we all go a little mad sometimes


In the early morning hours of March 13, 1964, 28-year-old Kitty Genovese was returning to her apartment in the working-class neighborhood of Kew Gardens, Queens, New York, when suddenly a knife-toting man stabbed her from behind. Awakened by Genovese’s cries for help, a neighbor in one of the apartment buildings poked his head out the window to see what was happening. “Let that girl alone!” he yelled. But neither he nor any of the other residents came to her aid. Genovese staggered around the corner toward her home. Her assailant, Winston Moseley, followed close behind in his car, got out, and stabbed her again. “Oh my God! He stabbed me!” she screamed. Her cries awakened other sleeping residents of Kew Gardens, but still no one appeared. She stumbled into the vestibule of the nearest apartment building but Moseley followed her. There, he finished what he had started. The prolonged murder lasted thirty-five minutes. Only after the third attack did someone actually call the police. The caller explained that he “did not want to get involved,” and had actually phoned a friend in Nassau County for advice on what to do. It was a familiar excuse the police heard from a number of spectators that day. The fact that thirty-eight eyewitnesses stood by and did nothing raised a number of disturbing questions among law enforcement professionals and clinical psychologists. In the next two decades, scholars would ponder the phenomenon that came to be known as the “Genovese Syndrome.” In March 1984, experts in sociology, psychology, medicine, and law met on the campus of Fordham University in New York for the first “Catherine Genovese Memorial Conference on Bad Samaritanism.” R. Lance Shotland, a psychologist at Pennsylvania State University concluded that a person is less likely to intervene in an emergency if there are a number of other persons present. “They take cues from others. A lone bystander may help 70 percent of the time. As a member of a group, that same bystander may help 40 percent of the time.” Moseley, a 29-year-old machine operator, confessed that he had been driving around the neighborhood hoping to “rape and to rob and to kill a girl.” He was convicted and sentenced to die in the electric chair, but the sentencing was later commuted to life imprisonment. While serving his time at the Attica facility in New York, Moseley attempted to go straight. He earned a college degree and became involved in prison and reform movements. In an article published in the New York Times on April 16, 1977, he explained his new outlook on life. “The man that killed Kitty Genovese in Queens in 1964 is no more. He was also destroyed in that calamity and its aftermath. Another vastly different individual has emerged, a Winston Moseley intent and determined to do constructive, not destructive things.”

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