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The Whimper of Whipped Dogs
June 5, 2006 4:18 PM   Subscribe

The truth about Kitty Genovese. They say she was the woman stabbed to death before 38 witnesses who did nothing. They "didn't want to get involved." To many, her name rings synonymous with "public apathy" and the "bystander effect." Unfortunately, the details - and the meat - of her case are largely misunderstood. None of that, however, diminishes the tragedy of her death, not only for her family and friends, but also for her lover.
posted by Sticherbeast (41 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
FIRE!
posted by caddis at 4:51 PM on June 5, 2006


At who?
posted by TwelveTwo at 4:53 PM on June 5, 2006


I wonder what happened to Joseph Fink (talk about an appropriate name), the only witness who claimed to see the first stabbing, *knew* it was a stabbing, but promptly just went to bed instead of calling the police.
posted by nomisxid at 4:55 PM on June 5, 2006 [1 favorite]


I grew up in Kew Gardens, across the street from the site of the murder. Every year, local TV news cameras would show up to walk through the crime scene as all us kids watched. It was eerie to have that history attached to our street.

I think it made us more vigilant -- you couldn't take a purse or try to break into someone's car in sight of someone without 10 people chasing you down and holding you for the cops.

And the final part about her lover made my heart break when I found out.
posted by ltracey at 4:57 PM on June 5, 2006


fascinating post, Sticherbeast, there are lots of details I was previously unaware of. Poor creature. Did I miss the reason why she was killed? Was she just in the wrong place at the wrong time? And what did happen to Joe Fink? I must investigate...
posted by annieb at 5:00 PM on June 5, 2006


I like the reference to the Harlan Ellison story based on the event for the title.
posted by Vaska at 5:08 PM on June 5, 2006


Good job Kitty wasn't climbing Everest when this happened.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:11 PM on June 5, 2006


.
posted by russilwvong at 5:12 PM on June 5, 2006


Great post. I've known about the case for a long time without really knowing any of the details. It's sad. After the first attack she was so close to her car that she might have been able to hide or get away if she hadn't been so badly injured and in shock.
posted by kirkaracha at 5:13 PM on June 5, 2006


So, why did he kill her?
posted by IronLizard at 5:27 PM on June 5, 2006


because she was there
posted by caddis at 5:42 PM on June 5, 2006


because she was there

Likely.

[sarcastic past thread reference filter]

Or. Maybe she should of "just handed over the wallet".

[/sarcastic past thread reference filter]
posted by tkchrist at 5:46 PM on June 5, 2006


Winston Moseley, a business machine operator, was later apprehended in connection with another crime; he confessed not only to the murder of Kitty Genovese, but to two other murders as well, both involving sexual assaults. Subsequent psychiatric examinations suggested that Moseley was a necrophiliac. He was convicted of murder and sentenced to death.

Moseley was a child raper that gave a confession to the police where 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 parking lot.

posted by b1tr0t at 5:46 PM on June 5, 2006


Wikipedia article on the case
is pretty thorough.
Sundance channel had a great documentary that covered the Kitty Genovese case as well as the Stanford Prison Experiment.

It was suggested that it wasn't really apathy or evil neighbors who stood by and did nothing, but they were acting like humans act in group situations and how we get our cues on how to react to situations from those around us.
In all likelihood most of the 38 people didn't fully realize what was going on when she was being stabbed to death.

Some people thought he was punching her and most figured someone else was already in the process of calling or had already the police so they didn't. She also walked away slowly to where he found her 10 minutes later, some peole assumed she was drunk and had no clue what tragically really was happening.

And the murderer was a child raper who seemed to have necrophiliac tendencies as well. The interview on that link with her lover was sooo sad by the way, truly devastating.
posted by stavx at 5:51 PM on June 5, 2006


Just in case anyone who is not from New York is wondering about my first comment, the one thing Kitty Genovese taught New Yorkers is that if you are ever attacked do not appeal to your neighbors' altruism; appeal to their self-interest - yell "FIRE."
posted by caddis at 6:24 PM on June 5, 2006


I have heard before (of course I have no idea where now) that random murders like this one are extremely rare; that usually there is some prior relationship or some connection between the killer and the victim. The randomness and brutality of the killing gives it the quality of a nightmare. Coupled with the apathy of the community, the story seems to approach mythic status for American culture. For me there is something about this story that is beyond the media sensationalism (or maybe the reason that the media jumped on it) that evokes primal terror. Maybe that is just my reaction, having grown up in NYC like some of the other MeFites here.
posted by butternut at 6:38 PM on June 5, 2006


Just in case anyone who is not from New York is wondering about my first comment, the one thing Kitty Genovese taught New Yorkers is that if you are ever attacked do not appeal to your neighbors' altruism; appeal to their self-interest - yell "FIRE."

