KEW GARDENS — A lawyer who has studied the infamous 1964 murder of Kitty Genovese thinks research into overlooked testimony from decades ago may shed new light on the case that became best-known for the number of witnesses who heard the Queens woman's cries for help but allegedly did nothing.
Attorney Joseph De May, who has written many articles on the attack in Kew Gardens, wonders why the testimony of a witness and an intriguing remark made by Genovese's killer never received much attention from experts.
De May, who will discuss the case in a Feb. 10 lecture at the Leonard Center in Richmond Hill, said he does not think the research would vindicate the witnesses who didn't act, but might offer more details on the disturbing slaying.
"I didn't want to become an apologist for Kew Gardens, but I did want to become a devil's advocate for what happened," said De May, vice president of the Richmond Hill Historical Society, which is sponsoring the lecture.
A New York Times headline famously reported that 38 witnesses saw the murder of the 28-year-old woman as she walked home early one morning, but didn't call police. The Times quoted a police inspector who surmised that if the witnesses had contacted cops, Genovese might not have died.
Tales of the witnesses' inaction spawned research into a psychological theory known as the "bystander effect" in which individuals do not offer help in an emergency when others are present. Some theorized that Kew Gardens residents who witnessed the attack figured someone else would call police, so they did not.
Researchers have long cast doubt on the Times article, arguing the true number of witnesses is unknown and that many only heard Genovese's cries and did not see her or her killer, Winston Moseley. But the case still became a stain on Kew Gardens, stoking a perception of city dwellers as uncaring.
Initial descriptions of the attack suggested that witnesses knew Genovese was being murdered, making their inaction so shocking. But De May said that overlooked testimony from witness Irene Frost, who saw Genovese and Moseley on the street the night of the attack, indicates otherwise.
"They were standing close together, not fighting or anything," Frost testified, according to court documents. De May said the comment could mean that some witnesses did not intervene because they thought Genovese and Moseley were friends or lovers, either joking around or in a lover's spat.
De May also focused on a 1979 New York Times article in which Moseley said he attacked Genovese because she had made a racial slur against him. Moseley's statement contradicts the traditional telling of the Genovese story in which he was hunting for any woman to kill and targeted Genovese without talking to her.
Admission is free for De May's 7:30 p.m. presentation on Feb. 10 at the Leonard Center at 86-13 112th St. Refreshments will be served.