Catherine Susan Genovese (July 7,
1935 – March 13, 1964), commonly known as Kitty Genovese,
was a New York City woman who was stabbed to death near
her home in the Kew Gardens section of Queens, New York
on March 13, 1964. Genovese was buried in a family grave
at Lakeview Cemetery in New Canaan, Connecticut.
The circumstances of her murder and
the lack of reaction of numerous neighbors were reported
by a newspaper article published two weeks later; the
common portrayal of neighbors being fully aware but
completely nonresponsive has later been criticized as
inaccurate. Nonetheless, it prompted investigation into
the social psychological phenomenon that has become
known as the bystander effect or "Genovese syndrome"
and especially diffusion of responsibility.
Born in New York City, the daughter
of Rachel née Petrolli and Vincent Andronelle Genovese,
she was the eldest of five children in a lower-middle
class Italian American family and was raised in Brooklyn.
After her mother witnessed a murder in the city, the
family moved to Connecticut in 1954. Genovese, nineteen
at the time and a recent graduate of Prospect Heights
High School in Brooklyn, chose to remain in the city,
where she had lived for nine years. At the time of her
death, she was working as a bar manager at Ev's Eleventh
Hour Sports Bar on Jamaica Avenue and 193rd Street in
Hollis, Queens. Genovese shared her Kew Gardens, Queens
apartment with her lover, Mary Ann Zielonko.
Genovese had driven home from her
job working as a bar manager early in the morning of
March 13, 1964. Arriving home at about 3:15 a.m. and
parking about 100 feet (30 m) from her apartment's door,
which was around the rear of the building, she was approached
by Winston Moseley. Moseley ran after her and quickly
overtook her, stabbing her twice in the back. Genovese
screamed, "Oh my God, he stabbed me! Help me!"
Her cry was heard by several neighbors
but, on a cold night with the windows closed, 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 her apartment building. She was seriously injured,
but now out of view of those few who may have had reason
to believe she was in need of help.
Records of the earliest calls to
police are unclear and were certainly not given a high
priority by the police. One witness said his father
called police after the initial attack and reported
that a woman was "beat up, but got up and was staggering
Other witnesses observed Moseley
enter his car and drive away only to return ten minutes
later. In his car he changed his hat to a wide-brimmed
one to shadow his face. He systematically searched the
parking lot, train station, and small apartment complex.
Eventually he found Genovese who was lying, barely conscious,
in a hallway at the back of the building where a locked
doorway had prevented her from entering the building.
Out of view of the street and of
those who may have heard or seen any sign of the original
attack, he proceeded to further attack her, stabbing
her several more times. Knife wounds in her hands suggested
that she attempted to defend herself from him. While
she lay dying, he raped her. He stole about $49 from
her and left her in the hallway. The attacks spanned
approximately half an hour.
A few minutes after the final attack
a witness, Karl Ross, called the police. Police arrived
within minutes of Ross' call. Genovese was taken away
by ambulance at 4:15 am and died en route to the hospital.
Later investigation by police and prosecutors revealed
that approximately a dozen, but almost certainly not
the 38 cited in the Times article, individuals nearby
had heard or observed portions of the attack, though
none saw or were 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 was
in progress; some thought that what they saw or heard
was a lovers' quarrel or a drunken brawl or a group
of friends leaving the bar when Moseley first approached
Winston Moseley, born March 2, 1935,
a business machine operator, was later
apprehended in connection with burglary charges. He
confessed not only to the murder of Kitty Genovese,
but also to two other murders, both involving sexual
assaults. Subsequent psychiatric examinations suggested
that Moseley suffered with necrophilia.
Moseley gave a confession to the
police in which he detailed the attack, corroborating
the physical evidence at the scene. His motive for the
attack was simply "to kill a woman." Moseley preferred
to kill women because, he said, "they were easier and
didn't fight back". Moseley stated that he got up that
night around 2:00 a.m., leaving his wife asleep at home,
and drove around to find a victim. He spied Genovese
and followed her to the parking lot.
Moseley also testified at his own
trial where he further described the attack, along with
two other murders and numerous attacks, leaving no question
that he was the killer. He was convicted of murder.
