In March 1964, 28-year-old Kitty Genovese was brutally murdered outside her apartment building in the Kew Gardens section of Queens, N.Y. A number of her neighbors heard her screams for help. No one did a thing. Had someone called the police, Genovese might have survived the attack.
What was so shocking about Genovese's murder is that she endured three separate attacks over a 30-minute period. As a locked door kept her from running into the building, Genovese was stabbed over and over, and raped. Her attacker, Winston Moseley, left the scene twice, returning both times after sitting in his car and seeing that no police — or anyone else — had come to the aid of Genovese.
The young woman bled to death. Her shocking end wasn't just reported in the press, it was written about in books and in magazine articles as an example of what can happen when good people look the other way and do nothing.
Until recently, the fact that Genovese was a lesbian who lived with her girlfriend Mary Ann Zielenko was, quietly and conveniently ignored.
At the time of her death, Genovese, was working as a bar manager at Ev's Eleventh Hour Sports Bar in Hollis, a working class Queens neighborhood not far from Kew Gardens. At 3:15 a.m. on the night of her murder, she parked her car a mere 100 feet from the front door of her building after an evening at work. Winston Moseley, a father of two, had snuck out of his home, on the prowl for someone to kill. When apprehended by the police six days after the attack, Moseley told the police he was looking for a woman because "they were easy and didn't fight back."
Moseley freely confessed to the killing not only of Genovese but of two other women, as well as numerous burglaries.
Two weeks after Genovese's murder, The New York Times published a story by Martin Gansberg titled "Thirty-seven who saw the murder and didn't call the police."
Though the number of witnesses was exaggerated in that piece, the fact remains that at least a dozen people saw the attacks through their windows, heard Genovese's cries for help, and did nothing. Why no one picked up their phones and dialed 911 remains a mystery.
The horrific death of Kitty Genovese has become part of folklore. A 1964 book explored the story and its aftermath. In 1975 the TV movie “Death Scream” was based upon the murder. A 1965 episode of “Perry Mason” was also based upon Genovese's sad tale. Two episodes of “Law and Order,” the graphic novel Watchmen, a short story by noted science fiction author Harlan Ellison, and the novel Twilight Eyes by horror author Dean Koontz all referred to Genovese's tragic end.
Whenever, wherever the story is discussed, the question that arises is why? Why did so many people do nothing as a young woman was violently attacked over and over again while she screamed for help? The story has come to represent the apathy of big city life.
In December 1974, the New York Times reported the murder of 25-year-old Sandra Zahler, who was killed in an apartment, which overlooked the site of Genovese's attack. Neighbors again admitted to hearing screams for help. Again they did nothing.
Psychologist Frances Cherry has suggested that people, especially at that time, would not intervene if they believed that a man was attacking his wife or girlfriend. It's a sad commentary on the state of male/female power plays and relationships.
After 40 years of silence, Mary Ann Zielenko finally spoke of her relationship with Kitty Genovese. At the time they were “roommates.” After decades of silence, Zielenko was finally able to admit the truth. She spoke of having to grieve privately, unable, at the time, to let it be known that she had lost her spouse.
Winston Moseley today is nearly 80-years-old. He has yet to express any regret for the murder of Kitty Genovese. He has been denied parole over a dozen times.