Kitty Genovese's killer dies
April 4, 2016 4:53 PM   Subscribe

"Winston Moseley, who stalked, raped and killed Kitty Genovese in a prolonged knife attack in New York in 1964 while neighbors failed to act on her desperate cries for help — a nightmarish tableau that came to symbolize urban apathy in America — died on March 28, in prison." (NYT link)

In that obituary, the New York Times admits that its 1964 report on the murder was seriously flawed: "While there was no question that the attack occurred, and that some neighbors ignored cries for help, the portrayal of 38 witnesses as fully aware and unresponsive was erroneous. The article grossly exaggerated the number of witnesses and what they had perceived." Also, two bystanders called the police.

Of course, the errors didn't stop the article from having a massive impact:
But the account of 38 witnesses heartlessly ignoring a murderous attack was widely disseminated and took on a life of its own, shocking the national conscience and starting an avalanche of academic studies, investigations, films, books, even a theatrical production and a musical. The soul-searching went on for decades, long after the original errors were debunked, evolving into more parable than fact but continuing to reinforce images of urban Americans as too callous or fearful to call for help, even with a life at stake.

Psychologists and criminologists called the reluctance of witnesses to involve themselves the “bystander effect,” or the “Kitty Genovese syndrome.” Studies discerned a “diffusion of responsibility,” finding that people in a crowd were less likely to step forward and help a victim. Some communities organized neighborhood-watch patrols. In New York, an emergency call to the police was simplified later in 1964 — from dialing “O” for operator or a precinct or a borough headquarters, to a central police number. The unified 911 system was not established until 1968.
Although the obituary focuses mostly on the murder of Kitty Genovese, it also has other interesting details about the life of Moseley, the "psychopathic serial killer and necrophiliac," who confessed to three murders, eight rapes, and dozens of burglaries, and also participated in the Attica prison riot of 1971.

Previously, previously.
posted by John Cohen (16 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:12 PM on April 4, 2016 [6 favorites]

Thanks for all the "more inside." This was one we studied in law school because of just how different the understood story and the truth of the story were. In the end, the result is the same: a tragedy. But not because of apathy.
posted by Navelgazer at 5:20 PM on April 4, 2016 [6 favorites]

Whenever I read about the Kitty Genovese case, I end up feeling angry that her life and death was reduced to a fable about the bystander effect, then more recently reduced to another fable about social psychology, just-so stories, and sensationalistic reporting. It's as though you can't get people to see her as a full human being, even though it's not like nothing at all is known about her life.
posted by thetortoise at 5:23 PM on April 4, 2016 [12 favorites]

I feel like there's actually a third narrative, about hidden lesbian histories and the way that aspect of her life was totally written out of the other narratives. And that may also exploit her tragedy, but at least it's a little more true to who she was when she was alive.

Anyway, I don't give a shit about her killer. I don't want to know his name, I don't care about his story, and I couldn't care less whether he's dead or alive.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 5:46 PM on April 4, 2016 [46 favorites]

Coincidentally this was the subject of this week's Girls.
posted by Lutoslawski at 7:07 PM on April 4, 2016 [4 favorites]

One of the most disappointing things about my 1L crim class was that the Kitty Genovese story was brought up by our professor, a former AUSA, but she completely failed to mention all the recent scholarship breaking down the bystander myth. This was in 2012.
posted by skewed at 7:16 PM on April 4, 2016 [6 favorites]

Oh I care, I'm glad he's dead.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:27 PM on April 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

Good riddance to bad rubbish.
posted by MissySedai at 8:47 PM on April 4, 2016 [2 favorites]

Part of the mythology, Phil Ochs' "A Small Circle of Friends".
posted by HuronBob at 9:17 PM on April 4, 2016

the way women become secondary in the stories of their victimization at the hands of men is on full display with kitty genovese.
posted by nadawi at 6:58 AM on April 5, 2016 [8 favorites]

It's not specific to women; the crime is always more of a focus than the crime victim. And why should the focus be on the victim? She didn't ask to be scrutinized by the public.
posted by John Cohen at 7:36 AM on April 5, 2016

Because she had a life, and a story, and people who loved her - including her partner, Mary Ann Zielonko, who is still alive. Because only telling the story of the man who committed this act continues to erase her existence the way he erased her. Because he didn't "ask" to be scrutinized either, so that's a weird and false dichotomy. All the focus on him makes him the only one who matters.
posted by rtha at 8:03 AM on April 5, 2016 [13 favorites]

She didn't ask to be scrutinized by the public.

She didn't ask to be murdered, either.

Frankly, the world should know about the life that was stolen, rather than make it all about the perp.
posted by MissySedai at 8:23 AM on April 5, 2016 [3 favorites]

This seems like one of those times when the single objective of protecting citizens from monsters was achieved. Moseley could have been executed fifty years ago to the same end. Either way. But his life touched too many people. We probably will never be sure of how many women he victimized. The blanket of horror he spread extends to his wife and children, extended to his mother. I won't on his account expand my apprehension to include any details of the horrific life he must have spent in prison.

I remember the myth. I don't remember the backfilling and rectifications of fact that followed the initial lurid exposition. Genovese lay dying, cradled in the arms of a bystander until the ambulance came for her. The myth surrounding her assault and murder generated certain responses, but these were ripples, and had nothing to do with the misery Moseley caused that night. Indeed, he raped and killed at least two other women before stalking and killing Genovese. All these stories are interwoven--the misery, the myth, the ripples. Lawyers who were not even born in 1964 study this case. Psychologists generate profiles using the hypothetical terms of the myth. We stand to one side and pose other hypothetical ripples--as if Genovese and Moseley have shined some sort of light ahead in time, to us, half a century away. History can be seen to have pivoted off the ripples generated by Genovese's death.

Moseley has been tucked away for half a century. Except for a brief stint in 1968 he has been shelved and left to rot in our prison system. Good enough, I guess. I haven't thought about him since....hell I can't remember, but I was just out of high school when all this happened, and I haven't given it any thought, except in passing, and even that was to wonder about the "bystander syndrome." The myth, of course, not the reality of events that night. Now he's dead, and most of the people who've had to live with the misery he generated are either dead or old like me--Genovese's friend, Moseley's wife, kids, mother. What's left are shadows, con trails in his wake. The article seems to think he wasn't repentant. It doesn't matter now.

I believe--I sincerely hope--that no true connection exists between us and the other side. I hope Genovese doesn't have to look down upon us as we rake the ashes to find some cause in her terrible death for our own projects. I would rather think that she might rest in peace, or at least be relegated to oblivion. On the other hand, I would like to think that Moseley's journey isn't over. Maybe another span of decades in purgatory would help him to understand the enormity of his deeds, and if the Cosmic Muffin so wills, that he would be required to feel for himself the misery he has caused. If not that, then oblivion.
posted by mule98J at 9:46 AM on April 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

She didn't ask to be murdered, either.

I know. No man or woman asks to be murdered. Yet somehow when the media covers a murder of a woman, this is supposed to be evidence of sexism.
posted by John Cohen at 11:05 PM on April 6, 2016

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