The Last Word on Kitty Genovese and the Mafia Crime Family...

One night in 1990s Kew Gardens, Queens, we parked on a side street and headed towards the bar up the block on the brightly lit main street.

At some point en route, we left the sidewalk and were walking through a parking lot, which at that hour of the night was nearly deserted, when Karen, my girlfriend at the time, told me, in her usual matter of fact tone, that "Kitty Genovese was murdered around here."

 Winston Moseley sank his knife into Catherine "Kitty" Genovese 17 times.
This iconic photo is actually Kitty's 1961 mugshot.

And that stopped me -- or rather, us -- in my tracks (we'd been holding hands at the moment).

To this day, whenever I recall that night, I get the chills. That brief moment in my life, coupled with the facts of the murder as originally (and ultimately incorrectly) reported were ingrained in my memory. I can still visualize the parking lot's pinkish-colored night sky (the color owing to the gleam of the streetlights?), almost sense that foreboding, seemingly solidified silence, as if a herculean dome had been placed over Kew Gardens.

Truth be told, while we certainly were in the vicinity, I don't know if we were literally on one of the streets on which Winston Moseley sank his knife into Catherine "Kitty" Genovese 17 times in March of 1964.

Or as the New York Times originally reported:

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. 
That was two weeks ago to day. But Assistant Chief In­spector Frederick M. Lussen, in charge of the borough's detectives, and a veteran of 25 years of homicide investigations, is still shocked. ...

The story the New York Times told was incorrect, to put it mildly. Moseley attacked Kitty Genovese repeatedly for the simple reason that he could -- meaning, he knew that no one nearby was willing to directly intervene. The police, however, had been notified.

The Times owned up to its flawed reporting in 2012 -- though as early as 1995, it had noted some of the original facts had been called into question -- since the first story was published, actually.

I first read in the New Yorker a seminal revision of the Kitty Genovese story.

In the now on Netflix film The Witness, a documentary made by Kitty Genovese's brother, William (who lost both his legs in the Vietnam war), the question is directly raised -- the one you no doubt may have figured out by now -- the question about whether or not Kitty Genovese was related to the notorious Genovese crime family....

Several times on this blog, I have been asked about this....

The question has long been answered.

NO, she was not.

Genovese is an Italian surname meaning, properly, someone from Genoa.

My take is that the Mafia question seems to have been raised by the man who murdered Kitty Genovese. That's right, Moseley himself, which is why it somewhat sickens me to even have to write this story at all... The documentary also includes additional nonsense about a man named "Dominic" who "really murdered" Kitty, while Moseley "just waited in a car" for him. "Dom" then told his drive-along witness/pal never to speak of what had happened -- or else.

Moseley died at the age of 81, on March 28 of this year, in prison.

Moseley, left, New York Times editor A. M. Rosenthal.

"Kitty Genovese was first a tragedy, then a symbol, then a bit of durable urban mythology," wrote The New York Times in 1995, in a classic piece of understatement. That Catherine Genovese, the woman, became a symbol is part of the tragedy; and her story evolved into urban mythology because of one man alone, the paper's long-time highly respected editor. A. M. Rosenthal.

Moseley confessed all to the police. (Do you know how he was arrested? It was not the police who found Moseley and brought him in...) Moseley told how he had stabbed Kitty 17 times, and then sexually attacked her. (Moseley killed and raped another woman, prior to the Genovese slaying, too. And his crimes don't end there -- they even continued after his arrest for murder.)

The Times's original story (or editor A. M. Rosenthal) depicted New York City as being ground zero for American apathy.

In the article that ran in 2012 it noted:

The Kitty Genovese episode became infamous, but later examination found that (the reporter) had exaggerated details and presented a misleading perspective of the witnesses’ actions. All but one of the witnesses likely saw or heard only the first attack, after which Genovese walked away, giving the impression that she was all right. The second attack took place out of view of most people. Only one man saw the attack. He told another woman to call the police, but it was too late to save Genovese.
The witnesses, wrote Rasenberger, “reacted as they reportedly did not because they were apathetic or cold-hearted, but because they were confused, uncertain and afraid.” 

As to the question regarding the Mafia crime family, today considered the most powerful one still around, the Times noted:
Vincent Genovese, a brother who is a sales manager for an electronics company, had to testify that his family was not connected to the Mafia. 

And Yet...

The iconic photograph of Kitty Genovese, at top of story, was actually a cropped mugshot taken in 1961 after her arrest for playing a minor role in a bookmaking operation. 

According to a recent biography, Kitty Genovese: The Murder, the Bystanders, the Crime that Changed America, she owed her arrest to taking horse bets from customers at the Queens bar where she worked. She also reputedly took bets for an Italian lottery popular at the time that was based on the last digits of a daily stock index's closing number.

