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Murder of Kitty Genovese in Kew Gardens, New York – Part 1

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On the night of March 13, 1964, the moon in Queens was a waning crescent. The day’s average temperature was 40 degrees Fahrenheit, but at 3 AM, it was probably closer to 30. It was around this time that 28-year-old Kitty Genovese left the Hollis, Queens bar she managed, Ev’s 11th Hour, and headed home. Maybe, as she parked her red Fiat at the rail station by her apartment, Kitty looked up. Maybe she saw the sliver of a moon hanging above her. Maybe she took in a chilly breath, pulled her coat closer to her body.

The neighborhood of Kew Gardens was heavy with sleep at this hour, and street lamps shed small pools of light on Austin Street. 100 yards. That’s how far Kitty had to walk, how far she was from home. Home, the second-floor apartment where her Mary Ann slept, waiting. It was the couple’s first anniversary. Kitty’s heels probably clicked in a staccato rhythm as she walked quickly down the sidewalk. They were likely the only sound in the quiet neighborhood, slicing through the nighttime silence.

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One year earlier, Kitty had descended the steps into the Swing Rendezvous, a lesbian bar at 117 Macdougal Street in Greenwich Village. She frequented clubs like this, the only type of place where she didn’t have to mask her true self, and loved Greenwich Village for its abundance of them. The club’s floor was a sea of women, dancing underneath the multicolored lights. It was in this crowd that Kitty met Mary Ann Zielonko.

She saw the soft-featured Polish-American girl making her way through the crowd. Mary Ann was on her way to the bar, a long, wooden fixture scratched with too many pairs of initials to count. Probably sporting a smirk, Kitty sidled up to the stranger, and, amidst the jostling bodies, said, “Don’t I know you from somewhere?” The two danced together, but by the end of the night they hadn’t even exchanged names, much less numbers. Mary Ann wondered if she’d ever see the stranger again. She had been a vibrant girl with short, dark hair, sharp Italian-American features, and a piercing gaze. As Mary Ann would come to find out, the girl was resourceful, too. Kitty somehow located her dance partner’s apartment and left a note. At 7 that night, she would call Mary Ann at the payphone across the street.

As Kitty made her way home to Mary Ann that night in 1964, she might have noticed the white sedan that had parked across the empty lot. She may have seen the glint of the blade of Winston Moseley’s serrated hunting knife, if it rested in his palm. It’s possible she started walking faster, breaths quickening, dark, fine hairs raising on the back of her neck. Or maybe the knife was still hidden in Moseley’s pocket. Maybe she didn’t see anything.

This was the kind of thing Kitty’s mother likely feared when she moved the family to New Canaan, Connecticut after Kitty graduated high school. The Genovese family had begun raising their children at 29 St. Johns Place, a brownstone in the Park Slope neighborhood. The family was unremarkably like any other: a big, Italian-American family living in Brooklyn. Vincent, the father, was the owner of the Bay Ridge Coat and Apron Supply Company, and Rachel, the mother, was a homemaker. Catherine—Kitty, as she was known to her friends—was the oldest of five siblings, named Vincent Jr., William, Frank, and Susan. Kitty was what some might call the classic older sister. She was bold, stylish, and well-liked. When she graduated her all-girls’ high school, Prospect Heights, in 1953, she was elected “Class Cut-Up.” Kitty had an average childhood, full of little victories like that, and days spent playing in the street with friends.

But when Rachel Genovese witnessed a shooting outside the family’s home, Park Slope suddenly didn’t seem so safe anymore. At her insistence, the family picked up and moved to New Canaan, where Vincent Sr. and Rachel likely thought their children would be safer. In the end, they may have been right.

In 1953, it was uncommon for a 19-year-old Italian-American girl to live on her own in New York City. And in true Kitty fashion, that is exactly what she did. Kitty opted not to follow her family to Connecticut, instead becoming a bartender, and eventually a bar manager. Her traditional father often needled her about finding a husband. When that happened, Kitty usually replied “No man could support me, because I make more than a man.” This was true. Kitty was a hard worker who consistently took double shifts, resulting in her making around $750 a month (over $5,000 today). This was more than enough to support herself and Mary Ann, who also worked in a bar.

The night she left a note at Mary Ann’s door, Kitty kept her promise and made a call to the pay phone across the street. It’s easy to imagine: Kitty, sitting on her bed, or her couch, or in a dining room chair, cradling the phone in the crook of her neck. On the other end, Mary Ann, illuminated by the glow of a street lamp. Maybe she shivered in the mid-March night, but she stood outside anyway, hanging on to the charismatic girl’s words flowing from the receiver.

