Cook, K (2014). Kitty Genovese: The Murder, The Bystander, The Crime, The Crime that Changed America. New York, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.
Genovese grew up in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park neighborhood and while her family eventually moved to rural Connecticut, the eldest of five children decided to stay in vibrant New York City and make her own way. She worked her way up to the position of manager at a restaurant/bar called Ev’s 11th Hour in Queens, moved in with her girlfriend Mary Ann, and made friends with her neighbors and the many regulars at Ev’s.
Kitty Genovese’s killer was a middle class worker at a business machine company with above average intelligence who lived in Queens with his wife, two sons and multiple dogs. His wife worked the night shift as a nurse and he took care of their boys and 5 dogs in the evenings while she was away. He occasionally slipped out for a late night drive. Aside from a troubled childhood, Winston Moseley seemed like a normal 28-year-old.
On the night of the murder, Kitty left work around 3:00 a.m. Moseley, who was out for one of his late night drives spotted her and followed her to the Long Island Rail Road station where she parked before walking the short distance (15 yards) to her apartment. He parked half a block away and despite her running after spotting him coming towards her; he was easily able to overtake her. In the initial attack, Kitty screamed that she had been stabbed and a man shouted from a window to “let that girl alone”! As a result Moseley left, but returned after figuring that the person who yelled was not going to come down into the street to stop the attack. By this time, Kitty had made it into the stairwell of her building, it is here that the second attack occurred and also where Kitty Genovese died of a puncture wound to her lung. Despite the many stories of apathetic neighbors not coming to her aid, she died cradled in the arms of her friend and neighbor from across the hall (Sophie Farrar) who had called for help and continued to reassure Kitty that an ambulance was on the way.
The myth of the thirty-eight observers seems to stem from a conversation a reporter had with a police chief. By other estimates (police reports) not more than 5 or 6 people really knew that Kitty was in danger of losing her life. Because the attack took place in two different areas, those who saw the first attack assumed everything was fine and that both individuals had moved on when they disappeared behind the building. There were 16 eyewitnesses in the police report and a total of 38 entries, but they did not include the neighbor who was with Kitty when she died or another that called the police during the first attack. Cook believes that the initial estimates of 38 individuals came from the total number of entries in the police report.
Moseley who later admitted to and was found to be guilty of other murders, stated in court that he was out looking to “kill a white woman” the night of the Genovese murder. After his conviction in the Kitty Genovese case, Moseley escaped from custody during a transfer from a hospital to the prison. During this period, he raped another woman before being recaptured by police. He escaped the death penalty by a technicality and at the writing of the book is the longest serving inmate in the State of New York penitentiary system.
Although the crime was horrific and the accounts in the press were inaccurate, the publicity in films, the cover of Time magazine and the countless other articles about the Genovese case did change the way in which emergency response systems work. At the time of the murder, each area had a separate number for emergencies and these phones were often not manned during off hours. The creation of a national 911 hotline for emergencies that would streamline calls and make it far easier for individuals to get help was a direct result of the publicity surrounding the Kitty Genovese case. Her story led psychologists Bibb Latane and John Darley to study the phenomena known as the bystander effect and to examine factors that play a role in helping others (or not) and research ways for individuals in danger to get the help they needed. This would eventually lead to the study of “prosocial behavior” as a component of the field of social psychology. Today all 50 states have some sort of “Good Samaritan” law, which expects individuals to help others as long as it is “reasonably possible”. These laws were created to address the problems of diffusion of responsibility and the bystander effect, which prevent individuals from helping. Despite the many myths that surround the Genovese case, Cook attempts to clear up misconceptions and to look at the positive outcomes the case has had on helping those in need.
Other Related Resources:
Debunking the Myth of Kitty Genovese: The New York Post
Interview with Kevin Cook: NPR
The link below is to an All Things Considered radio program titled “What Really Happened the Night Kitty Genovese Was Murdered?” which aired originally on March 3, 2014.
Two Books about Kitty Genovese: The Washington Post
The link below describes two new books published in 2014 including the one from this review that discuss the Kitty Genovese murder and its consequences. Kitty Genovese: The Murder, the Bystanders, the Crime That Changed America by Kevin Cook and Kitty Genovese: A True Account of a Public Murder and Its Private Consequences by Catherine Pelonero.
CBS news video summarizing the events of the Kitty Genovese murder on the 50th anniversary of the crime in March of 2014.
A Call for Help: The New Yorker
Psychological Figures and Concepts:
Diffusion of Responsibility
M’Naghten Rule (Insanity Plea)
Latane and Darley