On Monday, June 15, 1964, when the death sentence was
announced by the jury foreman "The courtroom erupted
into loud spontaneous applause and cheers." When calm
had returned, the judge added, "I don't believe in capital
punishment, but when I see this monster, 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 initial death sentence was reduced
to an indeterminate sentence/lifetime imprisonment.
In 1968, during a trip to a Buffalo,
New York hospital for surgery, Moseley overpowered a
guard and beat him up to the point that his eyes were
bloody. He then took a bat and swung it at the closest
person to him and took five hostages, raping one of
them in front of her husband, actions he later blamed
his parents for before he was recaptured after
a two day manhunt. He also participated in the 1971
Attica Prison riots. In the late 1970s Moseley obtained
a B.A. in Sociology in prison.
Moseley's first parole hearing in
1984 included his defense that "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." Moseley
remains in prison after being denied parole a thirteenth
time on March 11, 2008. the 44th anniversary of Ms.
Genovese's murder. The previous week, Moseley had
turned 72 years old, and had still shown little
remorse for murdering Genovese. Parole was denied.
He will be eligible for parole again in November
Many saw the story of Genovese's
murder as an example of the callousness or apathy supposedly
prevalent in New York among other larger cities in the
United States, or humanity in general. Much of this
framing of the event came in reaction to an investigative
article in The New York Times written by Martin Gansberg
and published on March 27, two weeks after the murder.
The article bore the headline "Thirty-Eight Who Saw
Murder Didn't Call the Police." The public view of the
story crystallized around a quote from the article,
from 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."
Harlan Ellison, in his book Harlan
Ellison's Watching, referred to reports he claimed to
have read that one man turned up his radio so that he
would not hear Genovese's screams. Ellison says that
a report he read attributed the "get involved" quote
to nearly all of the thirty-eight who supposedly witnessed
the attack. He later repeated the figure of "thirty-eight
. . . . ." when mentioning the case in his book The
Other Glass Teat.
While Genovese's neighbors were vilified
by the article, "Thirty-Eight onlookers who did nothing"
is a misconception. The article begins: "For more than
half an hour thirty-eight respectable, law-abiding citizens
in Queens watched a killer stalk and stab a woman in
three separate attacks in Kew Gardens."
The lead is dramatic but factually
inaccurate. None of the witnesses observed the attacks
in their entirety. 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.
Most only heard portions of the incident without realizing
its seriousness, a few saw only small portions of the
initial assault, and no witnesses directly saw the final
attack and rape in an exterior hallway which resulted
in Genovese's death. Additionally, after the initial
attack punctured her lungs it is unlikely that she was
able to scream at any volume.
Nevertheless, media attention to
the Genovese murder led to reform of the NYPD's telephone
reporting system; the system in place at the time of
the assault was often hostile to callers, inefficient
and directed individuals to the incorrect department.
The intense press coverage also led to serious investigation
of the bystander effect by psychologists and sociologists.
In addition, some communities organized Neighborhood
Watch programs and the equivalent for apartment buildings
to aid people in distress.
The lack of reaction of numerous
neighbors watching the scene prompted research into
diffusion of responsibility and the bystander effect.
Social psychologists John 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 Kitty Genovese case thus became a
classic feature of social psychology textbooks.
In September 2007, the American Psychologist
published an examination of the factual basis of coverage
of the Kitty Genovese murder in psychology textbooks.
The three authors concluded that the story is 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)." One interpretation
of the parable is that the drama and ease of teaching
the exaggerated story makes it easier for professors
to capture student attention and interest. Additionally, critical feminist psychologists
such as Frances Cherry have criticized the psychological
interpretation of the murder as an issue of bystander
intervention. 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 the issue might
be better understood in terms of male/female power relations.
According to The New York Times,
in an article dated December 28, 1974, ten years after
the murder, 25-year-old Sandra Zahler was beaten to
death early Christmas morning in an apartment of the
building which overlooked the site of the Genovese attack.
Neighbors again said they heard screams and "fierce
struggles" but did nothing.