The Truth About Kitty Genovese

Catherine “Kitty” Genovese was murdered in the Kew Gardens section of Queens in New York City on March 13, 1964. In addition to being one of the most iconic crimes in American history, in recent years it’s become one of the most debated.

For an overview of the case and archival documents, begin here:

Murder of Kitty Genovese


50 Years Later, Kitty Genovese Murder Case Still Grips NYC, Nation

50 Years Later, Kitty Genovese Murder Case Still Grips NYC, Nation

CBS New York, March 11, 2014

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Kitty Genovese’s screams for help couldn’t save her on the night she was murdered outside her apartment building in 1964. Fifty years later, those screams still echo, a symbol of urban breakdown and city dwellers’ seeming callousness toward their neighbors.

The case “caught the spirit of the time,” said Thomas Reppetto, a police historian. “It seemed to symbolize that society no longer cared about other people.”

Genovese’s random stabbing by Winston Moseley on March 13, 1964, in Kew Gardens, Queens, became a sensation when The New York Times reported that “38 respectable, law-abiding citizens” in Queens watched the attack over more than half an hour and didn’t call police until it was too late.

While the number of people who saw or heard the crime has since become a matter of dispute, Genovese’s murder left its mark on public policy and psychology.

It has been credited with spurring adoption of the 911 system in 1968 as well as “Good Samaritan” laws that give legal protection to people who help those in trouble.

The case also gave rise to research into the “bystander effect” — the phenomenon in which a group of onlookers fails to help someone in distress — and is often featured in psychology textbooks.

At least five books about Genovese’s killing have come out recently or will be published this year, a testament to the enduring fascination with the case.

“Many people were murdered that year, over 600, but she haunts us because she could have been helped and nobody did,” said Peter Hellman, a journalist and author of the e-book “Fifty Years After Kitty Genovese, Inside the Case That Rocked Our Faith in Each Other.”

According to police reports and trial testimony, Genovese was a 28-year-old bar manager living in a seemingly safe, well-kept Queens neighborhood when she was attacked while returning home from work after 3 a.m.

Moseley later told police he had been driving around looking for a woman to kill. He spotted Genovese, chased her and stabbed her in the back. Genovese screamed, and a neighbor yelled from his window, “Leave that girl alone!”

Moseley retreated to his car but returned minutes later and found Genovese in a hallway at the back of her building, where she had collapsed. He stabbed her several more times and raped her as she lay dying.

The story was not widely reported until A.M. Rosenthal, then metro editor of the Times, had lunch with Police Commissioner Michael Murphy, who told him about the 38 witnesses. Rosenthal assigned a reporter to write a story about the neighbors’ apathy.

“I didn’t want to get involved,” one neighbor was quoted as saying.

The story seemed to show that New York was an urban hell where no one would lift a finger to help a neighbor.

“It fit some people’s anti-New York perspective,” said Philip Zimbardo, a retired professor of psychology at Stanford University.

Some later accounts of Genovese’s murder challenged the Times’ version.

Kevin Cook, author of “Kitty Genovese: The Murder, the Bystanders, the Crime That Changed America,” argues that only a few neighbors saw enough of the attack to understand much of what was going on, and some of them did try to help.

The Times revisited the case in 2004 on the 40th anniversary. A former prosecutor told the paper then that while far fewer than 38 saw the murder, many others heard the screams.

Catherine Pelonero argues in her book “Kitty Genovese: A True Account of a Public Murder and its Private Consequences” that the reporting from 1964 was fundamentally correct: “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,” Pelonero added. “She was saying, ‘It’s Kitty! I’m stabbed! Help me!’”

Moseley was convicted of murder and sentenced to death, a punishment later reduced to life in prison.

He escaped during a transfer to a hospital in Buffalo in 1968, took five people hostage and raped a woman in front of her husband before surrendering to police. Now 79, Moseley is one of the longest-serving inmates in the New York state prison system.

In reaction to the case, Fordham University Professor Harold Takooshian began studying bystander behavior as a graduate student in 1978. Working under the social psychologist Stanley Milgram, Takooshian conducted experiments that involved pretending to commit crimes to observe bystanders’ reaction.

“The field emerged entirely because of her, and now it’s a very large field,” Takooshian said.

Genovese emerges in the new books as a compelling figure in her own right, a high-spirited young woman known as the class cut-up in high school.

The oldest in an Italian-American family of five children, Genovese grew up in Brooklyn and stayed in New York when the rest of her family moved to New Canaan, Conn., in the mid-1950s. At the time of her death, she had been living with a partner, Mary Ann Zielonko, for about a year.

“She was a daughter and a sister and a lover and a colleague,” said James Solomon, a filmmaker who is working with Genovese’s younger brother on a documentary about Genovese called “The Witness.” “She wasn’t just a victim.”

Pelonero, who spent years corresponding with Moseley called Genovese’s killer an “intriguing character” who is in intelligent and well-read but who seems to be incapable of feeling remorse.

