Kitty Genovese was a 20-something bartender living in Queens when Winston Moseley stabbed her to death on March 13, 1964 while neighbors listen to her screams and did nothing.
You’ve probably heard the story told as a depressing tale of public apathy. How could 38 people watch their neighbor die and do nothing? Well, for starters, that’s not actually what happened — there were only five or six apathetic witnesses. And that’s not the only part of the story that’s been mis-reported.
Kitty was a lesbian, living with her girlfriend at the time. A new book on her death explores what that relationship meant to the public at the time. (According to the police chief, “it’s also our experience that homosexual romances produce more jealousy by far than ‘straight’ romances.”)
Her girlfriend Mary Ann Zielonko later recounted, “After Kitty died I went from thing to thing … I’d lost my faith in people – in everything, really.”
The public attitude toward lesbians in the mid-’60s wasn’t exactly friendly, so it’s tempting to wonder if that played a role in the neighbors’ refusal to call police. Maybe they were suspicious of the two women sharing an apartment together, and didn’t want to get involved in what might’ve looked like a romantic spat.
It wasn’t a romantic spat, of course. Genovese was randomly targeted by Winston Moseley, who simply liked to kill. After his capture he confessed to two other murders. Another new book delves into the details of his life: he was man with a family and stable job, who had a “double life” in which he’d go out to prowl, commit burglaries, mug and kill. He felt no remorse.
“I still have a lot of anger toward people because they could have saved her life,” Zielonko told NPR recently. Five decades on, the wounds of the incident still feel fresh.