Anniversary Approaches Of New York’s Most Notorious Lesbian Murder

KittyGenoveseKitty 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.

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  • Harley

    Yes, Michelle Bauchman. That could seriously be you honey. With your lispy, effeminate husband, back in 1964, what WOULD the neighbors think? And you accuse the gay community of bullying?

  • Mdterp01

    Oh wow. I didn’t know she was a lesbian. This story was recently recounted on a news show and there was no mention of her being a lesbian. I had never even heard of the Kitty Genovese (fabulous name by the way) murder before about a week ago when the story first aired. It was also interesting to learn from this case that it spurred quite a few relevant things; the creation of the 911 emergency calling system and Good Samaritan laws that legally protect a person if they help another in trouble. It also increased research on the bystander effect. Thanks Queerty for this story.

  • LadyL

    A very recent New Yorker article (“A Call For Help: What the Kitty Genovese Story Really Means” by Nicholas Lemann) revisits this shocking crime and the Times reportage and sensational Abe Rosenthal book that created the myth of 38 apathetic strangers who all supposedly “didn’t want to get involved,” callously allowing Kitty Genovese to die.
    Lemann acknowledges she was gay and that that fact had been buried or ignored in the coverage of her life and death; so too was one the eyewitnesses whose fear of both Moseley and NY cops probably explains his terrified refusal to intervene.
    But at least a couple of Kitty’s neighbors did try to help her; one shouting “Let that girl alone!” which interrupted Moseley’s first attack and another, a woman who lived in the same apartment building, risking her own safety to come downstairs to help Kitty, who died in her arms.

  • LadyL

    I’ve always been intrigued by that photo of Kitty–she looks to me rather like a Bronx Elizabeth Taylor. According to the Lemann story it’s actually a mugshot taken when Kitty was arrested for getting involved in some kind of bookmaking operation. (She wasn’t prosecuted because her participation had been negligible.)

  • Caliban

    Some time ago I read an account of the crime which said that several people *did* call the police but due to the darkness and echoing sounds off the buildings they were unable to say where the attack was actually happening. According to that account, the newspaper article greatly exaggerated the apathy of those who could hear the attack.

  • sportyguy1983

    What exactly does her sexuality have to do with her murder? Absolutely nothing. She wasn’t a lesbian murder victim (that hints that her sexuality was the motive for the murder). She is just a murder victim that just happened to be a lesbian.

  • the other Greg

    @LadyL: Good synopsis. Turns out the New York Times sensationally mis-reported the story from the beginning (and I’d thought the Post and the Daily News were the sensational ones). Since the Times pompously ran a correction just last week just for misspelling Solomon Northup’s name way back in 1853 or whatever, maybe they will do better this week.

    @sportyguy1983: As the article suggests, her sexuality probably played a role in how the police treated her case.

    Also I suspect the reporter Abe Rosenthal had a serious anti-gay bias. Later Rosenthal became Times editor and notoriously forbade the word “gay” from ever appearing in the paper as a term for homosexual. Yes, we weren’t allowed to be gay in the Times until 1987!

  • Cam


    But it does go into the typical way the media tried to erase the existence of LGBT’s for so many decades.

  • scotshot

    @the other Greg: 1853? A tad ageist are we?

  • LadyL

    @the other Greg: You may have something in your suspicion about anti-gay bias from Abe Rosenthal. Once again citing the Lemann New Yorker piece: several months before Kitty’s murder Rosenthal, then the metro editor of the New York Times, assigned a front page story that ran with the headline “Growth of Overt Homosexuality In City Provokes Wide Concern.”
    Per Lemann, the eyewitness who truly fit the description of the uncaring city dweller was a man with the appropriate name of Joseph Fink, who was working in the building across the street and actually saw the initial attack that wounded Kitty but didn’t kill her. He did and said nothing, watching as Winston Moseley bolted at the sound of the upstairs neighbor calling out to leave her alone.
    At that point Fink could easily have gone to Kitty’s rescue; if only he had she might be alive today. Instead he went into a downstairs basement to take a nap. Emboldened, Moseley returned and the rest is history. Fink may well have been the witness who told the police “I didn’t want to get involved,” the chilling words that gave Abe Rosenthal the “angle” he was looking for in reporting the story.

  • The Swallower

    The Phil Ochs song “outside a small circle of friends” was written about this incident.

  • nycbachelor

    You said nothing that this guy raped her more than once before he killed her. And what difference does it make that she may have been gay? The killer did not target her because she was gay. She was not the only person he killed and raped. It amazes me sometimes that people jump to the fact she was murdered like her sexual assaut meant nothing. That’s truly sad because a rape victim is put through a horrifying ordeal not just with the physical attack but the emotional heartache pain and struggle as well as the shame afterwards, people need to understand that. Thats why its Important that its stated in an article like it was in all recent papers because rape victims who read that article will come forward and report their attack since so many go un reported.

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