The Kitty Genovese murder became an obsession to many, including mayors, Presidents, academics and theologians, because it was a time when it seemed the city and its people – changed.
It was 1964 when Winston Moseley murdered Genovese, but the fact that there were 636 other murders in New York that year still does not quiet the disturbing facts that surrounded this one particular murder case.
Kitty Genovese was a 28-year-old bar manager, brutally stabbed to death just after three in the morning on Friday, March 13, 1965 in Kew Gardens, Queens. Her murderer, Moseley, was a 28-year-old Queens resident who worked as a computer punch-card operator, who owned his own home and had a family.
The obsession surrounding this murder was not so much the crime itself, but the actions of 37 eyewitnesses. Genovese suffered more than a grisly half hour of stabbing, and was reportedly screaming and fighting, and not one of them called the police or even tried to help.
The fact that the murder was reported but only included a four-paragraph squib buried deep within the New York Times, caught the attention of a metro editor, A. M. Rosenthal, of the New York Times.
He just couldn’t allow this murder to be buried with all of the others, without exposing the disturbing facts – pointedly – those facts that involved the people who stood and watched this murder take place and did absolutely nothing.
Rosenthal hired a local reporter to pursue the story so that the world might learn the truth about the events behind this murder.
On March 27th, the Times ran a front-page story under a four-column headline:
37 WHO SAW MURDER DIDN’T CALL THE POLICE
Apathy at Stabbing of Queens Woman Shocks Inspector
From there, this reaction story became widespread, as we might say today, ‘viral’, and included a horde of experts who offered explanations of what had happened, and why, some saying that it was unfathomable.
The genius of Rosenthal is the way he portrayed this story, which brought such a reaction that it still rears its head over 50 years later. It turned into an apathetic-witness story, making this murder stand for a disturbing and profound sociological trend. The key line in the story came from one of the witnesses who said, “I did not want to get involved.”
Shockingly, the story about the witnesses was inaccurate, because people did get involved. While Moseley was stabbing Genovese, a man named Robert Mozer opened his window and shouted, “Leave that girl alone!” Causing Moseley to run away. However, he returned and found her in the vestibule (lobby) where he continued his attack.
Also, only a handful of people saw the first attack clearly, and only one saw the second because it took place indoors, within the vestibule. Two people called the police. When the ambulance arrived at the scene – because neighbors had called for help – Genovese, still alive, lay in the arms of a neighbor named Sophia Farrar, who had courageously gone to the crime scene, even though she had no way of knowing that the murderer had fled.
I guess that shows you what good journalism can accomplish.
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