New York

The murder of Kitty Genovese

March 13, 1964
Queens, New York
Kitty Genovese, 28, is murdered outside her apartment building

Genovese’s murder, though tragic, was of greatest remembrance because of a New York Times newspaper article erroneously claiming her neighbors heard her screams for help but did nothing to assist, what is now called “Genovese syndrome.” (Genovese syndrome is the social psychological phenomenon in which a bystander will not assist a person in need if others are present.)

Genovese had been attacked coming home after work in the early morning hours of March 13. She encountered a male assailant, later identified as Winston Moseley, became frightened and ran from him. He chased her, stabbing her twice in the back.

She did call out for help in the night, which the Times did report correctly, but she wasn’t actively ignored; it had been a cold night and most neighbors had their windows shut, and had heard some noise but could not distinguish it as an plea for help or a scream. One neighbor did hear the commotion and yelled “let that girl alone!” which scared Moseley away.

Some neighbors called police about the incident, though it was given a low priority level. Genovese, seriously injured, made her way to the back of the building to try to get to her home but a locked door had stopped her. She was collapsed, barely conscious and out of sight from any witnesses, when Moseley found her after systematically checking the buildings and parking lots in the area. He stabbed her several more times, raped her as she was dying, and stole $49 from her before fleeing.

Another call was made to police, and within minutes of this final call police arrived. Genovese was rushed to the hospital but died en route from her injuries. When Moseley was subsequently arrested and confessed to the murder, he admitted he simply went out with the intention to murder any woman he came across.

The papers claimed 38 (sometimes 37) silently watched Genovese’s murder. Upon questioning the neighbors, however, most said they heard some noise but thought it was either a result of a drunken brawl, lover’s quarrel, or a group of drunkards coming home from the bar. Those who did suspect a crime called police, but the slow reaction time of responders caused an outrage in the community and helped shape the 911 emergency service we have today.

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