By Tammy Scileppi
These seven words may have sealed Kitty Genovese’s fate 50 years ago, on that cold morning of March 13, 1964: “There must have been 30 calls already.”
In his provocative new book, “Kitty Genovese: The Murder, the Bystanders, the Crime That Changed America” — published earlier this month by W. W. Norton & Co. Inc. — Kevin Cook cracks the case with a no-holds-barred, reality-TV look at a local crime that went viral 1960s-style, and the media hype and public furor swirling around it.
“I’ve come to believe the case is one of the most notorious, misunderstood crimes in American history. As Kew Gardens’ Joseph DeMay was among the first to point out, the popular story of 38 neighbors watching the murder and doing nothing is just not true,” Cook said. “She was killed by him [the killer] and not by collective apathy. The precision of the number is what made the story stick in so many people’s minds.”
Catherine Genovese had shed her good girl, Catholic school image early on, and was coming into her own during a turbulent decade.
And Kitty couldn’t get enough of the smoky, edgy Greenwich Village scene and its bohemian vibe. Fascinated with the folkies and beatniks who hung out there, like Bob Dylan and Forest Hills’ Simon and Garfunkel, she’d often escape into this exciting world — one that was only a 30-minute train ride from her staid Kew Gardens digs on Austin Street, by the LIRR station. It was where Kitty and her lover — blonde, Kim Novak look-a-like, Mary Ann Kielonko shared a life together.
The two were part of the underground gay and lesbian scene in the Village. They had fallen in love in 1963, after slow-dancing in a crowded bar.
In Kew Gardens, they would drop by The Interlude Coffee Shop (now Odradeks Coffee Shop and Wine Bar) and watch rising music artists, like Al Kooper, perform there.
Cook frequented Odradeks, while spending two years in the area doing research. Speaking to folks who knew Kitty, he wanted to find out about her life, since she was known almost exclusively as a victim.
“In fact, she was a popular, generous person living at a remarkable time,” he said.
A 50-year-old secret she shared with next door neighbor, Sophie Farrar, is revealed in his book.
With dreams of opening her own Italian restaurant, Kitty put in long hours as a bartender and manager at Ev’s 11th Hour, a popular Hollis tavern. Regulars said she was cheerful and optimistic.
Meanwhile, a beast was roaming Queens’ streets.
Some would say he was a model citizen. Wife Betty, two kids, five German shepherds and his beloved ant farm, all lived in a nice home in South Ozone Park.
Winston Moseley was trolling nearby Kew Gardens for prey, when he spied Kitty walking home after parking her red Fiat. In a little more than half an hour and in three separate vicious attacks in and around Kitty’s Kew Gardens apartment building, Moseley plunged a knife 13 times into her slowly dying body.
While Mary Ann slept, she had no idea the love of her life was fighting for her life for 35 minutes, beneath her bedroom window. She didn’t know Kitty was killed until police questioned her after 4 a.m., when the body was found in a stairwell at 82-62 Austin St.
In a New York minute, Kew Gardens had become a crime scene.
The book vividly describes the whereabouts of eye- and ear witnesses who said they heard and saw what seemed like a couple fighting — a common scene near rowdy Bailey’s Pub.
A 1964 police report listed about 50 witnesses, but Cook pointed out there were 38 entries, some lumping several interviewees together. He said a harried civil servant had counted them, then probably gave that number (38) to Police Commissioner Michael Murphy, who gave it to The New York Times’ new metropolitan editor, Abe Rosenthal during a meeting, which led to a scathing four-column cover story about the neighborhood’s apathy.
“After the Times story and Rosenthal’s book, ‘Thirty-Eight Witnesses,’ the powerful, but inaccurate number took on a life of its own,” Cook said.
Rather than confirm New Yorkers are an uncaring bunch, the Kitty Genovese case is a classic example of the bystander effect, Cook said.
“We’re more likely to get help if there are only a few bystanders who might intervene, rather than many, “ Cook said. “In the Genovese case there were at least two witnesses who didn’t phone the police because they thought many others must have made the call already.”
Moseley is still serving time for Genovese’s murder.
The gruesome killing also led to several major reforms in the criminal justice system.
The 911 phone system was set up, along with crime-deterring, neighborhood watch programs. Other reforms included crime-victim compensation, sex offender registries and laws allowing victims’ families to speak during the penalty phase in felony trials.