December 30, 2016

The Murder of Kitty Genovese

On March 13, 1964, in New York's Queens borough, a young woman was killed in the very early hours in a crime that continues to reverberate to this day.

Catherine Susan Genovese, known as Kitty to her family and friends, was twenty-eight years old that March day in 1964.  She was the eldest of five children born into an Italian American family living in  the Brooklyn neighborhood of Park Slope. When she was a teen, her mother Rachel witnessed a murder and the family, minus Kitty, moved to the presumably safer New Canaan, Connecticut .  Kitty was engaged to be married and remained in New York with her grandparents.  She was known to be very self assured and possessing a sunny disposition.  She married in 1954 but the marriage was a brief one; the couple had separated and annulled the marriage by the end of the same year.

Kitty moved into her own apartment and paid her way with a variety of clerical jobs, which she disliked.  By the end of the decade, she was working as a bar manager at Ev's Eleventh Hour on Jamaica Avenue in Queens. In 1963, she met Mary Ann Zielonko who officially became her roommate; unofficially Mary Ann was her girlfriend.

On March 13, 1964 at 2:30 a.m., Kitty left her job at Ev's to drive home in her red Fiat.  While she was stopped at a traffic light on Hoover Avenue, she did not realize she was being watched by a man called Winston Moseley, who followed her to her Kew Gardens neighborhood. She parked her car roughly 100 feet from her apartment building and began to walk toward her home. Moseley too had parked his car and approached Kitty, armed with a hunting knife. Terrified, she ran from him to the front of her building, hoping to make it to the corner of Austin and Lefferts, a major intersection; she did not succeed. Moseley caught her and stabbed her twice in the back. Kitty screamed "Oh my God! He stabbed me!  Help me!"  One of her neighbors, Robert Mozer, heard her cry and yelled at Moseley from his window to leave the girl alone. Moseley ran off, leaving Kitty to stagger toward the rear entrance of her apartment building, taking her out of view of potential witnesses.

There is confusion as to exactly when the first call or calls for help went to the police. Several neighbors claim to have called for help but the police did not log any calls. There was also confusion as to what exactly had happened to Kitty; it appears that many believed that it was a domestic dispute or that she had been beaten up but had gotten up and was generally fine.

Moseley was more or less reliably said to have gotten back into his car after attacking Kitty and driven away but he returned roughly ten minutes later, in search of his victim. As he hunted around the parking lot and apartment building, he put on a wide brimmed hat in order to camouflage his face.  He found Kitty, barely conscious, lying in a hallway by a locked door that prevented her from entering the building.  Moseley stabbed her several more times; wounds in her hands suggested that she had put them up in an attempt to ward off the blows.  While she lay dying, Moseley raped her, stole $49 from her and fled.  The two attacks spanned half an hour.   Sophia Farrar, a neighbor and friends of Kitty's heard the screams and ran outside her own apartment to cradle Kitty as she died.  Karl Ross, minutes after the final attack, called the police who arrived in relatively short order.  Kitty was taken away from the building at 4:15 a.m. in an ambulance but it was too late.

A short article would appear documenting the fatal attack on Kitty Genovese but her murder was one of 636 in New York that year and it's likely that she would have been relegated to being one of many victims in the city were it not for the track the media ultimately decided to take.

Six days after the murder police apprehended the 29 year old Moseley during a house burglary.  A Queens resident, he had no criminal record and was married with three children. While in custody for the burglary, he confessed to some thirty to forty burglaries and three sexual assaults and murders, one of them being that of Kitty Genovese.  He stated that he preferred to kill women because they "were easier and didn't fight back."   He had no previous contact with Kitty before assaulting and killing her.  He had gotten up around 2 a.m. on the morning of March 13 and set off in search of a victim, coming upon Kitty purely by chance.  He detailed the attack and corroborated the physical evidence so absolutely that his later trial was more one of legal necessity than proving his guilt.  To wit, the trial began on June 8, 1964 and the jury delivered its verdict on June 11, 1964 after seven hours of deliberation.  On June 15, 1964 Moseley was sentenced to death.  He remained stoic with no emotion, while onlookers applauded and cheered.  In 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 and reduced his death sentence to that of life imprisonment.  That's where the case may have stood until Moseley's death but The New York Times came into play.

The article that started it all
Ten days after Kitty's murder, New York's then-police chief Michael Murphy was having lunch one day with A. M. Rosenthal, the Times' metro editor,  Murphy spent most of the lunch discussing how worried he was that the civil rights movement, then at its peak, would set off racial violence in New York.  The conversation then shifted to the recent murder of Kitty Genovese, one which according to Murphy involved thirty minutes of grisly stabbing while 38 eye and ear witnesses did nothing. Rosenthal immediately assigned reported Martin Gansberg to pursue the Genovese story from that angle.

