The woman who psychologists and sociologists have been
studying for decades and whose grisly murder served as the blueprints for the “Bystander
Effect,” Kitty Genovese, was born on this day in 1935. Although it’s Kitty’s
death that has made her famous, the real woman behind the headlines was a
young, lively lesbian who loved the bustle of New York City and is remembered
as being “so charismatic.”
In recent years, the Genovese family has been working to reclaim Kitty’s story and to assert that “she had a life, not just a death” (x).
Kitty was born on July 7, 1935 in Brooklyn, New York to a
large Italian-American family. Her father owned a small business, the Bay Ridge
Coat & Apron Supply Company, while her mother stayed at home to look after
Kitty and her four younger siblings. As the oldest child of the family, Kitty
was known for her take-charge attitude and her general energetic personality;
in her senior year at her all-girls high school, Kitty was voted the “Class
Cut-Up.” Soon after she graduated high school in 1953, the Genoveses decided to
move to the suburbs of New Canaan, Connecticut, but Kitty – a true city girl –
decided to stay behind in New York.
With her family living in a completely different state,
Kitty found a new home with the LGBT community in New York’s Greenwich Village.
By day, she worked as a bar manager at Ev’s 11th
Hour (although she dreamed of one day opening up her own Italian restaurant) and
by night she partied at the thriving lesbian clubs of the day such as Bagatelle
and The Page Three. It was at one such club, The Swing Rendezvous, where Kitty
first met her girlfriend, Mary Ann Zielonko, in 1963. Mary Ann recalls dancing
with Kitty that night and discovering that they both worked in bars and that they
shared a love of pulp novels and folk music. Within the year, Kitty and Mary
Ann were living together in the soon-to-be infamous Kew Gardens, Queens.
Kitty is photographed lounging and giggling on top of a car, circa 1956 (x).
On March 13, 1964, Kitty left work at 3 a.m. and made her
way home to Mary Ann. It was the couple’s first anniversary and she was excited
to celebrate with her girlfriend. Before she could make it to the door of her
apartment, Kitty was attacked by a man named Winston Moseley, who had been waiting
in his car with a hunting knife near Kitty’s work and had followed her home.
Kitty was stabbed once and reportedly called out, “Oh God I’ve been stabbed!”
One of her neighbors answered her cries and began to holler outside of his
window. The attacker was initially frightened by the man’s yells and left Kitty
collapsed on her front steps, but after he did not hear any oncoming police
sirens, he returned, brutally raped Kitty, and continued stabbing her. Another
one of Kitty’s neighbors ran to her and comforted her, but by the time the
police arrived nearly 30 minutes later, she was already dead.
Kitty’s photo is posted next to Martin Gansberg’s original headline as it was published in The New York Times on March 27, 1964 (x).
A few days after the murder,
journalist Martin Gansberg published an article titled “37 Who Saw Murder Didn’t
Call the Police.” Although many of Gansberg’s declarations have now been disproven,
in its day, the article was a viral sensation. Psychologists and sociologists
became obsessed with the murder of Kitty Genovese as the perfect case study of
human apathy and in 1968, the murder helped to coin the “Bystander Effect” (sometimes even called the “Genovese
Effect”), which describes the supposed fact that people are less likely
to help one another when they are in large groups. In addition to the factual inaccuracy
of Gansberg’s original article, the general public’s inability to address Kitty’s
lesbianism and the fact that the motive for her murder could have possibly been associated
with her sexuality has also sparked decades of controversy. The book Kitty Genovese: The Murder, the Bystanders,
the Crime That Changed America by Kevin Cook was published in 2014 and helped to retrieve some
of Kitty’s humanity by interviewing members of the Genovese family and Mary Ann
Zielonko to remind the public that Kitty was not just a case study, but a real
woman who was incredibly loved and grieved.