Friday, May 13, 2016

The Kitty Genovese Murder

On March 13, 1964, a Queens, New York woman was stabbed in the street with multiple eye and earwitnesses. After a man above yelled down for the attacker to, "Get off that woman!" the attacker drove off. He came back ten minutes later and attacked her again. Kitty Genovese died on the way to the hospital.


Kitty Genovese. Image credit: Wikipedia

The case has been written and talked about many, many times over the years. Legend has it that 38 people stood by and watched, doing nothing. There are a couple of misconceptions about that. 




One...nobody knows where the number "38" came from. Few actually saw the crime and many of the earwitnesses weren't sure what they were hearing. Many thought it was a domestic dispute and back then, people lived by this philosophy:



Today, everyone has an opinion on your life and isn't afraid to tell you how to live it. Back then, a man could be beating his wife in broad daylight and people would walk on by...


Daily Mirror clip (allegedly) from the 50s.
Also, if we heard something like that today, what would we do? Dial 911. Guess what? In 1964, there was no 911. You'd call the local police station and get a desk sergeant who might tell you to mind your own business. In fact, the Kitty Genovese murder helped push the system into existence.


Kitty Genovese. Image credit: Joe Corrado

Another reason for the apathy of those who saw and heard the murder was something called The Bystander Effect, also known as Genovese Syndrome. The more people who are present when a person is in peril, the less chance that person has of being helped.




Often the bystanders are vindicated in Kitty Genovese's murder as though they held the knife. History has forgotten the actual murderer, this guy:


Winston Moseley. Photo credit: Wikipedia

There was one other guy--Karl Ross--who has been singled out as a bystander who should have acted. He opened his door and watched the crime, closing it and doing absolutely nothing until it was too late. Could he have saved Kitty, if only he'd acted sooner?


Kitty Genovese. Image credit: NYPost via AP

But one woman is left out of the stories about the crime. Sophie Farrar, a neighbor who was only four feet eleven inches tall, heard that there was a murder in progress and ran straight to it. She reportedly ordered Karl to call the police and stayed with Kitty until help arrived.



Kitty Genovese. Image credit: All Day via CBS News
What would you do if you saw a crime in progress?

52 comments:

  1. We'd all like to think we'd do something. I'd want to jump in and help, but I know at the very least I would call the police. I go out and look anytime I hear someone scream. (Usually kids just playing, but you never know.)
    That no one helped her during those ten minutes in between is a real crime.

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    1. I will say while watching Alfred Hitchcock Presents, a few times I found people's behavior while a crime was happening very odd. We all reach for a phone and call 911. They wouldn't call the police...even when it didn't make sense with the plot for them not to. I didn't realize there 911 was as recent as it is until watching that show, actually.

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  2. Such a sad story. Nowdays people would probably be busy taking videos on their cellphones as the murder happened. I'd like to think I'd be one of those that tried to help.

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    1. I think we're definitely heading toward that direction...which is worse than not calling 911! But there was a case of a dead guy lying on a busy sidewalk a few years ago. People just walked past him...they thought he was drunk, I guess?

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  3. Sad. People didn't had mobile phones too at the time. But now near;y everyone carries one.

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    1. But all of them were in their own apartments at the time...where their phones were. I always thought when I heard this story that people were just standing there, watching.

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  4. I've never heard about this story. So sad. That poor woman. Thank goodness for Sophie Farrar who helped in her own way. I know that I've read about The Bystander Effect but had no idea it was attributed to an actual incident. Human beings really can suck.

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    1. Yeah, I think I first heard it when that dead man was on the sidewalk and more than 20 people walked past him without doing anything.

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  5. I have heard about this story. I hope I would react correctly as well as prudently if I saw a crime in progress... I know I would call 911 ASAP...this event was awful! They sort of did a version of it on Law And Order recently.

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    1. I definitely would call 911. I saw a hit and run on the interstate once. It was right in the middle of rush hour traffic. She said they'd gotten calls from numerous other people! We all had even given the license plate number. What an idiot.

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  6. Such a sad story. I would've called for 911. Something similar happened at the DC metro a few months ago. Someone was being stabbed to death and I don't remember the details. But either no one stepped in to help or one person did and got attacked too.

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    1. That's pretty scary. Is the metro in DC dangerous?