Is that where that came from, huh.
posted by delmoi at 6:52 PM on June 5, 2006 [1 favorite]


I like the reference to the Harlan Ellison story based on the event for the title.

Seconded.
posted by Cyrano at 7:25 PM on June 5, 2006


well, most of us who grew up here had never heard of her until we were older, but we knew even when young that if we had been in her position, not to expect others to jump in and help. I was in college before i even heard of her and that it was indicative of urban attitudes and willful shutting off--which wasn't the environment i knew of. Most of us knew who was watching us behave and misbehave and knew when the network wasn't available. Son of sam summer, i think, was more instructive, to most of us (altho that's generational).
posted by amberglow at 7:26 PM on June 5, 2006


So the article says there were only 6 eye-witnesses, and that police were called immediately but decided not to respond to the scene. This completely deflates all the hand-wringing I've seen about this case. Must we truly relegate the Kitty Genovese story to the urban myth pile?
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:53 PM on June 5, 2006


Wow, thanks for this. I still remember watching a TV movie about the murder as a kid; it affected me pretty strongly. How could those people just stand there and listen to her get killed? Good to read a more thoughtful take on what happened. And this is just plain astonishing:

It was not reported in 1964 that Kitty Genovese was a lesbian and that she shared her home in Kew Gardens with her girlfriend, Mary Ann Zielonko.

I never knew. Thanks again.
posted by mediareport at 8:15 PM on June 5, 2006


So the article says there were only 6 eye-witnesses, and that police were called immediately but decided not to respond to the scene. This completely deflates all the hand-wringing I've seen about this case. Must we truly relegate the Kitty Genovese story to the urban myth pile?

IMHO, this is what makes it such an interesting (and sad) case. Kitty Genovese is frequently invoked as the quintessential tale of the indifference of citydwellers - or humanity at large - when the real culprits are quite a bit more subtle and complicated. There's also the "primal horror" of the crime itself, and the blame assigned to the public as the police are more or less left off the hook, in the commonly known version of the story.

Worst of all, it's a misunderstood tale wrapped in the tragedy of real people - in particular, her lover who could not declare herself as such at the time.

Being chased down and stabbed for no sane reason in the dead of night, mere feet from your car, surrounded by people on all sides, most of whom can't quite understand your cries. It's a true-life nightmare. It's all very weird and sad, and hardly less so even when you learn that the "38 people saw and didn't care!" bit - the most famous bit, and what Kitty's name conjures up to most people - is a myth.

And her ordeal was already so much like a horror movie, but still that myth overwhelmed her story.

...

Oh, and people haven't read the Harlan Ellison story "The Whimper of Whipped Dogs" really should, just for its own merits.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:31 PM on June 5, 2006


Whether it was 38 people who failed to report the crime, or 6, or 1 (as in the infamous David Cash "bad samaritan" story), indifference of a witness in the face of an active violent crime is a terrible thing. Kitty's story has achieved mythic proportions and continues to be used as a tale to remind people to watch out for each other. That is some small good.
posted by Joey Michaels at 8:35 PM on June 5, 2006


indifference of a witness in the face of an active violent crime is a terrible thing.

I'm inevitably prodded to reflect on that in a larger contemporary geopolitical context, and note that human nature does not change, much.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:43 PM on June 5, 2006


So the article says there were only 6 eye-witnesses, and that police were called immediately but decided not to respond to the scene. This completely deflates all the hand-wringing I've seen about this case. Must we truly relegate the Kitty Genovese story to the urban myth pile?
a lady was "beat up, but got up and was staggering around". He told the dispatcher her location was "by the drugstore at the LIRR station", and that the lady walked away but appeared dazed.

...

Rather, it may well have been that whoever did call in did not want to identify themselves, and the police were slow or reluctant to act upon anonymous complaints - especially when the complaints were not of a murder in progress, but of a simple assault in which the attacker had fled and the victim was seen to walk away.

...

"Of the thirty-eight [witnesses], about eighteen had witnessed or heard each of the attacks; the other twenty had heard or seen one - enough to make them witnesses in court."
This hardly indicts the police; they got a call that a crime was done and that there likely would be nothing to see when they got there. Thirty eight people heard the attack, not six. Every account I have heard, long after the fact, focused on what people heard, not what they saw. A whole lot of people heard the attack, but no one called the police and described a murder in progress. Indifference or ignorance, either way the message is clear, don't rely upon your neighbors to call for help.

