The Kitty Genovese Murder


Catherine as a child (courtesy Vincent Genovese)

Catherine as a child
(courtesy Vincent

During the 1940s and into the 1950s, the Genovese family lived and worked in Brooklyn, New York. In the 1940s Catherine's father, Vincent A. Genovese started his own business of supplying coats and aprons to local businesses. It was called the Bay Ridge Coat and Apron Supply Company. He became moderately successful, and in 1954 he and his wife Rachel decided to move to New Canaan, Connecticut. The decision came shortly after Rachel had witnessed a shooting near their home. By that time, they had five children, the oldest being Catherine, who was 19. But she chose to remain behind in New York and stick it out while the rest of the family moved to the suburbs.

Catherine was an attractive, outgoing woman who liked Latin American music and loved to dance. A graduate of Brooklyn's Prospect Heights High School in 1954, she was also interested in history and politics and could debate on many issues. "I remember that she loved to talk politics and knew a great deal about what was going on," said her younger brother, Bill Genovese, recently. "She was a Renaissance woman, interested in a lot of different subjects," he said.

By 1963, she had moved to Queens. She rented an apartment located on the second floor of a commercial building on Austin Street in the Kew Gardens section of Queens, a quiet, mostly residential area. She shared her space with a girlfriend, Mary Ann Zielonko. Catherine later got a job as a bar manager in Ev's Eleventh Hour Club, a small neighborhood tavern on Jamaica Avenue and 193rd Street in the Hollis section of the borough. The bar was about five miles from her apartment, and she drove her red Fiat to the restaurant nearly every night. She worked late, sometimes into the early morning hours. It made her nervous to return to her apartment in the dark, but it was something that could not be avoided and being a city girl her whole life, Catherine had the typical resiliency and determination of a native New Yorker.

 "On weekends, she would come to visit the family in New Canaan," said Vince, "but it was never enough. Of course, now after what happened, I wish it was more." Catherine was always busy with her career and running back and forth to Connecticut and New York City. She wanted to visit Italy and dreamed of one day opening an Italian restaurant with her father in New Canaan. Her parents worried about her living in Queens, but accepted it as part of city life and as what she wanted. But her heart was never far from her family. "I believe she found an inner peace when she spent weekends with us in Connecticut," said Vince, "She was full of life. The city was one part of her, New Canaan was another."

Along a serene, tree-lined street in the Kew Gardens section of Queens, New York City, Catherine Genovese began the last walk of her life in the early morning hours of March 13, 1964. She had just left work, and it was 3:15 a.m. when she parked her red Fiat in the Long Island Railroad parking lot 20 feet from her apartment door at 82-70 Austin Street. As she locked her car door, she took notice of a figure in the darkness walking quickly toward her. She became immediately concerned as soon as the stranger began to follow her. "As she got out of the car she saw me and ran," the man told the court later, "I ran after her and I had a knife in my hand." She must have thought that since the entrance to her building was so close, she would reach safety within seconds. But the man was faster than she thought. At the corner of Austin Street and Lefferts Boulevard, there was a police call box, which linked directly to the 112th Precinct. She may have changed direction to call for assistance, but it was too late. The man caught up with Catherine, who was all of 5'1" and weighed just 105 pounds, near a street light at the end of the parking lot.

"I could run much faster than she could, and I jumped on her back and stabbed her several times," the man later told cops.

"Oh my God! He stabbed me!" she screamed. "Please help me! Please help me!" Some apartment lights went on in nearby buildings. Irene Frost at 82-68 Austin Street heard Catherine's screams plainly. "There was another shriek," she later testified in court, "and she was lying down crying out." Up on the seventh floor of the same building, Robert Mozer slid open his window and observed the struggle below.

"Hey, let that girl alone!" he yelled down into the street. The attacker heard Mozer and immediately walked away. There was quiet once again in the dark. The only sound was the sobbing of the victim, struggling to her feet. The lights in the apartment went out again. Catherine, bleeding badly from several stab wounds, managed to reach the side of her building and held onto the concrete wall. She staggered over to a locked door and tried to stay conscious. Within five minutes, the assailant returned. He stabbed her again.

