Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

'The Witness' Is Enlightening, Though Occasionally Confusing

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

'The Witness' Is Enlightening, Though Occasionally Confusing

Article excerpt

On March 13, 1964, at just after 3 a.m. in Kew Gardens in Queens, a borough of New York City, 28-year-old Kitty Genovese, returning home from her work as a bar manager, was raped and stabbed to death while a purported 38 witnesses did nothing to intervene. At least that was long the accepted version of this case, which, as a reflection of large-scale urban apathy, quickly became a flashpoint for criminal, psychological, and sociological deep think.

"The Witness," directed by James Solomon, is about how fun- loving Genovese's adored younger brother, Bill, unflaggingly pursues the actual facts of the case many years later, tracking down surviving witnesses, reporters, prosecutors, and, ultimately, the killer himself, Winston Moseley, who at the time of the murder was a 29-year-old computer punch operator.

What really happened that night is still not altogether known, but what is clear is that the official version - promoted on the front page of The New York Times two weeks after the crime at the instigation of its metropolitan editor (and later executive editor) A.M. Rosenthal, with a follow-up two days later featuring interviews with sociologists and psychiatrists - was wildly misreported. As Nicholas Lemann wrote in a 2014 New Yorker piece that ably dissected the case, "the experts transformed a crime into a crisis."

Solomon's movie contains footage stretching back more than a decade - newscaster Mike Wallace and Rosenthal, both of whom are interviewed by Bill Genovese, died years ago - and so its timeline of revelations is sometimes confusing. Genovese appears to be ferreting out new facts that have already been established by others. Solomon also doesn't include material on some of the documented examples of the neighbors' behavior that night, including one man who crawled out of his window after witnessing the second knife attack in the apartment vestibule and eventually called the police.

But what "The Witness" makes clear, especially for people who know very little about the Kitty Genovese case, is that the scenario of 38 apathetic witnesses was a gross misrepresentation of what actually occurred. …

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