In 1964, Park Slope native Catherine “Kitty” Genovese, 28, was a manager of a tavern in Queens and lived above an upholstery shop at 82-70 Austin St. in Kew Gardens, Queens.
On her way home from work on March 13, 1964, she was followed as she neared her building around 3 a.m. She was almost to her door when a man with a knife caught up with her. She screamed and screamed but nobody came to her aid. The attacker stabbed her and left her bleeding, only to return 10 minutes later to finish her off.
A little over a week later, after Winston Mosely was arrested for Genovese’s murder, Police Commisioner Michael Murphy met with New York Times metro editor A.M. Rosenthal. Murphy told Rosenthal that the murder “was one for the books,” but not so much for its brutality as for the shocking indifference and failure to act of the 38 neighbors who were counted as witnesses to the crime.
When questioned, one of the witnesses said that he “didn’t wanted to get involved.”
The front-page Times article that followed soon spread all over the world and the mute witnesses became symbols of the moral decay of urban life.
Congressman John Lindsay, at the time running for mayor, said, “Something has gone out of the heart and soul of New York City.”
The sad incident also became a focus of study for pychologists, who grappled with why the neighbors were so apathetic as to let Genovese die. One popular theory is that in such situations there is a “diffusion of responsibility” — that the more witnesses, the less likely they are to act.
Other researchers also believe that there were in fact fewer than 38 witnesses and that the incident has been exaggerated.
Mosely, the butcher who killed Genovese, confessed to having killed her for the thrill of it. He also confessed to another murder. He was originally given the death penalty, but eventually had his sentence reduced to 20 years to life. He is still in prison.