Interesting observation stavros.
posted by caddis at 9:57 PM on June 5, 2006


Interestingly enough, her killer was just denied parole yet again in February of this year. By all the accounts in the links above, he sounds like an utterly inhuman monster, lacking the basic elements of compassion and empathy that separate the sane from the psychopathic. During his initial sentence for the Genovese crime, he overpowered a guard & escaped from prison. While on the lose, he kidnapped a number of hostages at gunpoint, and eventually raped a woman while forcing her husband to watch. When he was finally caught, he was returned to spend the rest of his life in prison, essentially the same sentence he had prior to the escape.

Even though he is 71 years old, I'm pleased to see he's still behind bars, although a little saddened that he wasn't executed for Genovese's murder (which would have prevented the rape & trauma for the woman he assualted during his escape & her husband).
posted by jonson at 10:09 PM on June 5, 2006


What amazes me is that there were people who heard her screams and assumed she was "just" being beaten, so they rolled over and went back to sleep. Like that alone isn't something worth trying to stop. Even if they were too scared to go outside themselves, they could've at least yelled out that the police had been called.
posted by ryokoblue at 10:11 PM on June 5, 2006


lacking the basic elements of compassion and empathy that separate the sane from the psychopathic.

That's what makes you a sociopath, not a psychopath.
posted by delmoi at 11:27 PM on June 5, 2006


Something that intrigues me about this and similar cases such as the Stanford Prison Experiment: does awareness of the story of Kitty Genovese's murder, for example, make a person more likely to intervene? It seems so, for those with a personal experience (as ltracey said above), but what about those who have only heard the story?

Has the Genovese story reached the level of an instructive myth? An example of one such would be the story of the boy who cried 'wolf', a story almost every English-speaker encounters during childhood and, unless particularly stupid, gets the point of - such that English-speakers in general are intellectually aware of the dangers of calling repeated false alarms. While it was before my time, I vaguely remember hearing this story as a child, and clearly got the point of "The People who Ignored the Murdered Girl". I'd like to think it's entered the folk wisdom ... has it?

Maybe - in the case of the Walmart rent-a-cops killing a shoplifter, one of the bystanders at least got involved enough to phone for an ambulance.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 12:32 AM on June 6, 2006


This case was discussed in a movie I just watched this evening. I recommend it.

The Human Behavior Experiments
posted by grimbrim at 12:42 AM on June 6, 2006


This section seems important:

Actually, there are only two witnesses known to have seen the first attack in progress.

One was Joseph Fink, the assistant superintendent at the Mowbray Apartments across the street. He was on duty as the night elevator operator. In remarks delivered at a March 9, 2004 Forum on the Kitty Genovese case held at Fordham University, former Queens County Assistant District Attorney said that Fink saw the first stabbings and understood exactly what was happening.

The other witness was Andree Picq, and she testified at trial that she saw Kitty "laying down on the pavement . . . and a man was bending over her and beating her." [Footnote D-6.] Since there was no evidence that Moseley beat Kitty, what this witness must have seen were the first stabbings. However, whether due to the dim street lighting or disorientation from being suddenly awakened, Picq did not realize what it was she was seeing. That is not an uncommon phenomenon for eye witnesses to crimes, even when they are fully awake at the time.

posted by anotherpanacea at 1:54 AM on June 6, 2006


This hardly indicts the police; they got a call that a crime was done and that there likely would be nothing to see when they got there.

I'm having trouble understanding why this exonerates the police. They were called, but they did not dispatch a car. What the call said was that there -would- be something to see: the victim of an assault 'staggering around.' If you're suggesting that the police are not responsible for responding to crime scenes to treat victims, then I'm doubly confused.

As you say, 'a whole lot of people heard' something, but they did not report a murder because they didn't know that it was a murder.
posted by anotherpanacea at 2:03 AM on June 6, 2006


ryokoblue: someone did yell out, and the attacker left. Then the victim walked off, and everyone thought it was ok.
posted by jacalata at 2:28 AM on June 6, 2006


Now there would be a dozen people using their cameras and phones to take pictures. They might not have saved her, but they sure as hell would have put her death on youtube. And that would be the main link for this very thread.
posted by pracowity at 2:33 AM on June 6, 2006


Not being an east coaster, I first learned of the case from a comic book - the Watchmen - as it was Rorschach's justification for existence. Fascinating.
posted by davelog at 5:35 AM on June 6, 2006


I was very young when I first heard the Kitty Genovese story, and I was horrified. Later, I learned that groups of humans tend to assume that someone else is doing what needs to be done. When I took CPR and EMT training, I was taught to pick out a bystander and address him or her directly, saying, "You. Go call an ambulance right now." It cuts through the groupthink bystander fog. It works very well. I've also called the police several times when it seemed possible that no one else would.

