Wednesday, February 10, 2010 2/10/10 - kitty genovese

In today's excerpt - the 1964 murder of Kitty
Genovese by Winston Moseley:

"The Kitty Genovese murder became infamous
because of an article
published on the front page of The New York
Times. It began like this:

" '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. ... Not one
person telephoned
the police during the assault, one witness
called after the woman
was dead.' ...

"The incident so deeply shook the nation that
over the next twenty
years, it inspired more academic research on
bystander apathy than
the Holocaust.

"To mark the thirtieth anniversary, President
Bill Clinton visited
New York City and spoke about the crime: 'It
sent a chilling message
about what had happened at that time in a
society, suggesting that we
were each of us not simply in danger but
fundamentally alone.'

"More than thirty-five years later, the
horror lived on in The Tipping
Point, Malcolm Gladwell's groundbreaking
book about social behavior,
as an example of the 'bystander effect,'
whereby the presence of multiple witnesses at
a tragedy can actually inhibit intervention.

"Today, more than forty years later, the
Kitty Genovese saga appears in all ten of the
top-selling undergraduate textbooks for social
psychology. One text describes the witnesses
remaining 'at their windows in fascination
for the 30 minutes it took her assailant to
his grisly deed, during which he returned for
three separate attacks.' ...

"But was it true? ... Who, then, were 'the
thirty-eight witnesses'?

"That number, also supplied by the police,
was apparently a whopping overstatement. 'We
only found half a dozen that saw what was
going on, that we could use,' one of the
prosecutors later recalled. This
included one neighbor who, according to De
May, may have witnessed
part of the second attack, but was apparently
so drunk that he was reluctant to phone the

"But still: even if the murder was not a
bloody and prolonged spectacle that took
place in full view of dozens of neighbors,
why didn't
anyone call the police for help? Even that
part of the legend may be false. ...

"[Winston Moseley was captured a few days
later while robbing the home of a family
named Bannister.] A neighbor approached and
asked what he was doing. Moseley said
he was helping the Bannisters move. The
neighbor went back in his
house and phoned another neighbor to ask if
the Bannisters were really

" 'Absolutely not,' said the second neighbor.
He called the police
while the first neighbor went back outside
and loosened the distributor cap on Moseley's
When Moseley returned to his car and found it
wouldn't start, he
fled on foot but was soon chased down by a
policeman. Under interrogation, he freely
admitted to killing Kitty Genovese a few
nights earlier.

"Which means that a man who became infamous
because he murdered a woman whose neighbors
failed to intervene was ultimately captured
because of ... a neighbor's intervention."

Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner,
Superfreakonomics, William Morrow,
Copyright 2009 by Steven D. Levitt & Stephen
J. Dubner, pp. 98-99, 127-131.


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