Fifty years ago today a front-page article in the New York Times turned the Kitty Genovese murder into one of the central myths of contemporary urban society. In The New Inquiry this morning, I take a look at the ways in which new research has rendered the Times account unsupportable.
Karl Ross heard the first attack — at least he heard screaming. Then the screams died down and for a few minutes he heard nothing. But soon he heard other sounds, sounds coming from the lobby of his own building. Genovese had staggered there after Moseley had been scared off, but he had tracked her down. In the foyer, away from the eyes of the community, he was attacking her again. Now Ross was the only one who could hear. He hesitated, then opened the door to his apartment. He saw Genovese being attacked, just a flight of stairs away. He looked into her eyes, and those of her attacker. And then he closed the door.
Unlike Fink, Ross didn’t go to bed after witnessing the attack. He called a friend, asking for advice. When that friend told him to stay out of it, he called another. That friend told him to come over to her house, and he did — climbing out his window to avoid the scene in the lobby. When he got there that friend called a third, who called the police. The cops arrived a few minutes later.
When the Times reported on the murder, it was Ross’s feeble explanation to the police — “I didn’t want to get involved” — that summed up the story. His reaction was portrayed as nonchalant, brazen. But what the Times didn’t say was that Ross was involved. He knew Kitty Genovese. They were friends. He had recognized her when he saw her being stabbed in his lobby. By one account, she had called him by name.
So why didn’t he act more quickly?
We don’t know for sure. Ross never gave a detailed public account of his actions, and was never called to testify at the trial. He moved away not long after the murder, and soon disappeared entirely. But we do know a few things about Ross. We know that he was a drunk, and that he was drunk that night. We also know that he was gay, that he was closeted, and that he was afraid of the police. For Ross, cops weren’t just a potential source of assistance. They were also a potential threat.
Read the whole thing here.