July 7, 2011

Thy Neighbor’s Keeper: The Screams of Kitty Genovese Remembered

Catherine Susan “Kitty” Genovese
By Niccolò Graffio
“…better is a neighbor that is near than a brother far off.” Book of Proverbs: XXVII, v. 10, Holy Bible, KJV.

In America’s historically celebrity-obsessed “culture” the highest, it is believed, to which one can aspire is to become famous. In times past this wasn’t necessarily a bad thing; quite the contrary, in fact. The craving for immortality in the minds of others drove many a person to do great things. John Adams, for example, is said to have been driven in part by a desire for recognition by his peers. Furthermore, it is said in his later years he believed he was not given his proper due by them for his part in the establishment of the American Republic. Today, of course, historical scholars remember him as one of America’s greatest statesmen and presidents.

This cult of fame-seeking, however, has also produced more than one herostrat, a dark character willing to do virtually anything to garner for himself a page in the history books. Example: on April 13th, 1865 in Washington, DC a well-dressed man was overheard bragging to another that after the following day he would become “the most famous man in the world.” That well-dressed man’s name was John Wilkes Booth.

To borrow a quote from William Shakespeare: some are born famous, some achieve fame, and others have fame thrust upon them. The last would certainly be true of the subject of this article; a young woman who in her short time on this earth gave no indication of ever wishing to partake in the pursuit of fame. She most certainly did not wish the type of fame circumstances thrust upon her. Yet famous she became, and this is her story.

Catherine Susan “Kitty” Genovese was born on July 7th, 1935 in New York City to Sicilian-American parents Vincent Andronelle Genovese and Rachel (née Petrolli). She was the oldest of five children. Her father had managed to create a modestly successful business he named the Bay Ridge Coat and Apron Supply Company, earning a living selling coats and aprons to local businesses.

“Kitty” grew up to be a petite (she stood no more than 5’1” and weighed 105 lbs.), outgoing, attractive and energetic young woman living in an Italian-American section of Brooklyn, NY. In later interviews with those who grew up with her, a picture was painted of a girl who was interested in Latin American music, various forms of dance, history and politics. She was said to be able to debate people on a wide variety of subjects. By the time she graduated from Prospect Heights High School, though, the demographics of her neighborhood had begun to change, and with it the crime rate.

In 1954 her mother Rachel witnessed a shooting near their house. That and the family’s improved fortunes prompted Vincent to buy a home in New Canaan, CT. Kitty, however, preferred life in the “Big Apple” and chose to remain after the rest of her family moved north. She kept in constant contact with them, however, and would visit them almost every weekend.

By 1963 she had relocated to Kew Gardens, a village in the borough of Queens. She moved into a second-story apartment on Austin Street with her girlfriend, Mary Ann Zielonko. She later was hired to work as a bar manager at Ev’s Eleventh Hour Club, a small tavern on Jamaica Avenue and 193rd Street in the Hollis Section of Queens, about five miles from her apartment. Kitty worked the late shift at the club, many times not returning home until the wee hours of the morning. She confided to family and friends she did not feel comfortable returning home at such an ungodly hour. Nevertheless, the demands of the job plus her desire for independence made her determined to stick it out. While working and saving her money, she dreamed of the day she could visit Italy. She also looked forward to one day opening an Italian restaurant with her father in New Canaan.

Winston Moseley
Winston Moseley was a machine operator who was married and had two children. He worked in Mt. Vernon, Westchester County but lived in his own home in Queens. Standing at just 5’8” with a slight build and a brooding appearance, he had no criminal record. The best anyone could have said of him was he was nondescript. Unfortunately, Moseley liked to supplement his income by engaging in burglaries and muggings. He also had a “hobby” – he liked to rape women, lots of women! He was also a budding serial killer.

At his trial he told the court of how he had raped innumerable women, robbing many in the process. He would get up at all hours (while he wife was asleep) to indulge in his late-night expeditions. He confessed to a psychiatrist from Manhattan State Hospital, one Dr. Oscar Diamond, at a pretrial examination that he never obtained any real gratification from these rapes because something was missing, but he couldn’t put his finger on what it was exactly that was missing (Moseley wasn’t the brightest candle on the cake). On several occasions, in fact, he was unable to perform penetration due to absence of that “something”.

