NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) – Thursday marks the 50th anniversary of one of New York’s most infamous and most studied crimes.
As WCBS 880’s Alex Silverman reported, the murder of Kitty Genovese is infamous not for the killer or for the victim but instead for all the others who stood by and didn’t intervene.
On Friday, March 13, 1964, 28-year-old bar manager Kitty Genovese was walking home around 3 a.m. to her Kew Gardens, Queens apartment.
When she was in front of her 2-story Tudor building across from the Mowbray apartment house, she saw a man with a knife, Silverman reported.
“I remember somebody pounding on my door,” Hattie Grund, 93, recalled. “And they wanted to know if I heard or saw anything and I didn’t. I was fast asleep.”
Grund still lives in the building facing Austin Street.
Genovese’s random stabbing by Winston Moseley became a sensation when The New York Times reported that “38 respectable, law-abiding citizens saw or heard but did nothing.” No one called police until it was too late.
“I really thought then and I think now that it’s impossible for 38 people,” said Aaron Adler, who lived a block away at the time.
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.
“What really happened 50 years ago to Kitty Genovese was not a story about apathy,” said Kevin Cook, author of the book “Kitty Genovese: The Murder, the Bystanders, the Crime That Changed America.”
In it, he 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.
“Someone lifted his window and shouted ‘leave that girl alone.’ One of the neighbors was concerned,” Cook told Silverman.
That scared off Moseley, who ran.
“Kitty bravely got up and walked around a corner into the darkness where she could no longer be seen by all those people looking out their windows,” said Cook.
Moseley followed Genovese into a stairwell for a longer and ultimately fatal attack, Silverman reported.
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.
As 1010 WINS’ Mona Rivera reported, Peter Hellman, author of the book “Fifty Years After Kitty Genovese, Inside the Case That Rocked Our Faith in Each Other,” is still stumped.
“Many people were murdered that year, over 600, but she haunts us because she could have been helped and nobody did,” said Hellman. “Apart from all the witnesses who may have looked out their window – old people, it was 3 a.m., it was a cold morning – there were two people who really could have done something and did nothing. And if they had done something, maybe Kitty Genovese would be alive today.”
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.
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.
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