Kitty Genovese

From Academic Kids

Kitty Genovese
Kitty Genovese

Catherine Genovese (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. The circumstances of her murder and the apparent action (or inaction) of her neighbors were sensationalized by a newspaper article published two weeks later and prompted investigation into the psychological phenomenon that became known as the bystander effect or Genovese syndrome.


The victim

Genovese was born in New York City, oldest of five children. After her mother witnessed a murder in the city, the family chose to move to Connecticut. Genovese, however, 19 at the time, chose to remain in the city; she eventually took a job as a bar manager and lived in a Queens apartment with her lover Mary Ann Zielonko.

The attack

Genovese had driven home in the early 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, she was approached by a man named Winston Moseley. Genovese may have changed direction towards a nearby police call box, but Moseley overtook her and stabbed her. When Genovese screamed out, her cries were 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 one of the neighbors shouted at the attacker, Moseley ran away, and Genovese made her way towards her own apartment around the end of the 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.

Other witnesses observed Moseley enter his car and drive away, only to return five minutes later. He systematically searched the apartment complex, following the trail of blood to Genovese, who was lying, barely conscious, in a hallway at the back of 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 rape and rob her, finally delivering a fatal stab wound. The entire attack had lasted (albeit intermittently) for approximately half an hour.

A few minutes after the final attack a witness, Karl Ross, called police. (He may not have been the first to call, but records of any earlier calls are unclear and were certainly not given a high priority by the police.) Police and medical personnel arrived within minutes of Ross's call; Genovese was taken away by ambulance and died en route to the hospital. Later investigation revealed that at least 38 individuals nearby had heard or observed portions of the attack, though none could have seen or been aware of the entire incident. Many were entirely unaware that an assault or homicide was in progress; some thought that what they saw or heard was a lover's quarrel or a group of friends leaving the bar outside which Moseley first approached Genovese.

Moseley, a business machine operator, was later apprehended in connection with another crime; he confessed not only to the murder of Kitty Genovese, but to two other murders as well, both involving sexual assaults. Subsequent psychiatric examinations suggested that Moseley was a necrophiliac.

The reaction

While Genovese's neighbors were vilified by those who read the newspaper headline, "Thirty-Eight Who Saw Murder Didn't Call the Police", the idea of "38 onlookers who did nothing" is a misleading conception which began with the investigative article ( in the New York Times written by journalist Martin Gansberg and published on March 27, two weeks after the murder. 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.

This lead is dramatic and factually inaccurate. None of the witnesses observed the attacks in their entirety. Because of the layout of the complex and the fact that each attack took place in a different location as Genovese attempted to flee her attacker, it would have been physically impossible for a witness to have seen the entire attack. 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 rape and attack in an exterior hallway which resulted in Genovese's death.

Folk singer Phil Ochs alludes the Genovese murder in the first lines of his song, "Outside a Small Circle of Friends."

Nevertheless, media attention to the Genovese murder led to reform of the NYPD's telephone reporting system; the system in place at the murder was often inefficient and directed individuals to the incorrect department. The melodramatic press coverage also led to serious investigation of the bystander effect by academic psychologists. In addition, some communities organized neighborhood watch programs and the equivalent for apartment buildings to aid people in distress.

To this day the story of Kitty Genovese remains a rallying point for advocates of self-defense awareness.

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