On July 20th, 1963, while out prowling for a victim in Springfield Gardens, Queens, Moseley encountered 15-y.o. Barbara Kralik. Rather than submit to Moseley’s feckless attempt at rape, Ms. Kralik chose to attempt to fight off her attacker. Moseley, in turn, savagely knifed the poor girl multiple times. It was at that moment, he later related to Dr. Diamond, a light went off in his dim, primitive brain. He finally realized what that “something” was, why he derived no real joy from raping women. They were alive!
After dispatching his hapless victim, he returned home, oblivious to the enormity of what it was he had just done. That he had just committed cold-blooded murder was as meaningless to him as the string of robberies and rapes he had also performed. His psychopathic hunger had been piqued. He would not be happy until he had raped and murdered again, and again.

His next victim was one Annie Mae Johnson, 24, of South Ozone Park, Queens. Ms. Johnson had the misfortune of encountering Moseley on February 29th, 1964. This time Moseley dispatched his victim with a gun, shooting the helpless young woman a total of six times!

It should be mentioned to the reader that at this time the rates of violent crime in New York City, and America for that matter, were a lot higher than they are today. In New York City alone hundreds of murders and thousands of rapes were being committed annually. Thus, in the absence of witnesses and DNA evidence (unavailable at the time) the police made no connection between the murders of Kralik and Johnson.

On March 13th, less than two weeks after the murder of Annie Mae Johnson, Kitty Genovese arrived home from work at 3:15 AM, parking her red Fiat in the Long Island Railroad parking lot just 20 feet from her house. She was unaware that Winston Moseley had been tailing her almost the entire time she had left her job. He later told police he had selected her at random.

As soon as Kitty locked her car door she noticed Moseley coming out of the shadows in her direction. Moseley later told the court she bolted when she saw him, but he quickly pounced on her, stabbing her twice in the back.

“Oh my God!” she screamed in terror. “He stabbed me! Please help me! Please help me!” Several of her neighbors later admitted to having heard her initial screams. Apartment lights went on. Irene Frost of 82-68 Austin Street later testified to having heard Kitty’s screams plainly. She also testified to having seen her lying down on the ground and crying out. On the seventh floor of the same building, Robert Mozer observed the struggle, slid open his window and yelled out to Moseley, “Hey, let that girl alone!” Moseley heard Mozer and walked away from Genovese, hopping into his white Chevy Corvair and moving it so no one would see it. With that, lights went out and no one bothered to see if Kitty needed assistance, in spite of the fact her sobs could plainly be heard.

She struggled to her feet, bleeding profusely, and managed to make it to the side of her building, desperately trying to remain conscious and open a locked door. Winston Moseley returned ten minutes later and sought her out.

Several tenants later admitted to having heard part of the first attack from the safety of their windows, but none lifted a finger to help her. Samuel Koshkin, who lived on the sixth floor of 82-40 Austin Street, said he had wanted to call police, but his wife Marjorie advised him not to do so. Why? She later testified she believed 30 people must have called already.

Another tenant, a French girl by the name of Andrée Picq, actually witnessed part of the first attack. She later testified she had heard Kitty scream three times and from her apartment window had seen Moseley bending over Genovese, apparently beating her (he was, in fact, stabbing her). Like the Koshkins, she did nothing!

“Kitty” Genovese
Moseley eventually found Kitty lying on the vestibule floor of 82-62 Austin Street. She had managed to stagger there before collapsing. Moseley later told police he had returned because, in his own words, "I came back because I knew I'd not finished what I set out to do." Finding Kitty lying on the floor semi-conscious and bleeding, he cut off her bra and panties before sexually assaulting her and robbing her of $49.

“I’m dying! I’m dying!” she cried out pitifully, to no one in particular. He then finished her off with a quick knife thrust and left.

