Updated: What You Need To Know About Kitty Genovese & Last Night's Girls Reference

Photo: New York Daily News Archive.
Update 9:00 p.m.: In a macabre twist, Winston Moseley, the man who murdered Kitty Genovese, died March 28 in prison at 81. Moseley, whom The New York Times calls “a psychopathic serial killer and necrophiliac,” expired at the Clinton Correctional Facility in upstate New York. He had been imprisoned for more than 50 years, making him one of the longest-serving prisoners in the state.

While in prison, he escaped once, participated in the 1971 Attica prison uprising, and earned his college degree in 1997. He was denied parole as recently as last year, the last of 18 times he was eligible.
Original story, published at 3:45 p.m., follows.
Last night's Girls episode was cheekily named after an iconic New York City murder. But, while the reference might have been a tad lighthearted, the story behind it is as tragic as they come.

Here's how it goes: Catherine "Kitty" Genovese was coming home from her work as a bar manager, early on the morning of March 13, 1964, on the day she was murdered. She parked her car about 30 yards from the front door of her Kew Gardens apartment. But before she got inside, she realized a man was following her. Instead of heading to her front door, she changed course, making her way to the front of the building, where people might be more likely to hear her yell for help.

Winston Moseley — who would later confess that his only motivation was to "kill a woman" that night — followed Genovese. He stabbed her. She screamed. No one came to her aid. She stumbled to the back of the building, still locked outside. Moseley returned. He stabbed her again. He took her money. He raped her. He left her in the hallway. A neighbor named Sophia Farrar finally went to help Genovese, who lay bleeding and barely conscious on the floor.

By then, the police had been called. But it was too late. Kitty Genovese died in an ambulance on the way to the hospital, a little over an hour after arriving home in Queens.

Genovese was 28 at the time of her murder, and her public legacy has since become synonymous with the circumstances of her death, which spawned the concept of a social phenomenon commonly referred to as the "bystander effect." It's a sad commentary of the presumed state of the human psyche, and basically boils down to the idea that: If there is a woman screaming for her life outside an apartment building where dozens of people can hear what's happening, the likelihood of an intervention decreases as the number of witnesses goes up.

But, while the circumstances of Genovese's death are well known by nearly anyone who has ever taken a Psych 100 class, the facts still remain a little fuzzy.

Take, for example, the original 1964 New York Times story that elevated Genovese's death from a four-paragraph crime report to a shocking tale about 38 bystanders who did nothing to help until it was too late. Journalist Martin Gansberg reported that no one called the police until after Genovese was already gone; he also spoke to multiple witnesses who said they weren't quite sure what was going on outside their windows.
Credit: New York Daily News.
But, as Joseph De May Jr., a maritime lawyer who took it upon himself to dig deeper into the murder's details years after the fact, later told The New York Times: "Yeah, people heard something. You can question how a few people behaved. But this wasn't 38 people watching a woman be slaughtered for 35 minutes and saying, 'Oh, I don't want to be involved.''' Another fact that the original Times report got wrong: One witness actually did intervene while it was happening — a neighbor named Robert Mozer heard Genovese's screams and yelled at Moseley to leave her alone.

None of which is to say that there were no other villains that night besides Moseley. A neighbor named Joseph Fink witnessed the murder when he cracked his door, it was later revealed. Another, Karl Ross, watched her death unfold but waited to call for law enforcement. Like Genovese herself, Ross was gay — and, as it was later suggested, wary of the police.

But even the fact of the victim's sexual orientation has become part of the mythology surrounding her death, despite the fact that her sexual identity had nothing to do with the crime. Before Sunday night's Girls episode aired, Lena Dunham shared an Instagram homage to Genovese, using Kitty's 1961 mug shot photo, from when she was arrested on a misdemeanor charge for bookmaking.

"Tonight's episode of @girlshbo, written by the teen queen @shinyunicorn and directed by our main man Richard Shepard, involves an exploration of the Kitty Genovese murder of 1964 — one of New York City's most notorious crimes which led psychologists to coin the term 'bystander effect.' We honor Kitty, a tough gay girl making her way in the city, a woman ahead of her time #RIPKitty," the series creator wrote.
Does Kitty Genovese deserve to be honored, remembered, commemorated? Absolutely. Was she a tough gay girl, ahead of her time? That's a matter of perspective, but not one we're calling into question. But if we're going to talk about Kitty Genovese, it's important to keep one thing in mind: There are the facts of her murder, and then there's the mythology that has grown around it in the intervening years. And — as best as we can — it's important to keep those two things straight.

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