I was also taught to yell "Fire!" in case of assault.
posted by swerve at 8:14 AM on June 6, 2006


I referenced the article in question in a piece I wrote about Kitty Genovese Syndrome for Interesting Thing of the Day in March 2005. I've experienced the "syndrome" from both sides, though obviously not in such a serious situation. The movie Hotel Rwanda illustrates a similar effect.
posted by joekissell at 9:58 AM on June 6, 2006


Part of the reason stories like this become morality tales so easily is that the script for them already exists, we just have to plug in the particular names of the real actors. The idea that no one in the big city cares about the fate of his/her neighbour is, presumably, as old as cities themselves. Here's an influential example from a couple of centuries ago (1754):

"Now, it is plain that such identification must have been much more perfect in a state of nature than it is in a state of reason. It is reason that engenders self-respect, and reflection that confirms it: it is reason which turns man's mind back upon itself, and divides him from everything that could disturb or afflict him. It is philosophy that isolates him, and bids him say, at sight of the misfortunes of others: "Perish if you will, I am secure." Nothing but such general evils as threaten the whole community can disturb the tranquil sleep of the philosopher, or tear him from his bed. A murder may with impunity be committed under his window; he has only to put his hands to his ears and argue a little with himself, to prevent nature, which is shocked within him, from identifying itself with the unfortunate sufferer. Uncivilised man has not this admirable talent; and for want of reason and wisdom, is always foolishly ready to obey the first promptings of humanity. It is the populace that flocks together at riots and street-brawls, while the wise man prudently makes off. It is the mob and the market-women, who part the combatants, and hinder gentle-folks from cutting one another's throats." (Rousseau, Discourse on the Origin of Inequality
posted by yoink at 10:14 AM on June 6, 2006



posted by Smedleyman at 10:41 AM on June 6, 2006


“Stood in firelight, sweltering. Bloodstain on chest like map of violent new continent. Felt cleansed. Felt dark planet turn under my feet and knew what cats know that makes them scream like babies in night. Looked at sky through smoke heavy with human fat and God was not there. The cold, suffocating dark goes on forever and we are alone. Live our lives, lacking anything better to do. Devise reason later. Born from oblivion; bear children, hell-bound as ourselves, go into oblivion. There is nothing else. Existence is random. Has no pattern save what we imagine after staring at it for too long. No meaning save what we choose to impose. This rudderless world is not shaped by vague metaphysical forces. It is not God who kills the children. Not fate that butchers them or destiny that feeds them to the dogs. It’s us. Only us. Streets stank of fire. The void breathed hard on my heart, turning its illusions to ice, shattering them. Was reborn then, free to scrawl own design on this morally blank world. Was Rorschach.”

Beyond the apparent nihilism many people ignore or don’t see the ownership, the responsibility Rorschach takes for the world. I like that. I can’t identify with the more rabid features of the character, but he doesn’t have the society imposed restrictions on his authority.

Indeed, we seem to forget that “the police” are just other humans like ourselves and they derive their powers from our consent, the same as our ‘leaders’ and others we allow to govern us.
Certainly they may be more capable of dealing with a woman getting raped. But to think that the responsibility for stopping such an act lies outside ourselves is an illusion (albeit an insidious one).
We are responsible for everything that occurs on our world to the extent of our powers.

Our vision sometimes fatigues this principal - we’re very far sighted thanks to T.V. so we know what is occuring in places where we can do little directly to help.

Reminds me of the (highly abridged) Greek story of the old man with a cane looking for a seat at the Olympics. He wandered near the Athenians, but they ignored him, he went by the Arcadians - same thing. Then he went by the Spartans who, as one, stood up and offered him a seat. He said “All Greeks know what is right, but only the Spartans do it.”

Sometimes all you have to do is make a little room for someone else to act.
Or, in this case, pick up a phone.

I applaud ltracey and the now more vigilant folks of Kew Gardens. It’s outstanding that people would go so far as to mass up and hold someone for the cops.
posted by Smedleyman at 11:59 AM on June 6, 2006


The "child raper" phrase in the Wikipedia article was vandalism. I have removed it. For details, see Talk:Kitty Genovese.
posted by ryanrs at 12:43 PM on June 6, 2006


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