She did this to make some extra money to supplement her sizable earnings from holding the position of manager of Ev’s Eleventh Hour Tavern, located in Hollis, Queens. Kitty, ambitious and personable, worked double shifts, generating for herself a cool $750 a month (about $5,000 in 2014 dollars). Her life's dream was to open up an Italian restaurant.

The Times never revealed that, among other things.

The thinking is that this information was deemed too trivial.

There is one other peculiar twist to this story, about an attorney. Moseley’s court-appointed defense attorney, Sidney Sparrow, was the same lawyer who had represented Genovese in the gambling case.

The Times, as well as its competitors, never seized on that odd factoid, or her homosexuality.

Does any of that really matter, anyway, today?

If you are interested in learning more about Sparrow, here is an excerpt from Disrobed: An Inside Look at the Life and Work of a Federal Trial Judge:

Click image (it's an excellent read)...

In 1990, 25 years after Moseley murdered Kitty Genovese, he brought a pro se habeas corpus petition in the Brooklyn federal court seeking his freedom. He claimed that his trial lawyer, Sidney Sparrow, had a conflict of interest at the time of the trial because Sparrow had also been Genovese’s lawyer. Moseley’s habeas petition lingered in the court for the next five years. I do not know which judge was assigned the case, but I could surely understand why no judge would want to touch it. Nonetheless, it had to be disposed of. The courthouse is open to all, even deranged, pro se, convicted criminals.

When a new judge comes on board, he has to be assigned a docket of cases. Each existing judge is asked to give up some of his cases. In many district courts — but not in the EDNY — some use the opportunity to unload their dogs and hot potatoes. I got the Moseley case. After Moseley had been convicted, the United States Supreme Court had decided a number of cases making it clear that a criminal defendant was entitled to be represented by a conflict-free lawyer. Sparrow had represented Genovese when she had been prosecuted on gambling charges. Moreover, I had read the transcript of Moseley’s trial and was shocked that Sparrow had told the jury during the sentencing phase — to determine whether Moseley should be put to death — that “I didn’t try this case involving Kitty Genovese objectively, calmly, just as a lawyer defending a client because I knew Kitty Genovese and represented her for years.” Under Supreme Court law, Moseley was entitled to a factual hearing before a judge — without a jury — to determine whether Sparrow’s conflict and comments would require a new trial. I had no choice.

I conducted the hearing on July 24, 1995. It was the first time a case of mine would make big news and that my name would hit the papers. The press reported that I had said in court that, “I have a responsibility as a federal judge to not let [the government] sweep this under the rug.” Nonetheless, as a new judge I needed this case like a hole in the head. I anticipated that I would be vilified in the press. I had doubts that people would be able to detach their emotions and accept the fact that a judge is bound to adhere to the rule of law. I was right. The New York Post, for example, wrote that “the very fact that this absurd appeal had actually made it into court demonstrates, in graphic terms, the sorry state of the criminal justice system: The mythical man from Mars would shake his head and marvel at the prospect that Kitty Genovese — a full 31 years after she was murdered — stands to be denied justice.”

During the hearing, three of Kitty Genovese’s brothers and a sister sat in the first row and stared down at their sister’s killer. Kitty’s sister later told the press that she “was shocked to hear that this case would be reopened.” Her brother Frank added that, “The whole thing is kind of surreal.” The courtroom was packed. Sparrow, who was then 82, testified about the way in which he handled the case. He had kept copious notes. I was impressed. In a lengthy, 28-page decision I denied Moseley’s habeas petition, concluding that, despite Sparrow’s statements to the contrary, he gave Moseley “effective, competent and capable counsel under difficult circumstances.” I noted, however, that “Moseley’s quarter-century delay in bringing his habeas petition poignantly support[ed] those who would argue that Congress should establish a habeas statute of limitations,” but “Congress ha[d] yet to do so.”
Moseley appealed to the circuit court of appeals. As a new judge, I was thrilled that the appellate court summarily affirmed “for substantially the reasons stated in the district court’s thorough and well-reasoned opinion.” A few years later, Congress established a one-year statute of limitations for habeas cases. Moseley would have to die in jail, and stale cases like his could never come to court again.
Nevertheless, the Kitty Genovese case lingers on. For many people the question still centers on those 38 New Yorkers who failed to act. After the hearing, Professor William DiFazio, chairman of the sociology and anthropology department at St. John’s University, suggested a reason. He viewed the apathy as a coping mechanism: “In the city, human beings are confronted with so much stimuli that there is no way they can process it all. What you have to do is shut yourself off a bit — if you don’t you can go crazy.” However, on the positive side, he thought that as the legacy of the horrifying Genovese murder lingered in the City’s psyche, it might subconsciously cause some good Samaritans to act. He thought that it was good that the case came back to court years later because “it remind[ed] us we should get involved.”