Jumping into his car, he drove off into the night. Several blocks from the murder scene he stopped for a red light. Looking over at the car next to his, he noticed the driver, a man, was asleep behind the wheel. Incredibly, he got out of his car, woke the man up, told him he should go home, then got back into his own car and drove off!

It wasn’t until 3:50 AM, fully 35 minutes after Kitty Genovese’s ordeal began, that a neighbor named Karl Ross called the police. Again, incredibly, before he did this he first called a friend in Nassau County to ask him what he should do! It later turned out Ross was drunk. In fact, by 7 AM that morning he was arrested by police and charged with disorderly conduct for interfering with police attempts to interview Kitty’s roommate. When asked by police why he waited so long to call them, his response became an anthem of sorts for the urban apathetic, “I didn’t want to get involved.”

Police arrived (in three minutes!) to find Kitty’s nude and battered body where Moseley had left it. She had been stabbed a total of 17 times. Police canvassed the neighborhood and discovered several people had witnessed or heard some part of the bloody attack, but did nothing.

Kew Gardens at this time was hardly a ghetto. In fact, it was a mostly White working and lower-middle class neighborhood, hardly the place you’d expect this kind of inexcusable behavior from residents. Yet as New York City Deputy Police Commissioner Walter Arm later lamented to the press, “This tendency to shy away from reporting crimes is a common one.”

It may sound cynical, but as far as crimes go, the murder of Kitty Genovese hardly stood out at the time. It was just one of hundreds that occurred every year in the urban jungle that was/is New York City. New York City, in turn, is just one of the dozens of urban jungles that dot the landscape of the United States. Even the initial reporting of it was banal. The New York Times devoted no more than several short paragraphs on page 12. Genovese’s murder, like so many others, seemed destined to be remanded forever to the dustbin of history.

All that would change soon, however, thanks to an irate journalist named Martin Gansberg. Gansberg, furious at what he perceived to be the apathy of his fellow New Yorkers towards a brutal crime, fired off what was to become one of the most famous articles ever published in the pages of The Times. The article, entitled, 37 Who Saw Murder Didn’t Call, propelled the name of Kitty Genovese into national headlines, and started a debate that continues to this day.

That Gansberg’s article played footloose with most of the facts of the murder was lost in the media frenzy that followed its publication. For starters, later investigations by police and prosecutors determined that contrary to Gansberg’s figures, less than 12 people heard or saw parts of the attack. Only two people, Joseph Fink and Karl Ross, had actually seen Kitty get stabbed (Fink in the first attack, Ross in the second). A third eyewitness, Andrée Picq, probably saw Kitty being stabbed but apparently mistook it for a beating.

Reporters and camera crews descended on the Austin Street apartment complex and the surrounding area like vultures, trying to find anything about the case that could be remotely construed as newsworthy. In the process, a woman who was previously an unknown achieved iconic status, less as a victim of murder than of urban apathy and cowardice.

Whereas the police had been lenient in their treatment of Kitty’s neighbors, the press was unrelenting and unforgiving! Why didn’t you call the police? Why didn’t you go out to help her? Why didn’t anyone do anything?!? The excuses of some ranged from the absurd “We thought it was a lover’s quarrel” of one witness to the infuriating “I was tired” of another! Most however, answered simply, “I don’t know.”

Due to public pressure as a result of the media frenzy, 30 detectives were assigned to the case. Several witnesses were located who could furnish a description of a suspicious-looking individual seen in the vicinity immediately prior to the murder. The big break came, though, on March 19th, six days after Kitty’s murder. On that day police arrested a man caught stealing a television during a house burglary. That man was Winston Moseley.

Once in police custody, Moseley immediately admitted to police his guilt not only in Genovese’s murder, but in Kralik’s and Johnson’s as well. In fact, he spoke matter-of-factly about all of them, like it was no big deal! The only problem was, police already had a suspect in custody being charged with Barbara Kralik’s murder – one Alvin “the Monster” Mitchell, an 18-y.o. who was a member of a street gang. Oddly, Mitchell had earlier confessed to murdering Kralik, leading police to doubt Moseley’s confession. Moseley was adamant, however, and provided police details about the killing that left no doubt he was the true culprit.

