The Murder of Kitty Genovese

      At approximately 3:20 on the morning of March 13, 1964, twenty-eight-year-old Ms Catherine (Kitty) Genovese was returning to her home in a nice middle-class area of Queens, NY, from her job as a bar manager. She parked her red Fiat in a nearby parking lot, turned-off the lights and started the walk to her second floor apartment some 35 yards away. She got as far as a streetlight when a man grabbed her. She screamed. Lights went on in the 10-floor apartment building nearby. She yelled, “Oh, my God, he stabbed me! Please help me!” Windows opened in the apartment building and a man’s voice shouted, “Let that girl alone.” The attacker looked up, shrugged and walked-off down the street. Ms Genovese struggled to get to her feet. Lights went back off in the apartments. The attacker came back and stabbed her again. She again cried out, “I’m dying! I’m dying!” And again the lights came on and windows opened in many of the nearby apartments. The assailant again left and got into his car and drove away. Ms Genovese staggered to her feet as a city bus drove by. It was now 3:35 a.m. The attacker returned once again. He found her in a doorway at the foot of the stairs and he stabbed her a third time--this time with a fatal consequence. It was 3:50 when the police received the first call. They responded quickly and within two minutes were at the scene. Ms Genovese was already dead. The only person to call, a neighbor of Ms Genovese, revealed that he had phoned only after much thought and an earlier phone call to a friend. He said, “I didn’t want to get involved.”

      Two social psychologists, Bibb Latané and John Darley, unsatisfied with the above explanations, began a series of research studies to identify the situational factors that influence why people may be reluctant to come to the aid of others. Their explanation has been called diffusion of responsibility or the bystander effect and holds that an individual is less likely to provide assistance as the number of bystanders increases.

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Last revised: 7 July 2006