The Murder Of Kitty Genovese Became The Stuff Of Urban Legend, But, Like Many Urban Legends, It Was Not True

April 4, 2017 — The story of the murder of Kitty Genovese is one of the best-known crime stories of the past half century.

Genovese was the young girl attacked on her own New York City street, raped and murdered with no one coming to her aid as she screamed for help for more than a half an hour. She would die on March 13, 1964, in Kew Gardens, Queens

Eyewitnesses turned away or closed their windows. No one even called the police. 

The New York Times wrote an front page article on March 27, 1964, called “37 Who Saw Murder Didn’t Call the Police.” 

But to Bill Genovese, her younger brother, something about the story seemed off. Starting in 2004, Bill Genovese began investigating the circumstances of his sister’s death. He would spend more than a decade seeking to understand how and why his sister died — and, more importantly, who she was in life. The new documentary “The Witness” chronicles the search. Directed by James Solomon, the documentary is personal, intimate and heartbreaking.

The Washington Post would say of the movie:

“Her shocking murder became the stuff of legend. But everyone got the story wrong.”

“High-profile assassinations aside, Kitty Genovese’s murder is one of the most famous in modern American history. Her nightmarish final half-hour has inspired multiple “Law & Order” story lines, a folk song, novels, a musical and an episode of “Girls.” Psychologists found their life’s work because of Kitty, and she helped inspire the creation of 911 as a way to call for help.

Her death reverberated. It left an impression. Does it matter, then, that most people have the story wrong?…

Like most people, Genovese’s initial understanding of the murder came from a sensational, now-debunked New York Times story that landed on the front page on March 27, 1964. “37 Who Saw Murder Didn’t Call the Police,” the headline claimed. (The number was later upped to 38).”

But, as Bill Genovese, Kitty’s brother, would learn during a ten year long search to understand how so many people could have ignored his beloved sister’s cries for help, the truth is not simple. His investigation would lead him to  question many of the claims made in the Times’ story. 

The Washington Post would continue, “So let’s set the record straight: There weren’t 38 eyewitnesses to the murder, which happened first outside and then in an apartment vestibule, although there could have been many more earwitnesses. Only a handful of people probably saw Winston Moseley attack Kitty, and one yelled, “Let that girl alone.” At least two neighbors claim to have rung the cops, although police logs have no record of those calls. Another neighbor, Sophia Farrar, ran to help Kitty and held her as she died.

“All five-foot-nothing of her went flying down the stairs at 3:30 in the morning,” Genovese marvels. “She doesn’t know what she’s going to come upon. She hadn’t given a second thought to whether the guy was still there or not.”

That heroic act, however, didn’t conform with the Times’s portrait of urban indifference. There’s no mention of her in the 1964 story.”

In fact, The Times came to agree with that assessment. For the 40th anniversary of one of its most famous articles, a reporter was sent to check up on the research that went into the the original story. He came to several conclusions, the most significant being, perhaps, that the reporting was faulty and biased, intended to make a point rather than tell the truth.

But The Witness is far more than a reconsideration of the facts of an old but famous crime. Director James Solomon and Bill Genovese have pieced together a story which needed to be told — the life of Kitty Genovese, whose story became peripheral to the world-famous article about the last half hour of her life. Through his investigation, Bill Genovese brings back to prominence the young woman he loved and lost to a heinous crime, but also to the fame of her death, which took precedence over everything else.

Primarily, The Witness is a love story.

Stream The Witness on Amazon Video. It is also available on DVD. The Special Director’s Edition, which contains extras including The Witness  trailer, Bill’s investigation, special interview with Bill, Bill Finds Out More About Kitty, Q&A, exclusive investigative materials such as trial transcript and detective reports, is available on DVD and Blu-ray.

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