“This was a man who had a family, owned a home, went to work every day, and at night he would sometimes go out and kill women,” Pelonero told CBS 2’s Cindy Hsu. “So he very much led a double life. And I thought that was just so intriguing, and it’s so difficult to understand why someone would do that.”

Neighbors’ Indifference to Kitty Genovese Murder Worse Than Believed: Book

Neighbors’ Indifference to Kitty Genovese Murder Worse Than Believed

By Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska

Published February 13, 2014

QUEENS — Kitty Genovese‘s neighbors — who did nothing to help her as she was brutally raped and murdered in Kew Gardens 50 years ago — were even more indifferent to the young victim’s screams than has previously been reported, according to a new book.

Genovese, who was 28 years old when she was killed on March 13, 1964, in the hallway of her two-story apartment building on Austin Street, is the subject of a new book by Catherine Pelonero, who re-examined the case and found many new details about one of the most infamous murders in New York City history.

In her book, “Kitty Genovese: A True Account of a Public Murder and its Private Consequences,” scheduled to be published in March, Pelonero gives a detailed and chilling account of Winston Moseley’s fatal attack on Genovese.

Shortly after the murder, police found numerous witnesses who had seen the attacks, which continued over the course of half an hour in the heart of the neighborhood, next to the Kew Gardens LIRR Station. But no one intervened until it was too late.

In an article about the murder, Martin Gansberg, a New York Times reporter, wrote that “for more than half an hour 38 respectable, law-abiding citizens in Queens watched a killer stalk and stab a woman,” but “not one person telephoned the police during the assault.”

The story — which led to numerous social analyses of the phenomenon that became known as “Genovese syndrome,” or the bystander effect — was later questioned. Residents claimed they did not see the entire attack or they did not understand what was going on.

But Pelonero said that after researching the story for seven years, she concluded that the level of indifference among residents was even “worse than what The New York Times actually reported.”

Pelonero meticulously reconstructed the sequence of events, based on witness statements in the police reports, trial testimony and Moseley’s confession.

After Genovese was stabbed on Austin Street, close to where Austin’s Ale House is currently located, she managed to crawl into her apartment complex, where she lay in a hallway near her friend Karl Ross’ apartment for close to 10 minutes, calling for help, Pelonero said.

“Kitty laid in that hallway calling up the stairs repeatedly for help, long enough for her ‘friend’ Karl Ross — whom she called to by name — to open his window and scurry across the roof to another neighbor’s apartment, where they both then stood talking at the window about what they should do amidst Kitty’s cries that she had been stabbed,” Pelonero said.

“I don’t want to get involved… I think she’s drunk,” Ross told his neighbor, according to the book.

They also decided to call another neighbor, who lived near Genovese’s apartment on the other side of the complex, and ask her to check on the woman screaming in the hallway, Pelonero said.

Meanwhile, Moseley returned, found Genovese, raped her after slashing her throat to silence her screams, stabbed her numerous times, mostly in the stomach, and left her to die.

“When you think of how many long minutes she was down there — not to mention the fact that her bloody hand prints and drag marks on the wall indicate that she was trying to claw her way up the stairs — and that some people admitted hearing her repeated pleas, I think the horror of what happened that night really starts to sink in,” Pelonero said.

Ross eventually did call the police at about 3:50 a.m., half an hour after Genovese was first attacked. She died on the way to the hospital.

Pelonero said that her goal in writing the book was also to find out who Kitty Genovese was.

“I wanted to give her an identity beyond iconic victim,” she said.

Genovese, who grew up in Brooklyn in a close-knit Italian-American family and went to Prospect Heights High School, had “a very dazzling personality,” Pelonero said.

“She was very funny and she was also an extremely popular student,” she said, adding that Genovese was also compassionate and “would go out of her way to help other people, which is really ironic.”

Genovese was also very ambitious and she was planning to open her own restaurant or tavern, according to Pelonero. She was working as a bar manager at Ev’s Eleventh Hour Sports Bar on Jamaica Avenue and 193rd Street in Hollis when she was killed.

The author, who corresponded with Moseley for many years, also reveals many details about the killer’s personality.

Pelonero describes Moseley, who was denied parole for the 16th time last November and remains in prison, as “quite intelligent, well spoken and very articulate.”

Moseley, a machine operator from South Ozone Park who was married and had three sons, also killed another woman, Annie Mae Johnson, two weeks before he murdered Genovese.

“What surprised me was how little insight he had — not just into the crime that he committed but into himself as a whole,” Pelonero said.

Pelonero said she hopes readers of her book will become more proactive.

“If you think someone might be in trouble, err on the side of caution,” she said. “If just one person had called out to her, ‘Do you need help? Should I call the police?’ — the whole story could have been different.”

“Kitty Genovese: A True Account of a Public Murder and its Private Consequences,” published by Skyhorse, will be released March 4.

Click here to read the article by Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska on