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Kitty Genovese murderer, Winston Moseley, dead at 81

Winston Moseley leaves an apartment building in handcuffs

Winston Moseley leaves an apartment building in handcuffs after surrendering to police and FBI agents in suburban Grand Island. He was later found guilty of murdering Kitty Genovese on a Queens street. Photo Credit: Bettmann Archive / Bettmann

The man who killed Kitty Genovese, the woman whose public slaying on a quiet Queens street became a symbol of witness indifference and the big city’s collective apathy, has died in prison 52 years after his gruesome crime, state officials said.

Winston Moseley, 81, formerly of South Ozone Park, was pronounced dead at 3:10 p.m. on March 28 at Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, said Patrick Bailey, a spokesman for the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision. The cause of death has not been determined, but Moseley’s body was scheduled for an autopsy, officials said.

He was serving a sentence of 20 years to life on convictions for murder, second-degree robbery and second-degree attempted kidnapping. He was originally given a death sentence but that was reduced to life in June 1967 shortly after the state’s death penalty was abolished. A state appellate panel ruled that the court did not properly consider Moseley’s mental health.

Moseley later confessed to killing at least two other women.

Moseley’s crimes were committed in Queens and Erie County, but he was best known for the chilling March 13, 1964, stabbing death of Catherine “Kitty” Genovese, 28, of Kew Gardens, for which he was convicted on June 11, 1964.

Genovese, who was randomly targeted after she drove home from her job as manager of a bar in Hollis, parked in a Long Island Rail Road parking lot and was stalked, raped and stabbed to death in two attacks occurring over half an hour as residents — it was rumored and later debunked — heard her screams and glanced out of their windows, but did not move to call police or intervene.

The alleged reluctance of witnesses to get involved despite Genovese’s bloodcurdling shouts seemed to symbolize the apathy of the nation’s largest city as its citizens were loath to get involved out of fear of reprisals: Reports in newspapers said as many as 38 witnesses from neighboring buildings did nothing to save Genovese.

“The indifference of those people appalled me,” Harold R. Florea of Wantagh told Newsday in April 1964 as he started a neighborhood watch group. “It may be due partly to fear. But it seems to me it’s mostly an ingrained reluctance on the part of bystanders to butt into somebody else’s business.”

The crime was a case study for law, psychology and criminal justice students. For decades, it was a sobering cautionary tale, detailed in history books and retold by campus public safety experts during college orientation. It gave rise to the term “Genovese effect” or the “bystander effect.”

“The bystander effect refers to the fact that people are less likely to offer help when they are in a group than when they are alone,” wrote Melissa Burkley, professor of social psychology at Oklahoma State University, in Psychology Today.

But a new book about the case, “Kitty Genovese: The Murder, the Bystanders, the Crime that Changed America,” and an upcoming documentary, raise questions about whether the witnesses were indifferent to Genovese’s cries, casting doubt that the 38 people ignored her.


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