The New York Times has just reviewed the newly released documentary The Witness. The film traces the efforts of Bill Genovese – younger brother of Kitty Genovese – to get to the bottom of the infamous death of his sister in 1964. As the Times reports within the documentary
A “Rashomon” emerges: questionable reporting, widely disseminated, based on police claims; an outlandish alternate history that Mr. Moseley, who died this March, sent Mr. Genovese from prison; a neighbor who recalls holding Ms. Genovese in her final moments.
Ultimately, the murder is eclipsed by Mr. Genovese’s own struggles — how his obsession exasperates family members, and how the perceived public apathy inspired him to fight in Vietnam, where he lost his legs. A re-creation of the night, with an actress playing the screaming victim while Mr. Genovese observes, is harrowing. You pray he has at last found peace.
As TheNew York Times reports, Winston Mosesley has died in prison at the age of 81. Mosesley infamously raped and murdered Kitty Genovese in New York City in 1964. The story that 38 bystanders stood by and did nothing as Genovese pled for help during the attack inspired the development of the “bystander effect” within psychology, which describes the diffusion of responsibility that occurs when events are witnessed by multiple individuals. That 38 bystanders in Genovese’s case witnessed the attack and did not intervene, however, has been discredited. (For more on the Genovese case see here.) The full New York Times piece, which describes the Genovese case and its historical significance, can be read online here.
On this day, 46 years ago (March 13, 1964), Kitty Genovese was murdered in New York City. The killing, and the publicity that followed from it, kicked off a new area of social psychology focused on the intervention (or not) of bystanders to emergency situations. Initial reports were that dozens (most typically, 38) people had watched the 3:00 am attack from their apartment windows, and that no one attempted to help the victim, or even call the police.
The case has been written up this way in many psychology textbooks. Later research, however, revealed that things were not as originally stated in the newspapers of the day. At least one witness did shout at the attacker, driving him off for a time. Others called the police, who were initially unable to find any sign of the crime. The victim staggered away to a secluded stairwell, far from the eyes and ears of potential witnesses, where she was eventually found by the attacker, who resumed his assault, resulting in Ms. Genovese’s death. Continue reading Kitty Genovese→