Tired Kitty Genovese made her way home after working the late-shift at a bar in downtown New York on Friday 13 March 1964. But someone was following her. And that someone would rape her and stab her to death outside the block of flats where she lived… while her neighbours stood by and watched.
It had been a long night for Kitty Genovese. On her feet, serving drinks at New York’s Eleventh Hour Sports Bar. But now, it was 3am.
Kitty’s bar shift was over and she was driving home to Kew Gardens, the New York district where she shared a flat with Mary Ann Zielonko.
Kitty and Mary were more than just friends. They loved each other, were in a relationship.
But back in 1964, being gay was illegal in America. So it wasn’t something Kitty, Mary, or many others shouted about.
They’d never deny being gay. It’s just that, back then, some people didn’t understand and could make your life difficult.
But with each other, they were happy.
At weekends they’d go drinking in New York’s secret gay nightclubs, and the next day they’d dance off the hangovers in their living room to their favourite Judy Garland records.
A short 15 minutes after setting off from the bar that night, Kitty parked opposite her block of flats.
Soon, Kitty could have been out of the pegged slacks she liked wearing, out of her uncomfortable shoes, and in bed.
But in the next few minutes, Kitty Genovese would be dead.
She’d been followed home.
And now, certain that Kitty was alone, her attacker struck.
He walked from his car towards Kitty.
She sensed something was wrong. She started to run.
But he caught up with her. And, on that empty, moonlit street of Kew Gardens, New York, he stabbed her twice in the back with a hunting knife.
Winston Moseley was 29. Four months older than his victim.
He had a steady job making typewriters, lived with his wife and two kids in a quiet part of town.
And he’d spent that night trawling the city for women on their own. Women he could attack.
Kitty had simply been unlucky.
Now, feeling the warm blood seeping through her clothes, Kitty cried out.
‘Oh my God!’ she screamed. ‘He stabbed me! Help me!’
Her cry woke one of her neighbours. He opened the window of his flat.
‘Let that girl alone!’ he shouted out into the darkness.
Moseley took off. Kitty dragged herself, still bleeding, round to the back entrance of her building.
And there, she collapsed.
The pain, the loss of blood…
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Only minutes later, Winston Moseley was back.
He stabbed Kitty again, took $49 from her purse…and then raped her.
In the block of flats, people were waking up.
One of them had seen the whole thing but hadn’t known what to do. So out of fear, he’d done nothing.
Others saw it, too.
Maybe they were too afraid to act as well.
But there was a neighbour who did do something.
Kitty’s screams had woken her. As soon as she’d called an ambulance, she ran out to where Moseley was attacking Kitty.
By the time Sophia got there, Winston Moseley had bolted.
She covered Kitty with her dressing gown, cradled her. And as the two women waited for the ambulance, Kitty told Sophia about Mary, about how much she loved Mary.
The only neighbour Kitty had ever told.
Kitty would never see her beloved Mary again.
Her wounds were too great. She died not long after the ambulance arrived.
While Kitty’s body was taken to her family in Connecticut and buried, the police investigated her brutal killing.
They could find no trace of the man who’d murdered her.
But, shockingly, they discovered Kitty’s rape and murder had been witnessed by no fewer than 12 people.
Twelve people who hadn’t done anything to help her.
Maybe they thought someone else would help her, or call the police. Maybe they were too scared.
Either way, Kitty Genovese’s life could have been saved.
Five days after Kitty’s senseless murder, the police were called to a break-in in another part of town.
When they got there, they caught a man fleeing the scene with a TV set under his arm.
He was taken into police custody and straightaway admitted to 30-40 burglaries across New York.
Then, he went further.
Moseley confessed with chilling calm to having sexually assaulted two women.
And to raping and murdering Kitty Genovese in Kew Gardens.
When the police asked him why he’d done it, all he could say was that he ‘wanted to kill a woman’.
A few months on, Moseley stood trial for the murder of Kitty.
Despite a plea of insanity, he was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment.
Four years after he was sent down, Moseley escaped after attacking a guard during a trip to hospital for minor surgery.
While on the run, he held an elderly couple hostage, raping the wife and stealing their car. When he was caught three days later, he was given two 15-year sentences for robbery and attempted kidnap to be served concurrently with his life sentence.
In 1984, he was eligible for parole.
But parole was denied. As it would be 17 times more over the next 30 years.
He’s 80-years-old now.
Kitty Genovese would have been 80 now, too – had she not been the victim of a man who ‘wanted to kill a woman’ for nothing more than a thrill.
She’d have seen the world change, seen it become a place more accepting of the love she shared with Mary.
But that was a happiness denied to poor, unlucky Kitty Genovese.
What about the witnesses?
Over time, accounts of what happened that night in March 1964 have changed. Some maintain 12 of Kitty’s neighbours saw her attack, others say as many as 38. Psychologists have struggled to understand why no one did anything to help. Some experts claim that Kitty was victim of the ‘bystander effect’. Which means no one did anything because everyone assumed someone else would. It’s been tested time and time again. And it seems if you need help, it’s much better to have 2 or 3 witnesses than to be 20 or 30. The fewer people there, the more likely someone will do something.