Their next date was on St. Patrick’s Day, at another gay bar called The Seven Steps. The girls talked over green beers. It wasn’t long before they moved into the one-bedroom in Kew Gardens, the apartment Kitty was anxious to go home to on March 13, 1964. The neighborhood was a calm one, full of families. A bookstore, a café, and pub lined the street. That night, Kitty sensed someone following her as she neared her apartment, and began running. She made it as far as the bookstore. Beneath a street lamp, Winston Moseley stabbed her. “Oh my God, he stabbed me!” she screamed. “Please help me! Please help me!”

Then, another sound. A window sliding open in an upper-level, street-facing apartment. “Leave that girl alone!” a man’s voice boomed. He was Robert Mozer, a neighbor awakened by the commotion. Up and down both sides of Austin Street, windows flared with yellow light as neighbors woke up. Frightened, the attacker retreated into the darkness, to his sedan parked 100 yards away. He pulled out of the parking lot, likely figuring he could kill some time by taking a drive.

He was an unlikely suspect—a 29-year-old Remington Rand machine operator from Ozone Park, Queens, with a wife and two children. But by night, he embraced a different life entirely. Moseley routinely broke into New Yorkers’ homes to steal television sets, and was a serial rapist. He claimed to have committed 30 or 40 burglaries.

This was not Winston Moseley’s first attack, either. A month earlier, he’d shot and burned a 24-year-old woman named Annie Mae Johnson to death in her apartment, and the previous July he had killed 15-year-old Barbara Kralik by stabbing her in her parents’ home. Moseley had sexually assaulted both women, in addition to the eight rapes he committed.

Alone on the street, Kitty got to her feet. She was wounded, but not mortally, and determined to reach her apartment. She staggered around the corner to the back entrance. Her breaths were probably ragged and labored. She fumbled with the handle. Maybe she leaned against the freshly painted brown door. Maybe, at this moment, she wondered why this was happening to her. Entering the apartment building, she collapsed in the vestibule. Just one floor above, Mary Ann was sleeping soundly. And Moseley, not hearing any police sirens, again set out in search of his victim. He methodically searched the parking lot, the train station, and the apartment complex. Later, he would testify in court, “I came back because I’d not finished what I set out to do.”

When he opened the door to the vestibule, Moseley saw Kitty lying on the floor. She was struggling to stay conscious, “twisting and turning” in her own blood as she continued to cry for help. In this hallway, victim and assailant were out of sight of any potential witnesses—or so Moseley thought. As he descended upon Kitty’s body, a door in view of the vestibule opened just a crack. It was the door to the apartment of Karl Ross, a friend of Kitty and Mary Ann’s. Through the sliver of space, Ross saw a stranger plunging a hunting knife into his friend. Karl Ross was a nervous man, known to remedy his anxiety with alcohol, and on this night, he was drunk. Out of his wits and frightened, he phoned a friend in Nassau County. Ross could probably still hear Kitty’s screams piercing the walls of his apartment. When the friend picked up, he advised Ross to stay out of it. Ross hung up, then called another friend, a neighbor, who told him to come to her house. He climbed out of his window, and, still drunk, crawled across the roof to his friend. Maybe she consoled him, told him he was in no danger.

In the vestibule, Moseley stabbed Kitty a dozen times. He stole $49 from her wallet. Then, he raped her. This last detail would be omitted from initial reports. The New York Times would not admit it until much later. And that was not all the Times left out.

Once removed from the scene, Ross and his friend phoned the police at 3:50 AM. Later, when questioned as to why he didn’t stop the killer himself, he would infamously tell the Times, “I didn’t want to get involved.” To the media, this translated to apathy, to diffusion of responsibility, to the danger of big cities and their lack of community. What nobody bothered to learn was that, like Kitty and Mary Ann, Karl Ross was gay. He was frightened of the police; he was frightened for himself, not because he didn’t care about his friend, but because he feared what might happen if he had to interact with the authorities.

The police, along with an ambulance, arrived two minutes after Ross’s call and found Kitty still lying in the vestibule. Now, though, she was being cradled in the arms of a neighbor. Hearing the screams, Sophie Farrar had run out into the hallway after Kitty’s attacker fled. The young woman had no way of knowing whether the killer was still nearby. But she came to Kitty’s side anyway, comforting the dying girl as law enforcement rushed to the scene.

Paramedics loaded a still-alive Kitty into the ambulance. She arrived at the hospital at 4:15 AM, where she succumbed to her injuries. The cause of death was suffocation: the hunting knife had punctured Kitty’s lung, and her chest.