Winston Moseley, The Murderer Of Kitty Genovese, Dies In Prison At 81

April 5, 2016 — It has been announced that Winston Moseley, the man convicted in the murder and rape of Kitty Genovese, has died in prison at the age of 81.

He had been in prison at the maximum security Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York, since July 7, 1964, almost 52 years. At the time of his death he was one of the state’s longest serving inmates. 

His guilt was never in any serious doubt. He was captured during a burglary, and would confess to numerous rapes, burglaries and several murders, including that of Kitty Genovese. He would plead not guilty by reason of insanity, but was declared legally sane and was sentenced to death. New York would abolish the death penalty in 1965, and in 1967 he would win a limited appeal that would reduce his sentence to a life term.  

In 1968, while serving at Attica, he would escape; before being recaptured he would rape another woman and hold hostages at gunpoint. He came up for parole 18 times and was rejected each time.

The Kitty Genovese murder, which took place in Kew Gardens, New York in 1964, became the symbol of urban apathy. It was reported by The New York Times that 38 people heard and witnessed the crime and did nothing to help, not even bothering to call the police. The lack of response of these 38 witnesses became one of the most read and discussed stories of its time. One witness apparently discussed his lack of action, saying “I didn’t want to get involved.” This comment,the brutality and randomness of the crime and the lack of response by the girl’s neighbors took hold of the public consciousness. 

The murder of Kitty Genovese would become one of the most studied crimes of its time, less from a criminological standpoint than from a sociological one. The story would become one of the most talked-about New York Times articles of its  era.

But questions about the story have been raised, even by The Times itself. Its report of Winston Moseley’s death included this explanation: “While there was no question that the attack occurred, and that some neighbors ignored cries for help, the portrayal of 38 witnesses as fully aware and unresponsive was erroneous. The article grossly exaggerated the number of witnesses and what they had perceived. None saw the attack in its entirety. Only a few had glimpsed parts of it, or recognized the cries for help. Many thought they had heard lovers or drunks quarreling. There were two attacks, not three. And afterward, two people did call the police.”

For Bill Genovese, Kitty’s younger brother, finding out what actually happened on the night that his sister died became  a deeply personal and absorbing issue. He believes that his family was traumatized, first by Kitty’s death, and second by the incessant discussion and publicity generated by the story. On a personal level, having determined that he would never be a bystander who did not take action, he enlisted to go to Vietnam, where he lost both of his legs.

Genovese would go in search of the truth, not only of his sister’s death, but of her life — something that often got lost in the sensational nature of the crime that ended that life. The search became the  subject of the acclaimed documentary The Witness.

According to director/screenwriter James Solomon, “This film is not only an unraveling of what really happened that fateful night, but also about a brother’s relentless quest to reclaim his sister Kitty’s life from her death.”

The Hollywood Reporter reviewed the film, saying it is a “…gut-wrenching doc [that] is as deeply moving as it is enlightening … few films feel as cathartic.”

The Witness will be released theatrically on June 3.
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