Murder of Kitty Genovese

Kitty Genovese mug shot Murder of Kitty Genovese

Catherine “Kitty” Genovese, 1961

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.

On this point, everyone agrees.

The gruesome homicide of this young woman is arguably one of the most cited and referenced true crimes in modern history, making “Kitty Genovese” an iconic name. In the 50 years since her death, the story of what happened to this formerly anonymous woman has been the subject or inspiration for several fictional books, plays, movies and songs; the basis of psychological studies, theories, and debates, not to mention an endless stream of news articles.

In recent years, however, the facts of the true story have been disputed and conveniently revised by some. More on this historical revisionism here.

The basic facts are these: Kitty Genovese was headed to her home in Kew Gardens in the wee hours of Friday, March 13, 1964. She lived in a second-floor apartment in a Tudor-style building on Austin Street, adjacent to the Kew Gardens station of the Long Island Railroad.

Kitty parked her car in the railroad parking lot. A slender young man stood in the shadows watching as she stepped out of her car. The man’s name was Winston Moseley. He had followed Kitty home. He didn’t know Kitty Genovese and she didn’t know him. As Winston Moseley later said, he had gone out that night in search of a woman to kill. Kitty Genovese was a random victim.

 Murder of Kitty Genovese

Winston Moseley, 1964.

According to Winston Moseley, Kitty looked up and saw him as she was standing by the driver’s side of her car, locking her car door. He was standing some distance away from her, on the opposite end of the parking lot, but he thought she looked frightened as soon as she saw him.

Kitty Genovese started walking toward the entrance to her apartment, located in the rear of the Tudor building. Winston Moseley followed her. She looked back, saw him coming toward her, and quickly changed direction toward the front of Austin Street. Moseley broke into a run to intercept her. Kitty screamed, “Help! Help! Help!” as she rounded the corner of the Tudor building and ran down Austin Street towards Lefferts Boulevard.

Kitty ran on the sidewalk alongside the front of the Tudor building. The ground floor of the Tudor was occupied by several small businesses, all of which were closed for the night. Across the street stood a ten-story apartment building called The Mowbray.

According to several accounts from people who lived in the area at the time, Kitty’s first screams were heard at 3:20 a.m.

Austin Street in Kew Gardens 1964 Murder of Kitty Genovese

Austin Street in Kew Gardens, 1964. Kitty Genovese was first stabbed on this sidewalk in front of the bookstore.

Moseley caught up with Kitty in front of the Austin Book Shop, the fourth business down from the corner. He stabbed her in the back with a hunting knife. She screamed, collapsed to the pavement, and cried out, “Oh my God, he stabbed me! Help me! Somebody please help me!”

A man who lived on the 7th floor of the Mowbray looked down from his window and shouted, “Leave that girl alone!” Winston Moseley turned and fled up Austin Street toward the railroad parking lot, leaving Kitty wounded and alone on the sidewalk.

Kitty got up, turned around and made her way up Austin Street from the direction she’d come, eventually turning two corners around the Tudor building and entering the first apartment door in the rear of the Tudor, where she collapsed at the foot of the stairs. Lying on the floor of the hallway, she called for help.

Crime Scene Rev 16 TINTED 1024x719 Murder of Kitty Genovese

Final steps of Kitty Genovese

After stabbing Kitty on Austin Street, Winston Moseley had returned to his car and moved it to a side street. He later estimated that he waited about ten minutes before returning to search for his victim.

By the time Moseley came looking for her, Kitty was already in the hallway of the Tudor and thus out of sight. Moseley walked to the spot on Austin Street where he had stabbed her. He looked around, then walked to the railroad parking lot. Searching around the deserted train depot, he noticed the walkway behind the Tudor building. Moseley headed to the back of the Tudor and found Kitty in the hallway where she had fallen.

She screamed. He stabbed her several times and sexually assaulted her. Then he left.

At 3:50 a.m., police were called by a man who lived in an apartment above where Kitty had been attacked for the second time. A patrol car arrived at 3:52 a.m. Kitty Genovese died on the way to the hospital.

NY Times logo for web Murder of Kitty GenoveseThe murder of Kitty Genovese gained worldwide attention two weeks later when The New York Times published a front-page article by Martin Gansberg headlined, “37 Who Saw Murder Didn’t Call the Police; Apathy at Stabbing of Queens Woman Shocks Inspector.”

The Times article, published with photographs of the scene, focused on three things: the time lapse between when Kitty was first attacked (3:20 a.m.) and when police received the first call (3:50 a.m.); the number of persons who saw or heard the attacks but did not help, not even by calling police; and the excuses given by witnesses for why they did not help Kitty Genovese, the most infamous of these being the chilling phrase, “I didn’t want to get involved.”

The story of the murder and the inactive witnesses literally went around the world, picked up by newswires, covered and re-covered on television and radio and by other newspapers and periodicals. The incident – specifically the behavior of the witnesses – spurred several psychological studies and became a standard entry in social psychology textbooks.

On these basic facts, everyone seems to agree.

Anyone familiar with the case may be aware that it’s become a subject of controversy in recent years. Some have gone as far as calling the Kitty Genovese story a myth. An overview of this controversy – and my response to it – was published in the New York Daily News on Sunday, March 2, 2014. Click on the Daily News logo to read the article:

NY Daily News logo Murder of Kitty Genovese

Op-ed by Catherine Pelonero

When I began work on a nonfiction book about Kitty Genovese back in 2006 there were already rumblings of revisionism, although at that point it was more a matter of raising questions about the seminal New York Times story and a search for corroboration and evidence to either support or debunk it. I wanted to know the facts myself, and find out what really happened that night.

Delving into the details of the crime was really secondary for me however. My main interest was learning as much as I could about Kitty Genovese as a person, giving her an identity beyond unfortunate victim. At the time there wasn’t much information available about her – even finding out her date of birth took some digging. (It’s July 7, 1935.)

As others have said before me, it seemed a double injustice that this woman was known only for the circumstances of her awful death. I set my sights on finding and speaking with people who knew Kitty Genovese. Friends and loved ones who knew about more than just the last half hour of her life.

Writing about her life also entailed writing about her death, of course, and I wanted to be accurate on that as well. I had no connections to anyone associated with the case and no preconceived ideas about “the real story.” My approach was to search out the evidence and write a factual account. If I found anything in support of the claims that the famous New York Times story was an exaggeration, so be it.

Unfortunately, that’s not what the evidence shows.

I say “unfortunately” because frankly I wish the debunkers were right. I wish Kitty Genovese had not been failed by so many of her neighbors. But sadly, the evidence – police reports, trial transcripts, interviews, etc. – paints pretty much the same picture as the Times coverage of the incident.

I amassed a great deal of research during the years I spent on the book, which I’ll be posting on this site as time and space allows.

As always, it’s best to let the reader decide.

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