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    2. Oh yes. As far as I'm concerned the DC metro (train and bus stop) is quickly moving up, with no stopping in sight, in the dangerous meter. And it mostly involves (the assualts done by) teenagers. It's so bad there's supposed to do some kind of peace family event to discuss it sometime this month. SMH

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  7. I remember studying this case in a sociology class - all about group behavior,etc. I'd like to think I'd call 911.

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    1. Me, too! I just would hope the emergency personnel could get there in time.

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  8. I was 14 years old when this murder happened and I lived only a few blocks from where it occurred. I don't know what to say about people standing by and doing nothing when something horrible is happening right before their eyes. Maybe we go into some kind of shock mode and become emotionally paralyzed or something. Perhaps we just can't believe what we are seeing. Evil is hard to comprehend. This event haunted my teen years in some ways. I'm still afraid to go out alone after dark.

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  9. A sad and frightening account, Stephie. I would definitely call 911 and I like to think I'd interfere it I could - without becoming another victim. The challenge is that interfering can be deadly, especially today with the proliferation of guns. It's horrible to have to even consider this scenario :-(

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  10. That's a hard question to answer--what would you do? I'd like to think I'd jump in or call 911 at least. But it is true that so many will just mind their own business. I like watching that show "What would you do?" and I think I would always do something. But in truth those who do are very brave and strong. it is hard to step up. Such a sad story.

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  11. I never heard this one until now. Very sad.

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  12. This is crazy. I've called 911 before when I've seen crimes and other shady shit go down!

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  13. Its such a sad story. I can't believe that people just watch a person being murdered without doing anything. The least I would do is call up the police.

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  15. I've always been fascinated by this case. I first heard it with all the misconceptions, not that the truth is much better.

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  16. What a powerful story! The apathy of the witnesses is chilling. I would definitely have to get involved, even if only to rally some helpful troops.

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  17. I grew up in a time that MYOB was the watch phrase. You just didn't get into other peoples business.

    I have acted in these kinds of situations before. I jumped right in. Can it get you killed? Yes, but I couldn't do nothing.

    Have a terrific day. ☺

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  18. Terrible! I guess it's easier for us nowadays because we can whip out our cellphones and dial 911, but even considering that, I think that most people would unfortunately be interested in recording the act to post online.

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  19. If I were to see such a brutal attack, I'd like to think I'd run over and help out as much as possible. The problem is, now you are putting yourself in jeopardy and that's probably the reason why some won't act. Like the man calling above though, more often than not, an announcement that you are coming to help will frighten off the attacker. At the very least, you can be with the injured person until additional help arrives. I can't imagine I'd walk away from anyone being visibly hurt.

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  20. That's absolutely terrible. Now call 9 1 1. Then....I hope I'd help.

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  21. When I was in college we talked about this case in my psychology class. You would think that if you saw someone being attacked you would do whatever you could to help that person. But research shows that the more people who are around, the less likely a person is to help. It's the whole "maybe someone else will do it" mentality. That's why I love those specials on Dateline or maybe it was 20/20 where they have a hidden camera and use actors in various scenarios to see who will come to their aid. The response is always so interesting! What a great post, Stephanie! :)

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  22. What an interesting post, Stephanie, especially since I remember when this happened and what a big news story it was. How nobody helped while this woman was murdered. You're right, it was another time and the culture was much more "mind your own business" back then that it is now. Now everyone is too much in each other's business, I think. The country had a pretty low opinion of New York City back then, and the whole idea that people could stand by and not help. I grew up in small towns, and the general idea was that kind of thing would never have happened in a small town.

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  23. Hard to say what anyone would do. You would have to be sure of what you are witnessing. Then, would you act. You don't know until it happens.
    I live outside a little college town sort of like Lake Wobegon of the South. Last week a 19 year old student was stabbed along with a security guard. He was defending some young women being hassled and man handled by a 24 year old male. People do act with disastrous results.

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  24. It would be easy for me to say that of course I'd rush to help a person in need, but I've never witnesses a crime so I don't truly know what I would do.

    Love,
    Janie

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  25. I'd like to say I'd come and help, but there's a good chance I'd be scared stiff myself of what I should do.

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  26. This was featured on ID Channel's A Crime to Remember this past summer. What a horrifying crime! I think all of us would like to think that we would come to the aid of someone being murdered, but you never know what you would really do until you're in the situation.

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  27. Fortunately where I live most screams turn out to be grazing goats. Though one time one of them jumped on a car as I was walking and freaked me the hell out. Funny enough after my mother didn't believe me, one jumped on her car. She does not park it outside under the tree by the park much anymore.

