Generations of first-year psych students know ‘Winston Moseley’ as the man whose savage murder and rape of Kitty Genovese in 1964 was witnessed by dozens of neighbors rendered powerless by a phenomenon called “bystander effect.” That tale, as neat and compact as it is, is incomplete.
The essential facts are these. Winston Moseley had been out in his car, looking for a victim, when he came across Genovese driving home from work. He followed her. She parked at the Kew Gardens train station, adjacent to her apartment. Moseley parked, too, and attacked her with a hunting knife. She screamed, and a man named Robert Mozer opened his window and shouted, “Leave that girl alone!” Moseley ran away. Genovese, wounded but not mortally, staggered to the back of her apartment building and went inside a vestibule. Moseley returned, found her, and attacked again, stabbing her and assaulting her sexually. He fled again before she died.
The narrative pushed at the time, that this horrible crime happened in part because of a public unwilling to do their part played very curiously into the hands of then New York Police Commissioner Michael Murphy who, of course, was worried about the Civil Rights movement spilling into New York.
A meeting between the editor of The New York Times, A.M. Rosenthal (who shared these fears), and Commissioner Murphy, eventually resulted in The Times publishing a detailed account of thirty-seven strangers unwilling to help an innocent woman under attack from a deranged black man, turning one of over 600 murders in the city that year into a spectacle repeated for generations. From the Times:
It was one of 636 murders in the city that year. The New York Times ran four paragraphs on it.
Two weeks later, The Times published a more extensive, though flawed, front-page account quoting the police and Ms. Genovese’s neighbors. “For more than half an hour 38 respectable, law-abiding citizens watched a killer stalk and stab a woman in three separate attacks in Kew Gardens,” it began.
Moseley died at the age of 81 last week.