This Thursday, March 13th marks the fiftieth anniversary of the horrifying murder and rape of Kitty Genovese that rocked New York City in 1964.
Many can recall with revulsion the opening line of The New York Times article that brought the story to national attention: “For more than half an hour 38 respectable, law-abiding citizens in Queens watched a killer stalk and stab a woman in three separate attacks in Kew Gardens.”
In an interview with NPR, Kevin Cook, author of the new book “Kitty Genovese: The Murder, the Bystanders, the Crime that Changed America”, sheds light on this common but compelling misconception about the case.
Cook confirms the commonly known facts of the murder. While walking home from work, Genovese was attacked outside her apartment building by Winston Moseley. He stabbed her two times before a cry of “Leave that girl alone” from a neighbor frightened Moseley off temporarily. However, after no further help arrived for Genovese, Moseley returned. He stabbed her several more times and raped her.
The case exploded after the NYT published its story. People everywhere recoiled at the fact a woman could be brutally murdered in front of so many without anyone intervening. It spurred research into “the bystander effect”; that is, the more people witness a crime, the less individual responsibility to take action each person feels. As a result, no one takes action at all.
However, Cook found, it seems this was not a case of 38 people watching and doing nothing. In fact, there were 49 total witnesses, but most could not have even seen Genovese for very long. After the first attack, Kitty “staggered around a corner, out of sight to most of the witnesses.”
There is only one person who is confirmed to have witnessed the second, fatal attack. Karl Ross, a friend of Genovese’s girlfriend, saw Genovese from his cracked door but chose not to help. Ross told police he “didn’t want to get involved.”
Cook emphasized that despite the fact the case is a poor example of the bystander effect, the research it inspired on the effect is nonetheless true and invaluable.
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