"I'm dying! I'm dying!" she cried to no one. But several people in her building heard her screams. Lights went on once again and some windows opened. Tenants tried to see what was happening from the safety of their apartments. The attacker then ran to a white Chevy Corvair at the edge of the railroad parking lot and seemed to drive away. On the sixth floor of 82-40 Austin Street, Marjorie and Samuel Koshkin witnessed the attack from their window. "I saw a man hurry to a car under my window," he said later. "He left and came back five minutes later and was looking around the area." Mr. Koshkin wanted to call the police, but Mrs. Koshkin thought otherwise. "I didn't let him," she later said to the press. "I told him there must have been 30 calls already." Miss Andre Picq, a French girl, who lived on the second floor, heard the commotion from her window. "I heard a scream for help, three times," she later told the court, "I saw a girl lying down on the pavement with a man bending down over her, beating her."

At about 3:25 a.m., Catherine, bleeding badly, stumbled to the rear of her apartment building and attempted to enter through a back entrance. The door was locked. She slid along the wall until she reached a hallway leading to the 2nd floor of 82-62 Austin Street but she fell to the vestibule floor. In the meantime, the man had returned again. "I came back because I knew I'd not finished what I set out to do," he told cops later. He walked along the row of doors and calmly searched for the woman. He checked the first door and didn't find her. He followed the trail of blood to the doorway where Catherine lay bleeding on the tiled floor. And there, while the defenseless victim lay semiconscious, incoherent from pain and loss of blood, he cut off her bra and underwear and sexually assaulted her. He then took $49 in cash from her wallet. "Why would I throw money away?" he asked the court at his trial. As Catherine moaned at his feet, probably unable to comprehend what had happened to her, the man viciously stabbed her again and killed her.

The man, who had selected his victim purely at random, ran to his car still parked where he left it. The entire event lasted at least 32 minutes. He said later that murder "was an idea that came into my mind, just as an idea might come into your mind, but I couldn't put mine aside." He jumped into his white sedan and fled the scene. A few blocks away, he came to a red light. He glanced over at the car idling next to him and saw that a man was asleep behind the wheel. The killer got out of his car and awakened the sleeping driver. He told the man he should go home. Then the killer, full of himself, $49 richer and not at all ashamed of what he had done, got back into his own car and drove off into the night.

Catherine was his third murder.

At about 3:50 a.m., a neighbor, Karl Ross, who lived on the second floor of Catherine's building on Austin Street, finally called the police. But before he did, he called a friend in nearby Nassau County and asked his opinion about what he should do. After the police were notified, a squad car arrived within three minutes and quickly found Catherine's body in the hallway on the first floor. She had been stabbed 17 times. Her torn and cut clothes were scattered about and her open wallet lay on the floor next to her. Her driver's license identified her as Catherine Genovese. Detectives from the 112 responded and began an exhaustive investigation. It was a frigid, winter morning, and a brisk, unrelenting wind made it seem even colder. A canvass of the neighborhood turned up several witnesses, including the one who had notified the police. When cops finished polling the immediate neighborhood, they discovered at least 38 people who had heard or observed some part of the fatal assault on Kitty Genovese.

Kew Gardens is a residential area located at the center of the borough of Queens, one of the most populated communities in America. If Queens were a city, it would be America's fifth largest. The area of Kew Gardens is generally middle class where houses in 1964 typically sold for $30,000 to $50,000. It resembled a small village in the suburbs rather than a city neighborhood. Mostly white, working class and typically one of the hundreds of small communities that make up metropolitan New York City, Austin Street is the focal point of the neighborhood. On this neat, picturesque avenue, there are shops, a small park and a busy train station where commuters catch the Long Island Rail Road to Grand Central, 15 minutes away. Not the kind of place where one would think a person could be murdered without anyone offering even a smidgen of assistance.

"We thought it was a lover's quarrel!" said one tenant. "Frankly, we were afraid," said another witness. One woman who didn't want her name used said, "I didn't want my husband to get involved." Others had different explanations for their conduct. "We went to the window to see what was happening, but the light from our bedroom made it difficult to see the street." There were lots of excuses. Maybe the most apathetic was the one who told reporters, "I was tired." But the fact remained that dozens of people stood by and watched a woman being brutally assaulted for an extended period of time, and did nothing.

"If we had been called when he first attacked, the woman might not be dead now," an assistant chief inspector told the press at the time. New York City Deputy Police Commissioner Walter Arm said, "This tendency to shy away from reporting crimes is a common one." That was a revelation to the public. Some detectives were stunned. Others simply saw the unwillingness to get involved as representative of the times. Apathy, especially in urban settings, was everywhere, not only in Kew Gardens. In her own defense, one neighbor said she was too afraid to call. "I tried ...I really tried," she said, "but I was gasping for air and was unable to talk into the telephone."