Kitty Genovese

Kitty Genovese is buried in a family grave at Lakeview Cemetery in New Canaan.



 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. 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 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 around."



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 Genovese


Winston Moseley (born March 2, 1935), an African-American 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 was a necrophile.


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 [court]room 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. Moseley's next parole hearing is scheduled for November 2011


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 motherfuckers" 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 (leading to her eventual death from asphyxiation), 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.

Kitty Genovese
 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.



Feminist psychologist Frances Cherry has suggested the psychological 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 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.


Moseley returned for another parole hearing Thursday, March 13, 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 2011. Genovese's brother, Vincent, was unaware of the 2008 hearing until he was contacted by 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".