If you took a psychology class in high school or college, then the name Kitty Genovese probably rings a bell. She was the woman from Queens, New York, who, legend has it, was stabbed to death in 1964 in front of 38 witnesses, and not one of them did a thing. It’s a tragic story, and a shocking one, that lead many researchers to study the concept of diffusion of responsibility.
I had a really interesting conversation with a friend about this recently (waving at Caly). She mentioned that if you’re going to be attacked, it’s better to have it happen in front of one person, rather than a crowd, because an individual is more likely to do something. I think that’s sad, but true. The larger the crowd, the more likely you are to think someone else will take charge, and the less guilty you will feel when everyone else around you is being equally inactive.
But, I theorized, in this modern world, the more people you have around, the more likely it will be that someone will video the attack on their iPhone. Because nowadays that’s what one does, isn’t it? So, yes, you’ll still probably die a painful, bloody death, but at least there’s a chance that your killer will be caught “on tape”, so to speak. That’s progress of a sort, isn’t it? Kind of?
But, before writing this article, I went to that font of all human knowledge, Wikipedia, and read the article on Kitty Genovese, and it was quite fascinating. First of all, it’s not as if there were 38 people standing in a circle, watching the entire crime from start to finish while twiddling their thumbs. It turns out that the number of witnesses was inaccurately reported, and of those who saw something, they only saw a snippet of the interaction. Many thought it was just a lover’s quarrel. Most didn’t realize that a stabbing had taken place. Others, behind closed doors and several floors away, saw nothing and weren’t quite sure what they heard. It was 3 o’clock in the morning, after all. And Kitty was stabbed in the lungs early on in the attack, so it’s very likely that her “screams” weren’t very loud at all, unfortunately.
Also, at least two people called the police, and one woman rushed out and cradled Kitty in her arms as she lay dying, despite the fact that no one could be sure that the murderer had left the area. And then there’s the fact that it was 1964. More people would be apt to turn their backs on what they considered to be domestic abuse than would in modern times. In theory.
So maybe there’s hope for humanity after all.
Another interesting angle to this story that I don’t remember reading in my psychology textbooks is that the killer, Winston Moseley, was, indeed, captured, prosecuted and convicted. He was given the death penalty originally, but it was reduced to a life sentence eventually. And this was one really bad man. He actually went on a hunt that night to kill a woman, any woman, and Kitty just happened to be the first one who crossed his path.
Moseley also confessed to killing and raping two other women, committing an untold number of burglaries, and later he managed to escape custody. During that time he held 4 people hostage in two different houses, and raped one of them. He also participated in the famous Attica Prison Riot. Needless to say, this guy was a total nut job, and prison was where he needed to be. But I was pretty surprised to discover that he only died in prison just recently, on March 28, 2016, at the age of 81. He was unrepentant to his dying day.
I think the worst tragedy, here, is that Kitty Genovese was only given 28 years on this earth, and her horrible death is practically preserved in amber, inaccurately reported in textbooks all over the world. I’m sure she would have preferred to be remembered for other things, such as her reportedly sunny disposition.
If you ever find yourself visiting Lakeview Cemetery in New Canaan, Connecticut, please visit her grave and pay your respects.
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