Catherine Suzie Genovese, also known as Kitty, was a 28 year old bartender from Queens, New York. She was born in Brooklyn to Italian American parents and grew up in a cultural community mainly of Italian and Irish heritage. She was raised catholic and was the oldest of five children. In 1954 shortly after Kitty graduated high school her mother witnessed a murder in their local area. This prompted her to move her whole family to Connecticut in search of a safer lifestyle. Kitty who was due to be wed that same year decided to stay in Brooklyn with her grandparents and her partner. Before the end of 1954 Kitty married however within the same year the marriage was annulled. After a few years of clerical work that she found unappealing, a brief arrest for bookmaking and a failed relationship with her girlfriend at the time Kitty found work as a bartender at Ev’s Eleventh Hour in Queens. In 1963 she met her new girlfriend Mary Ann Zielonko who she would move in with soon after. Kitty was known to be a hardworker and would consistently work double shifts as she was saving money in order to open her own Italian Restaurant one day.
At 2:30am on March 13, 1964, Kitty drove home from work to her apartment in Queens. Whilst caught in traffic it is believed a man in a white vehicle spotted her and began following her. Kitty arrived home at roughly 3:15am and parked her car no more than 30 metres away from the front door of her apartment complex. As she walked towards the entrance the man approached her with a knife. Instinctively she began to run toward the front of the building to get away from him however he caught up to her and stabbed her twice in the back. In the quiet sleepy early morning streets Kitty screamed out for help.
Reports from a New York Times article claimed that there were more than 38 witnesses from various apartment blocks who saw the attack and heard Kitty’s screams but proceeded to do nothing. A research study into this phenomenon was quickly launched after interest in the case boomed and soon this behaviour was referred to as the bystander effect or Genovese Syndrome. It is explained to be a psychological occurrence in which witnesses are less likely to assist a victim in an emergency situation when other people are also present. Although there has been many years of research into this study and there are proven truths behind this effect it was revealed many years later that the original article was inaccurate and inconsistent and has been proven to be a false account penned in order to generate headlines.
Today we now know that there were witnesses who tried to help Kitty that night and the number of reported witnesses was exaggerated. It’s on record that one witness shouted out to the attacker to, ‘let that girl alone,’ and at least two calls to the local police department was made from nearby witnesses. At the time there was no emergency call line and 911 didn’t exist. In order to get help for an emergency you had to dial 0 for operator and request to be transferred to your local police department. After being shouted at by the neighbour witnesses claim the perpetrator fled and that they saw Kitty walk to the back entrance door of her apartment complex. Many believed she was safe as the attacker was gone, the police had been called and the victim was walking away. Little did they know that Kitty was suffering from extensive stab wounds to her body puncturing her lung and that the police placed the emergency calls as a low priority assuming it was a harmless domestic argument with no reported injuries and were dealing with other calls.
It is thought the wound which had punctured Kitty’s lung left her speechless and unable to shout for help. Silently she made her way to the entrance and tried to open the door to get inside however within a few short minutes the attacker had returned. He initially searched the nearby carpark, train station and finally returned to the apartment complex finding Kitty losing consciousness in front of a locked entrance door. The man continued his attack and stabbed her several more times. Kitty is now weakened by the stabbing, unable to scream or shout and is out of view from any witnesses. The man made the most of his opportunity and proceeded to rape her, steal $49USD from her wallet then fled the scene once again.
Shortly after the second attack a neighbour finds Kitty is critically injured but miraculously still breathing. The neighbour then makes another call to police for help that night. At 4:15am just minutes after this final call an ambulance arrived at the scene. Kitty is reported to have had knife wounds all over her body as well as her hands suggesting she tried to defend herself against her attacker. En route to the hospital Kitty succumbed to her injuries and was pronounced dead.
Initially Kitty’s live in girlfriend Mary Zielonko was believed to be a suspect in her death. Police interrogated her multiple times once for over six hours about her relationship with Kitty however just six days after the attack the real murderer was found. A 29 year old man named Winston Moseley, was arrested for suspected burglary nearby when a television set was discovered in the trunk of his car. One of the detectives remembered in a witness statement that a white vehicle similar to Moseley’s was reported to be at the scene of the Kitty Genovese murder. He was further interrogated by detectives and ultimately confessed not only to the murder of Kitty but also two other women by the names of Annie Mae Johnson and Barbara Kralik who had both been killed less than a year prior. He was charged and sentenced to death for the murders of the three women, however his charges were later reduced to life imprisonment. 52 years later in 2016 at the age of 81 Moseley died in prison. He was refused parole a total number of 18 times and is one of the longest serving inmates in the New York State prison system.
The death of Kitty Genovese sparked outrage in the local community as well as making news headlines across the country. The dismissal of importance from the police accompanied with the now proven false claims of dozens of witnesses unwilling to help the victim angered and shocked the city of New York and people of America. This led local politicians to rally for a nation wide system for emergency responses in an effort to streamline reports of major incidents and for all calls for help to be responded to. Within just four years of Kitty’s harrowing murder in 1968 the 911 emergency phone line was introduced in America. Today more than 50 years after its implementation approximately 240 million 911 calls are made each year across the country assisting in matters of crime, natural disaster and health related emergencies in an effort to provide care and significance to all emergency situations.