    That was a sad tale. I would have to do something. Even scream at the attacker or call police. Of course I'd have to be careful with the terrible people around these days.

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  28. You might be interested in a new documentary that follows Kitty Genovese's brother Bill as he investigates what really happened that night. The trailer was released yesterday: http://gothamist.com/2016/05/12/first_look_kitty_genovese_doc.php, or for more information: https://www.facebook.com/thewitnessfilm/

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  29. It is such a shame that this happened and the sad thing is, people still would not help except for one or two. I have seen people being pushed or bullied and I have seen more than one traffic accident and I am right there I am proud to say. I think it is so wrong to turn the other cheek or not get involved because what if that was me? What if that was my brother, friend or any other loved one? The sad thing is, people don't want to get involved and this has been proven ov and over again sadly.

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  30. The If a Woman articles reminds me of Facebook comments on local news stations. Plenty of idiots speaking their "opinions" and make you scratch your head of how inhuman they are.

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  31. I know of this crime. I read about it years ago. So sad. I'd want to help someone in that situation.

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  32. A thought provoking post, Stephanie. Poor Kitty! I'd like to think, I could do something to help. Probably, at the very least call the police. As we all carry cell phones (well mostly) there would be no excuse. As for intervening, it would depend on the situation. The fear factor would play a big part and how people react when fear overtakes. Have a great weekend.

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  33. Glad you're still doing these. I find them so interesting!

    Just think how different this may have turned out if the man who scared the attacker off the first time, had gone down to check on her and the attacker then didn't come back? Then again, if this murder hadn't taken place, and it truly did help to bring about the 911 system, we might not have it, or would have had it later. This could make for an interesting time travel story. hmmmmm.

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  34. I recently read an article that busted all the myths around this case. It said that several people who heard her screams called the police. But as you point out, it wouldn't have been 911. Whether or not the call produced any help for the woman entirely depended on who answered the phone, right? "I hear a woman screaming on the street" might or might not provoke a desk sergeant into sending someone.

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  35. A sad and moving story no doubt. Greetings to you.

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  36. I grew up in the Bronx (I was 11 when the murder happened) and the Kitty Genovese story made a big impact on the adults in my neighborhood. Several years ago, I read information similar to yours about the myths surrounding the case, and I've also read there was a police coverup of things they (the police) did wrong. Sad.

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  37. That's a good question. I don't know. When I see someone playing a prank on another student in class, I put a stop to it. But I'm the one in authority there. In the real world...

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  38. Hope you are having a great Sunday.
    That story is just haunting. It begs the question, would I react honorably in such a situation.

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  39. It's typical that people are quick to point out the inaction, but not so quick to point out the name of the lady who did help. I would like to think in that situation I would help, but in this day and age you hear of so many cases where an attack is staged so they can then band forces and mug (or worse) the helper that it does make you think twice
    Debbie

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  40. I'd like to think I'd help if I was aware of that situation, and I have before - I don't usually talk about it because the whole thing scared me, but there was a time I called the police on what sounded like a horribly violent domestic disturbance in the apartment downstairs. >_< But if it was something happening right in front of me, I don't know how I'd react. Like I said, I'd like to think I would help, but I think that's the sort of thing that's very hard to know until it happens.

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  41. This is so disturbing! Thank goodness we have 9-1-1 now. I always wonder how the operators remain so calm when a violent act is in progress! I'd like to think I would help someone, however I'm not sure if fear would hold me back. This must have been the case that the Girls episode featured. They had a re-enactment of the crime with all the people in the apartment building who heard it. The audience would walk through each apartment and watch the witnesses reaction to the crime. It was a unique way to tell an important historical story through acting.

    Great post, Stephanie. You've covered so much detail here. Very interesting!

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  42. Thanks Stephanie for bringing this to our attention - something we need to be aware of should we find ourselves as witnesses. If you CAN do something, then do it - don't do nothing. But, I also don't know how I would react if I witnessed such a sudden violent scene. I like to think I would do what I could ...

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  43. The bystander effect is scary.. You would think logically that having more people around would make you want to help more not less.. I'm glad you told us about this phenomenon, Steph.

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  44. Go Sophie Farrar! So glad she jumped it, but sorry she wasn't able to save Kitty. The Bystander Effect is awful! I can't believe no one helped. So scary and sad to think about. I would think with more people you'd have more people jumping in to help. :( Thank goodness for 911. Thanks for sharing!

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