An investigator in the infamous New York murder looks back on the Kitty Genovese case and examines its enduring legacy.
Fifty years after she was viciously attacked in Kew Gardens, Queens, the name of murder victim Kitty Genovese still conjures the ugly specter of American apathy. “37 Saw Murder but Didn’t Call Police” ran a New York Times headline that created a legend. A thirty-eighth witness did call—“after much deliberation”—a half hour after the first attack left the targeted woman wounded on the street. By then, her killer had returned and finished the job: Genovese lay dying in a stairwell, just steps from the safety of her own apartment.
The apparent indifference of Genovese’s neighbors to her screams—and the cold-blooded calm of the killer who came back—fixed this case in the memory of detective chief Albert Seedman. Ten years later, he gave coauthor Peter Hellman the inside story on the murder that still haunts the American conscience.
Seedman’s account of the investigation, now with incisive new commentary from Hellman, is as gripping today as ever, and the plight of Kitty Genovese just as chilling. When Seedman questioned the murderer about Genovese’s neighbors, he replied, “I knew they wouldn’t do anything. People never do. That late at night, they just go back to sleep.” This fascinating account blends true crime with psychological insight about the “bystander effect” and the ever-important issue of how we confront—or don’t confront—evil in our midst.