The result would be the accepted as fact myth that nearly 40 persons had not only heard the attack and murder and neglected to take action, but they witnessed the initial stalking of Kitty and three separate assaults on her, leading to what was known as the "bystander effect" or "Kitty Genovese Syndrome."  The nation in 1964 was horrified by the painful indifference to suffering.  Studies were made to find out why the diffusion of responsibility happened, finding that people in crowds were less likely to step forward, believing that someone else would take responsibility.

The debate and erroneous information would flourish for decades.  The truth was far simpler.  Kitty Genovese was indeed attacked.  Some heard her cries and believed they were overhearing a domestic dispute or drunks quarreling, given the late hour and proximity to a bar.  Not a single witness saw the attack in its entirety.  Gansberg claimed that Kitty could have been saved if police had been called after the first of three attacks.  The truth was that the first stab had punctured her lung and would have been fatal; and there were not three attacks, but two.  There were not 38 uncaring witnesses, not even close.  And two people did call the police.

So why the embellishment and exaggeration?  Murphy's concern, in part, had to play a role. He was concerned about racial violence; Kitty Genovese, a white woman was killed by a black man.  Rather than the minority black population rioting against the white population, Genovese's murder might make the white population angry.  More importantly, selling the Genovese story as the Times did sold the rest of the nation on how unsafe urban areas were in general, especially for young women, and how apathetic city dwellers were.

Did Kitty's sexual orientation play a part?  Probably not and here's why.  In 1964, homosexuality was not as accepted as it is today.  It's very likely that the majority of, if not all, of Kitty's and Mary Ann's neighbors believed them to be platonic roommates.  Being lovers, they would have been considered unusual, unacceptable and living an abhorrent lifestyle.  Knowing how little homosexuality was understood in 1964, I believe that the Times, if they found out about Kitty's relationship, would have buried it or chosen another victim to focus on.  Because of her orientation, Kitty would not have been seen as a sympathetic victim, sadly.

The upside to the tragedy of Kitty Genovese is that her attack would lead to the implementation of the 9-1-1 system in 1968.  At the time she was killed, persons either had to dial "0" to connect with an operator and then ask for a specific police station rather than going directly to the police.  By late 1964 New York residents would be able to call an operator and immediately be patched through to police.  Within 5 more years, the 9-1-1 system would be implemented, saving more time.

And what of Winston Moseley, Kitty's killer?  On March 18, 1968, nearly four years into his life sentence, he escaped while being transported from a local hospital (where he was receiving treatment for self-inflicted injuries) back to prison. He stole the transporting officer's weapon and fled to a nearby vacant home. He stayed in the residence, undetected, for three days until the owners, a married couple, dropped by to check on the house and found Moseley. He held the couple hostage for more than an hour, tying up the husband and raping the wife, then taking the couple's car and fleeing once again.  On March 22, he broke into another house and took a mother and daughter hostage for two hours before releasing them unharmed and surrendering.   He was later given two fifteen year sentences to be tacked on to his life sentence.

In the 1970s, he participate in the Attica Prison riot and later on, earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology.    He became eligible for parole in 1984 and was, thankfully, denied - - in part because he claimed that his notoriety made him a victim and a worse victim than someone like Kitty Genovese who was a victim for an hour or so but his victimization went on indefinitely.  He also claimed that he never intended to kill Kitty, despite what he had told investigators in 1964, and that the murder was simply a mugging that had gone bad.

On March 13, 2008, the 44th anniversary of Kitty's murder, Moseley again returned for a parole hearing.  Now 73 years old, he still had little remorse for Kitty's killing.  Parole was again denied, as it would be for a total of eighteen times.   His last parole hearing was in November 2015.  He died in prison on March 28, 2016, at the age of 81, having been one of the longest serving inmates in the New York State prison system.

Reporter Martin Gansberg, who article on the Genovese murder opened the can of worms, died in May of 1995 at the age of 74, due to complications from diabetes.

A. M. Rosenthal, editor of the New York Times, would remain there until 1999.  He won the presidential medal of freedom, the Pulitzer Prize for international reporting and wrote a book on the Genovese case called Thirty Eight Witnesses.  He died in 2006 in New York.

Kitty's lover, Mary Ann Zielonko, was still alive as of 2014 and spoke with Kevin Cook on his book about the murder.  She reminisced about Kitty, about Greenwich Village of the early 1960s, how homosexuality was illegal then and how both of them would take time off from work (both worked in bars) on Sundays and Mondays in order to spend time together.  Mary Ann alleges that police knew that Kitty was a lesbian and harassed Mary Ann, believing she was somehow connected to the murder.  After testifying at Moseley's trial (as Kitty's "roommate"), Mary Ann left Kew Gardens,never to return.  An artist, Mary Ann had begun a portrait of Kitty before her murder; she would finish it years later.

Kitty in life