Saturday, April 11, 2009

Amateur Sleuth Debunks Genovese Tale by Vladic Ravich - Queens Tribune

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The infamous story of Kitty Genovese defined the nation’s stereotype of the callous and dangerous nature of city crime. The national media picked up on a New York Times story that described the brutal murder of Catherine (Kitty) Genovese, who was stabbed by Winston Moseley after parking her car at the LIRR station in Kew Gardens.

The original story began: “For more than half an hour 38 respectable, law-abiding citizens in Queens watched a killer stalk and stab a woman in three separate attacks in Kew Gardens. Twice the sound of their voices and the sudden glow of their bedroom lights interrupted him and frightened him off. Each time he returned, sought her out and stabbed her again. Not one person telephoned the police during the assault; one witness called after the woman was dead.”

Local lawyer and amateur historian Joseph De May has pored over the case, including the media reports, the trial, and other subsequent research, to figure out exactly what happened that night. On his Web site, A Picture History of Kew Gardens, NY, De May addresses each piece of evidence to debunk the sensationalist coverage that has entered Queens history as fact.

“The problem here is that people were told a story that on its face seemed incredible,” said De May. “It contradicted everything they knew about each other and themselves. It never dawned on them that people who see and hear a murder simply do not get involved.”

“The popular notion is that people sat and watched or listened for a solid half hour as a woman was being murdered and didn’t want to get involved. That particular scenario did not occur. But it’s that notion that makes it a good story.”

De May researched the story by filing for legal briefs and transcripts from the killer’s trial. He also read a book by the main police investigator working on the case and then compared this evidence to the reporting that shocked the nation. “The first paragraph tells one story, the rest of the article and the photograph [in the original article] tell a different story,” said De May. “It was blatantly contradictory.”

At 3:20 a.m. on March 13, 1964, Winston Moseley chased Kitty Genovese onto Austin Street, near a bar known to generate loud noise late at night. Kitty screamed as she was beaten and stabbed by the assailant. It was a cold night and many residents were asleep with their windows closed.

Realizing that his car was parked and could be used to identify him, Moseley ran to it and backed it onto 82nd Road.

Meanwhile, Kitty made her way around to the rear of the two story Tudor building where “none of the witnesses from the Mowbray Apartments could see her,” according to De May’s interpretation of the trial evidence.

De May says we know of five witnesses who were still at their windows when Moseley returned on foot about 10 minutes later. They watched from their apartment windows for a few minutes as Moseley appeared to search the area and follow Genovese.

Only one witness saw that second attack and he delayed calling the police because he was heavily intoxicated at the time. Kitty later died of her wounds. Her screams during the second attack may not have been heard because the initial wounds had punctured her lungs.

Residents later said that some people called the police right after the first attack. At the time, the police said that only one person called and he had waited until after the second attack to do so.

De May points out six errors in the above quoted first paragraph from initial reporting on the story: “Not all of the 38 witnesses were eyewitnesses; with the exception of three people, it is almost certain that none of the eyewitnesses saw any of the stabbings; the police were called right after the first attack; none of the eyewitnesses could have watched Kitty or her attacker for half an hour because they were only visible to them for a few moments; there were only two separate attacks not three; and the second attack occurred in the ground floor hallway of a building where only one of the 38 witnesses could have seen it. Kitty was still alive when the one witness called police.

The argument laid out by De May does not question the horrific nature of the murder or the validity of the so-called “bystander syndrome” that seeks to explain that people will often not call the police because they assume someone else has done so. “We know for a fact that one of the witnesses was going to call the police when his wife stopped him, saying 30 people must have already called – that’s a classic case of bystander syndrome.

“There were a number of other cases: the guard that was trampled to death in Green Acres shopping center in Valley Stream during a rush for an electronics sale, or the woman who collapsed and died in King’s County hospital, while other patients and the staff ignored her for an hour.

“I am not saying that people that night were blameless, and that some of them did not react badly, but however badly they acted, the media should not go making up Friday the 13th hyped-up stories. They should have focused on what actually happened. The idea that 38 people didn’t lift a finger – that didn’t happen,” said De May.