Winston Moseley is not a household name, but if you have ever taken a freshman psychology class the name Kitty Genovese will certainly ring a bell. She was the Queens, NY woman who was raped and stabbed to death on the street in 1964, while her neighbors ignored her pleas for help.
Moseley died March 28, at age 81.
While the reports of “dozens” of people watching as it happened turned out not to be true, it is true that no one called the police until afterword, despite the attack taking place over the course of a half an hour.
From New York Times:
Ghastly as the details of Mr. Moseley’s attack were — selecting Ms. Genovese at random, stabbing her at least 14 times as she screamed and pleaded for help, retreating into the shadows as lights went on in apartments overhead, returning to rape and finally kill her — they by themselves might not have placed the case, or the Moseley name, into the annals of crime.
It was one of 636 murders in the city that year. The New York Times ran four paragraphs on it.
Two weeks later, The Times published a more extensive, though flawed, front-page account quoting the police and Ms. Genovese’s neighbors. “For more than half an hour 38 respectable, law-abiding citizens watched a killer stalk and stab a woman in three separate attacks in Kew Gardens,” it began.
“Twice the sound of their voices and the sudden glow of their bedroom lights interrupted him and frightened him off. Each time he returned, sought her out and stabbed her again. Not one person telephoned the police during the assault; one witness called after the woman was dead.”
“I didn’t want to get involved,” a witness said, using a phrase that was thought to encapsulate the age.”
Not to absolve the bystanders from all responsibility, but the actual details paint a less clear-cut picture.
“While there was no question that the attack occurred, and that some neighbors ignored cries for help, the portrayal of 38 witnesses as fully aware and unresponsive was erroneous. The article grossly exaggerated the number of witnesses and what they had perceived. None saw the attack in its entirety. Only a few had glimpsed parts of it, or recognized the cries for help. Many thought they had heard lovers or drunks quarreling. There were two attacks, not three. And afterward, two people did call the police. A 70-year-old woman ventured out and cradled the dying victim in her arms until they arrived. Ms. Genovese died on the way to a hospital.
But the account of 38 witnesses heartlessly ignoring a murderous attack was widely disseminated and took on a life of its own, shocking the national conscience and starting an avalanche of academic studies, investigations, films, books, even a theatrical production and a musical. The soul-searching went on for decades, long after the original errors were debunked, evolving into more parable than fact but continuing to reinforce images of urban Americans as too callous or fearful to call for help, even with a life at stake.”
The NYT goes on to describe the actual details of the attack.
He had been cruising around for more than an hour on March 13, 1964, when, around 3:15 a.m., he encountered Catherine Genovese, known as Kitty, the manager of a bar in Hollis, Queens, as she was driving home after work. He followed her to the parking lot of the Long Island Rail Road station in Kew Gardens, near a faux-Tudor building on Austin Street, where she shared an apartment with another woman.
He followed her on foot as she walked toward her building, heading for its residential entry in the rear. She saw him coming and, frightened, ran. He chased her, caught up with her outside a darkened bookstore and, by his own account, stabbed her twice in the back with a hunting knife.
Ms. Genovese, 28, cried: “Oh, my God, he stabbed me! Help me! Help me!” — and was heard in apartments overhead, perhaps by a dozen people; the number was never precisely determined. Lights went on. Eyes looked out.
“I heard a girl saying, ‘Help me, help me,’” Robert Mozer testified. “It wasn’t a scream, more of a cry. I got up and looked out, and across the street a girl was kneeling down, and this fellow was bending over her. I hollered: ‘Hey, get out of there! What are you doing?’ He jumped up and ran like a scared rabbit. She got up and walked out of sight, around a corner.”
In his confession, Mr. Moseley said, “I had a feeling this man would close his window and go back to sleep, and sure enough he did.” In court, he said, “I realized the car was parked where people could see it, and me, so I moved it some distance away.” Mr. Moseley also said he had changed from a stocking cap to a wide-brim hat to cover his face, then walked back to the scene.
“I came back because I’d not finished what I set out to do,” he testified.
He found Ms. Genovese lying in a hallway at the rear of the building. She was “twisting and turning” on the floor, bleeding and still crying for help, he recalled. He resumed his attack, “and I don’t know how many times or where I stabbed her till she was fairly quiet.” Investigators said he stabbed her a dozen times, stifling her last cries and raping her before escaping.
It is positively chilling, both because of the ferocity of the attack itself and the fact that Kitty Genovese might have lived had just one witness chosen to act. But there was no sheepdog that night to save Ms. Genovese from the wolf.