The New York Times article:
"Thirty-Eight Who Saw Murder
Like Richard Nixon, Kitty Genovese actually existed. Today she is
only half-remembered (if at all) as a story which has passed into the
realms of urban legend lore . . .
In short: Kitty Genovese – or Catherine Susan Genovese –
was a New York City woman who was stabbed to death near her home in
Queens, New York. According to media reports of the time as many as forty
of her apartment block neighbors heard her cries for help, but not one of
them bothered to help or even so much as phone the police. According to
one report (repeated by sci-fi writer Harlan Ellison in one of his books)
one man even cranked up the volume of his radio so that he couldn’t hear
her screaming. At the time the incident was seen as yet another example of
the callousness or apathy prevalent in urban America, or humanity in
general. The much-publicized event also gave birth to a psychological
theory called the “bystander effect”.
An article in
Social psychologists, John Darley and Bibb Latané
started this line of research, showing that contrary to common
expectations, larger numbers of bystanders decrease the likelihood that
someone will step forward and help a victim. The reasons include the fact
that onlookers see that others are not helping either, that onlookers
believe others will know better how to help, and that onlookers feel
uncertain about helping while others are watching.
Thus the Kitty Genovese became a classic feature of
social psychology textbooks. In
Watchmen Rorschach retells the story as follows in his own inimical
Kitty Genovese. I’m sure that was the woman’s name.
Raped. Tortured. Killed. Here. In New York. Outside her own apartment
building. Almost forty neighbors heard screams. Nobody did anything.
Nobody called cops. Some of them even watched. Do you understand? Some of
them even watched.
Dave Gibbons melodramatically illustrates the panels in
question showing people standing in hallways looking down (see on this
page) or out of their open windows. Yet the real incident was nothing of
the sort . . .
Wikipedia recounts the events of the attack
At the time of her death, [Genovese] was working
as a bar manager […] [She] had driven home in the early morning of
March 13 1964. Arriving home at about 3:15 a.m. and parking about 100 feet
from her apartment's door, she was approached by Winston Moseley, a
business machine operator. Moseley ran after her and quickly overtook her,
stabbing her twice in the back. Genovese screamed, “Oh my God, he stabbed
me! Help me!” It was heard by several neighbors; but on a cold night with
the windows closed, only a few of them recognized the sound as a cry for
help. When one of the neighbors shouted at the attacker, “Let that girl
alone!”, Moseley ran away and Genovese slowly made her way towards her own
apartment around the end of the building. She was seriously injured, but
now out of view of those few who may have had reason to believe she was in
need of help.
Records of the earliest calls to police are unclear and
were certainly not given a high priority by the police. One witness said
his father called police after the initial attack and reported that a
woman was ‘beat up, but got up and was staggering around.’
Other witnesses observed Moseley enter his car and drive
away, only to return ten minutes later. In his car, he changed his hat to
a wide-rimmed one to shadow his face. He systematically searched the
parking lot, train station, and small apartment complex, ultimately
finding Genovese, who was lying, barely conscious, in a hallway at the
back of the building. Out of view of the street and of those who may have
heard or seen any sign of the original attack, he proceeded to further
attack her, stabbing her several more times. Knife wounds in her hands
suggested that she attempted to defend herself from him. While she lay
dying, he sexually assaulted her. He stole about $49 from her and left her
dying in the hallway. The attacks spanned approximately half an hour.
A few minutes after the final attack a witness, Karl
Ross, called the police. Police and medical personnel arrived within
minutes of Ross' call; Genovese was taken away by ambulance and died en
route to the hospital. Later investigation by police and prosecutors
revealed that approximately a dozen (but almost certainly not the 38 cited
in the Times article) individuals nearby had heard or observed portions of
the attack, though none could have seen or been aware of the entire
incident. Only one witness (Joseph Fink) was aware she was stabbed in the
first attack, and only Karl Ross was aware of it in the second attack.
Many were entirely unaware that an assault or homicide was in progress;
some thought that what they saw or heard was a lovers' quarrel or a
drunken brawl or a group of friends leaving the bar outside when Moseley
first approached Genovese.
So what was it that catapulted Kitty Genovese into the
pages of history, or at least Alan Moore’s
Watchmen? A New York
Times article headlined “Thirty-Eight Who Saw Murder Didn't Call the
Police” published two weeks after the attack. The bit that stood out most
for the public in the article was a quote by an unidentified neighbor who
saw part of the attack but deliberated, before finally getting another
neighbor to call the police, saying “I didn’t want to get involved.”
The real Kitty Genovese
incident was nothing as depicted
in the Watchmen graphic novel . . .
But if Kitty Genovese’s neighbors aren’t enough to make
one ashamed for humanity and share Rorschach’s “negative world view” (as
his shrink puts it) then surely her attacker, Winston Moseley, would do
Winston Moseley [. . .] was later apprehended in
connection with burglary charges; he confessed not only to the murder of
Kitty Genovese, but to two other murders, both involving sexual assaults.
Subsequent psychiatric examinations suggested that Moseley was a
necrophile. [Someone who has an erotic attraction to or sexual contact
He was convicted of murder and sentenced to death.
Moseley gave a confession to the police in which he
detailed the attack, corroborating the physical evidence at the scene. His
motive for the attack was simply “to kill a woman.” Moseley stated that he
got up that night around 2:00 a.m., leaving his wife asleep at home, and
drove around to find a victim. He spied Genovese and followed her to the
Moseley also testified at his own trial where he further
described the attack, leaving no question that he was the killer.
The initial death sentence was reduced to an
indeterminate sentence/lifetime imprisonment on June 1 1967. […] In
1968, during a trip to a Buffalo, New York hospital for surgery
(precipitated by a soup can he placed in his own rectum as a pretext to
leave prison), Moseley overpowered a guard and beat him up to the point
that his eyes were bloody. He then took a bat and swung it at the closest
person to him and took five hostages, raping one of them before he was
recaptured after a two-day manhunt. He also participated in the later
Attica Prison riots.
Moseley is in prison to this very day after being denied
parole a thirteenth time in 2008. It would appear that Moseley, a business
machine operator, has missed his true calling though. During a previous
parole hearing he said in his defense that “for a victim outside, it’s a
one-time or one-hour or one-minute affair, but for the person who’s
caught, it’s forever.” Moseley should have been a lawyer!
(Update: The Kitty Genovese
episode didn't make it to the movie version of Watchmen incidentally. Watchmen will be
released on 6 March 2009 in the States and elsewhere. All images are used
without permission for the purpose of review; no copyright infringement or
trademark violation is intended, nor should any be construed under the
"fair use" doctrine.)