Winston Moseley’s trial for the murder of Kitty Genovese began on June 8th, 1964. Initially, he pled “Not Guilty” but this was later changed to “Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity.” His attorney, Sidney G. Sparrow, allowed Moseley to testify in the hopes of convincing the jury his client was insane. The lurid testimonies of all the witnesses combined paled in comparison to that of Moseley’s, who shocked and horrified the courtroom with his detailed playback of the night Genovese was murdered. He gave no hint of emotion as he recounted his brutal murder of the young woman. Tellingly, he said the sounds of tenants yelling down at him gave him no cause for concern. He merely moved his car so it wouldn’t be seen, then returned to his grizzly business.

He also candidly spoke about his murders of Barbara Kralik and Annie Mae Johnson. Waves of revulsion swept the courtroom as he admitted he pumped six slugs into Johnson’s body until he was sure she was dead, then turned her corpse over and raped her!

The trial wrapped up on June 11th. In his closing arguments, Sparrow tried as best he could to convince the jury his client was legally insane…a schizophrenic personality, to be exact. Prosecutor A.D.A. Frank Cacciatore, however, forcefully countered that Moseley was nothing more than “…a panther, a beast, roaming the streets of Queens in the dead of night!”

Jury deliberations began at 4 PM. It took the jury less than less than seven hours to return a verdict of “Guilty” to murder in the first degree. Only about 10 spectators were in the courtroom for the reading of the verdict. Moseley showed no emotion when it was read.

On Monday, June 15th, he was returned to the courtroom for sentencing. This time it was packed with spectators and members of the media. The judge, J. Irwin Shapiro, allowed the prosecution to introduce “any matters which they deem relevant” in order to show aggravating circumstances of Moseley’s behavior. Four women, each of whom had been robbed by Moseley, one in addition was beaten and another was raped, were allowed to tell the jury their stories. Journalists reported their testimony had an emotional impact on the jury.

In addition, prosecutor Cacciatore pleaded with the jury to sentence Moseley to the electric chair with these words: "Life imprisonment isn't that at all; this monster can live to stalk the streets again!" The jury retired for deliberations but quickly reached a decision, returning shortly afterwards. “We, the jury, recommend the death penalty” the jury foreman said to the court.

The room immediately erupted in wild applause and cheers! People, many crying, left their seats to hug one another. A veteran court officer, stunned by the near riotous outpouring of emotion, remarked to a reporter: “I’ve never seen anything like this-never, not at such a time.”

It has been said, half-jokingly, the definition of a conservative is a liberal who’s been mugged. Reality, in the evil form of Winston Moseley, mugged Judge J. Irwin Shapiro that day in the courtroom. Shapiro, a lifelong liberal, banged his gavel until people calmed down and returned to their seats. Once order had been restored, Shapiro rose to his feet, pointed to the defendant and uttered in obvious disgust, “I don’t believe in capital punishment, but when I see this monster, I wouldn’t hesitate to pull the switch myself!”
Sadly, circumstances beyond Judge Shapiro’s control worked to deny Winston Moseley his well-deserved thunderbolt ride in “Old Sparky”. In 1967 the New York State Court of Appeals ruled evidence of Moseley’s mental condition should have been admitted at trial. His death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.

A year later, while being transferred to a Buffalo hospital, he managed to overpower a guard, steal his gun, and escape. He later took five people hostage, raping a woman in front of her husband! A heroic FBI agent named Neil Welch was able to track him down, and after a Mexican standoff that lasted 30 minutes, convinced him to surrender. He was returned to prison.

Beginning in 1977, and in spite of his alleged “mental condition”, Winston Moseley began a campaign to have himself released from prison on parole. He even wrote a long letter to the New York Times, trying to justify his release. In one particularly galling part of the letter, he wrote of the Genovese murder, "The crime was tragic, but it did serve society, urging it as it did to come to the aid of its members in distress or danger [sic]." Incredibly, the editors at The Times saw fit to publish it as an Op Ed piece under the title Today I'm a Man Who Wants to Be An Asset.
Winston Moseley, in spite of his “schizophrenic personality”, was somehow able to become one of the first prison inmates in New York State history to earn a college degree (he received a B.A. in Sociology from Niagara University). Thereafter he stepped up his campaign to secure his release from prison.

