- In Pat Conroy's novel The Lords of Discipline, the novel's protagonist, a senior cadet at a South Carolina military college, uses the Genovese case as an example to explain the military college's honor code to the incoming freshman class, repeating the mythology of the uninvolved bystanders.
- Genovese's murder inspired folk singer Phil Ochs to write the song "Outside of a Small Circle of Friends", originally released on the album Pleasures of the Harbor (1967). This song related five different situations that should demand action on the part of the narrator, but in each case the narrator concludes: "I'm sure it wouldn't interest anybody outside of a small circle of friends".
- Joey Levine and Artie Resnick composed the song "All's Quiet On West 23rd" (1967), which tells the story of a fictional murder based upon the Genovese case. It was released on record by several musicians in 1967–1968, including The Jet Stream, sung by Levine; Julie Budd in the US; and Liza Strike in the UK.
- Genovese is briefly mentioned in the song "Big Bird" by Andrew Jackson Jihad. The lyric, "I'm afraid of the social laziness that let Kitty Genovese die" refers to a fear of songwriter Sean Bonnette.
- Following the murder of Meredith Hunter at the Altamont Free Concert in 1969, KSAN put on a four-hour telephone call-in program to discuss the events. A woman who called in gave details about the violent behavior of Hells Angels at the show and said people didn't stop them because "we were all in terror of them". At the concert, she had tried to speak up against the violence, but was warned to be quiet by the people around her, for fear of being beaten. In his response, KSAN's Scoop Nisker mentioned the bystander effect and the Genovese story.
- Korean indie rock band Nell wrote the song "Dear Genovese" for their album "Newton's Apple" in 2014, inspired by these events.
- Argentine author Carlos Gorostiza's play, The Neighbors (1966), is based on the murder case, from the point of the view of the spectators.
- English composer Will Todd's music theatre work, The Screams of Kitty Genovese (1999), is based on the murder.
- Crime in New York City
- Death of Cristina and Violetta Djeordsevic (Italy)
- Death of Wang Yue (China)
- Social loafing
- Volunteer's dilemma
- Bystander Effect
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Brooke Gladstone: Wasn't she screaming during the second attack? Joseph de May: The wounds that she apparently suffered during the first attack, the two to four stabs in the back, caused her lungs to be punctured, and the testimony given at trial is that she died not from bleeding to death but from asphyxiation. The air from her lungs leaked into her thoracic cavity, compressing the lungs, making it impossible for her to breathe. I am not a doctor, but as a layman my question is, if someone suffers that type of lung damage, are they even physically capable of screaming for a solid half hour?
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