"'I didn't want to get involved,' he sheepishly told police."
That was the telling line in the New York Times front page story 44 years ago this month that depicted the brutal slaying of one Kitty Genovese in a Queens, New York neighborhood. The young woman's death illuminated an all-too-familiar attitude in her neighbors. They didn't want to get involved. The circumstances of her death are painful to relate. She was murdered, at random, by a psychotic killer in an attack that lasted an estimated 35-50 minutes, knifed during three separate episodes, sexually assaulted, and left to die. Original newspaper accounts reported that 38 people witnessed the attack, yet did nothing. Subsequent investigation indicates that the number 38 may be an exaggeration; no one person observed the entirety of the attack, as the victim was able to crawl away from her attacker (who left and returned) in an attempt get to her apartment nearby. Notwithstanding, numerous people heard and saw something terribly amiss that early morning in March 1964 and did nothing to aid her or call for help.
The outcry from that event shaped a psychological phenomenon called the "Genovese Syndrome" or the "Bystander Effect." Simply stated, the larger the group of people observing a misdeed, the lesser the chance that anyone will intervene. Numerous psychology experiments since then have confirmed and continue to confirm this reality of human nature. Unfortunately, that phenomenon has not diminished in us despite awareness, study, and other enlightenment. After a June 2007 murder in a Wichita, KS, convenience store, a handful of people stepped over the victim’s body and one person even photographed the victim with a cell phone camera.
There were a few positive developments in the wake of the Genovese tragedy. Police telephonic response systems were improved as a forerunner to the 911 system we know today and the Neighborhood Watch movement grew as a response to this event.
Kitty Genovese's roommate and partner Mary Ann Zielonko said in an interview on the 40th anniversary of her death, "…I still have a lot of anger toward people because they could have saved her life. I mean, all those steps along the way when he attacked her three times. And then he sexually assaulted her too, when she was dying. I mean, you look out the window and you see this happening and you don't help. That's—how do you live with yourself, knowing you didn't do anything?"
The question remains for us all.
Genovese’s murderer, Winston Moseley (a 29 year-old at the time, and a husband and father of two), is serving a life sentence at Clinton Correctional Facility in New York State near the Canadian border. He will attend his 14th parole hearing this month.