On March 13, 1964, a woman was brutally murdered outside her apartment in Queens, New York. While the murder was tragic – as all murders are – it wasn’t especially noteworthy. It wasn’t until two weeks after the murder, when the New York Times published an article about the incident, that the whole world lost its mind.
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Kitty Genovese was born in New York City on July 7, 1935. The eldest of five children, Kitty grew up in Park Slope, Brooklyn. In what has to be one of the saddest ironies of all time, Kitty’s mother witnessed a murder on a street in 1954 and demanded that the family move to a safer place. And so, later that year, the family moved to Connecticut. But Kitty was 19 by then, and decided to remain in the city. By 1964, Kitty was managing Ev’s Eleventh Hour, a sports bar in Hollis, Queens and living in Kew Gardens with her partner, Mary Ann Zielonko.
At around 3:15 AM on the morning of March 13, Kitty drove home from the bar and parked her car at the Long Island Rail Road parking lot. The lot was on Austin Street across from an apartment building called The Mowbray, and approximately 100 feet from the entrance to her apartment, which was above some shops. Kitty had no idea that a man named Winston Moseley had woken up at 2:00 AM and quietly left his house. He had driven around Queens looking for a woman to murder, and Kitty was simply at the wrong place at the wrong time.
Moseley approached Genovese in the parking lot. Genovese, frightened, ran across the lot towards towards her apartment, but changed her mind and turned to run up Austin Street towards Lefferts Boulevard, a street that was usually busy, even at 3:15 AM. Moseley caught up to her and stabbed her in the back twice. Genovese cried out “Oh my God, he stabbed me! Help me!”. A neighbor named Robert Mozer leaned out his window and shouted for Moseley to “let that girl alone”.
Mozer’s shout frightened Moseley. He ran back to his car, a white Corvair, and drove around for several minutes. He came back, parked in a different location, and put on a wide-brimmed hat, which he pulled down low to hide his face. He scanned the LIRR lot, the street, and the area around the shops. Genovese had slowly walked towards the rear of the shops, where her apartment was, and Moseley found her there in an exterior hallway. He stabbed her several more times, raped her, and took $49 from her wallet (around $360 in 2012 dollars). He then walked back to his car and drove away.
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At the time, most crime reporters simply took the NYPD’s word on most cases. Sure, there was the occasional high-profile case in which reporters would interview neighbors or witnesses. But most of the time, the NYPD would simply hand out sheets with crime summaries on them, and the reporters would rewrite them and submit them to their papers.
On March 27, 1964, the New York Times ran an article by Martin Gansberg with the headline “Thirty-Eight Who Saw Murder Didn’t Call the Police”. The article begins thusly:
“For more than half an hour thirty-eight respectable, law-abiding citizens in Queens watched a killer stalk and stab a woman in three separate attacks in Kew Gardens.
Twice their chatter and the sudden glow of their bedroom lights interrupted him and frightened him off. Each time he returned, sought her out, and stabbed her again. Not one person telephoned the police during the assault; one witness called after the woman was dead.
That was two weeks ago today.”
The only problem is, almost everything in Gansberg’s article is wrong. In fact, there’s a huge factual error in the story’s very first sentence: there were only two attacks, not three. And the alleged “38 witnesses”? The District Attorney’s office searched high and low for witnesses prior to Moseley’s subsequent trial, and according to ADA Charles Skoller, only six credible witness were found. And, due to the layout of the crime, none of those people actually saw Moselely murder Genovese.