Between the years 1984 through 1995 he appeared before a parole board six times. Each time his appeals for parole were marked by bizarre rants in which he tried to portray himself, rather than the three dead females, as the real “victim”. In 1995 he tried a new tactic. He appealed to a Federal court for a new trial on the grounds his attorney, Sidney G. Sparrow, could not have given him effective counsel due to a conflict of interest. It seems he had once represented Kitty Genovese on a minor gambling charge.

Genovese’s entire family attended that hearing, as well as Sparrow, who was now 82. Sparrow later told reporters Moseley was a liar “…trying to get out of prison any way he can.” The Federal judge in charge of the hearing denied Moseley’s request for a new trial, ruling that Sparrow back in 1964 "gave Moseley effective, competent and capable counsel under difficult circumstances." He was promptly deposited back into prison again.

Winston Moseley, parasite, is still in prison, living off the taxpayers’ sweat. This thanks to a dysfunctional court system more concerned with the letter of the law than the spirit. Barbara Kralik, Annie Mae Johnson and Catherine Susan “Kitty” Genovese - three people who never bothered anyone - are all long dead and buried. I don’t know about you, but to me there just seems to be something so fundamentally wrong with that fact!

Though it’s been nearly 50 years since her murder, the circumstances surrounding Kitty’s demise and their impact continue to be debated. In an attempt to explain the apparent apathy and cowardice of her neighbors, psychologists came up with a euphemism – the “bystander effect” (eponymously named “Genovese syndrome”). According to social psychologists, the more people witness behavior they find unacceptable, the less likely it is any one of them will help.

In recent years revisionist writers have attempted to paint the denizens of Kew Gardens in a less unflattering light. Correctly pointing out the flaws in Gansberg’s original article, they maintain Genovese syndrome is a myth. Is that true, however?

In an eerie replay of Kitty’s murder, a little over 10 years after her death a 25-y.o. model was brutally murdered in her apartment which overlooked the site of Genovese’s death. It was reported in the press at least several people heard her screams but did nothing!

In June, 2000 following the annual Puerto Rican Day Parade near Central Park, nearly 60 women were groped or stripped by dozens of drunken male revelers. In spite of the fact at least two women approached police to report this, and that it occurred in full view of thousands of parade-goers, nothing was done!

Perhaps the most spectacular (and inexcusable) example of Genovese syndrome occurred, not in America, but in Sweden. In 2005 it was reported an 17-y.o. Swedish girl was raped and beaten in a public bath by two young Moslem immigrants while 30 other guests watched and did nothing!

Kitty Genovese (or rather her demise) has also had an undeniable impact on American popular culture, as well. In John Carpenter’s slasher epic Halloween (1978), the chilling scene of Jamie Lee Curtis’ character running down a darkened street screaming for help (in vain) while being pursued by the homicidal Michael Myers was said to have been inspired by Kitty’s murder. Singer/songwriter Phil Ochs’ single Outside of a Small Circle of Friends contains references to her death. Her murder is mentioned as a pivotal event in Alan Moore’s graphic novel Watchmen (1986/87). The list goes on.

I could not end this article without mentioning something that was brought to my attention only just recently. While dining with a friend, he cynically mentioned to me that in spite of all the positive cultural contributions our people have made to American history, what three members of our ethnos are probably most famous? Al Capone, Frank Sinatra and Kitty Genovese. I sat there thinking to myself, “A gangster, a boorish singer with ties to organized crime and a murder victim. If that’s true, is that the best this country thinks we’re capable of producing?” I’m still pondering the answer, as well as the ramifications.

Further reading:
Charles E. Skoller: Twisted Confessions: The True Story Behind the Kitty Genovese and Barbara Kralik Murder Trials; Bridgeway Books, 2008