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New York City, 1964. A young woman is stabbed to death on her front stoop - a murder The New York Times called “a frozen moment of dramatic, disturbing social change.” The victim, Catherine “Kitty” Genovese, became an urban martyr, butchered by a sociopathic killer in plain sight of thirty-eight neighbors who “didn’t want to get involved.” Her sensational case provoked an anxious outcry and launched a sociological theory known as the “Bystander Effect.”That’s the narrative told by the Times, movies, TV programs, and countless psychology textbooks. But as award-winning author Kevin Cook reveals, the Genovese story is just that, a story. The truth is far more compelling - and so is the victim.
Now, on the 50th anniversary of her murder, Cook presents the real Kitty Genovese. She was a vibrant young woman - unbeknownst to most, a lesbian - a bartender working (and dancing) her way through the colorful, fast-changing New York of the ’60s, a cultural kaleidoscope marred by the Kennedy assassination, the Cold War, and race riots. Downtown, Greenwich Village teemed with beatniks, folkies, and so-called misfits like Kitty and her lover. Kitty Genovese evokes the Village’s gay and lesbian underground with deep feeling and colorful detail.
Cook also reconstructs the crime itself, tracing the movements of Genovese’s killer, Winston Moseley, whose disturbing trial testimony made him a terrifying figure to police and citizens alike, especially after his escape from Attica State Prison.
Drawing on a trove of long-lost documents, plus new interviews with her lover and other key figures, Cook explores the enduring legacy of the case. His heartbreaking account of what really happened on the night Genovese died is the most accurate and chilling to date.
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By ricketsj on 05-09-14
Myths aside, still a fascinating story.
Having double-majored in English and psychology before going to law school, I've heard the name Kitty Genovese brought up many, many times. The case is frequently brought up to describe the bystander effect (psychology), the cold-heartedness of modern man (English), and the duties or lack of duties of people toward third parties in danger. What I didn't know until reading this book was that the template story which is literally ALWAYS used to illustrate these points didn't happen the way it is described to have happened at all. It's still a fascinating story, however, both for the way it became mythologized and in its own right.
One thing I had not known was that Kitty was an out lesbian in the pre-Stonewall era. It was interesting to see how the natural fear of cops among some homosexual witnesses (and the NYPD does not come across sympathetically in this book at all) affected the investigation. It is truly astounding how the media took up the story just as the NYPD framed it, regardless of the truth. It's an early example of how a narrative that people want to believe can supplant the actual facts and be stubbornly resistant to correction.
Kitty herself really comes across as a vibrant, independent character. I also thought the author did quite a good job of painting a three-dimensional portrait of her killer. No one will ever understand his motivations, most likely, but you do get an idea of who he was. I had never known about the subsequent escape, either.
This was a very engaging book, particularly for someone who thought I already knew what the Kitty Genovese story was all about.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful
By Sharey on 06-06-18
I read, and listen to, a lot of true crime stories and must say that this was very well done. It is immediately engaging, illuminates and clarifies relevant "new" information about this well-known murder, and is equally expertly narrated. I highly recommend it.