Years later, Winston Moseley would describe it as a robbery that went wrong.
He claimed he’d never seen Kitty Genovese before, and he had no intention of harming her.
But when she saw him on the morning of March 13, 1964, in her New York neighborhood, she started to run away. Moseley said, “I kind of lost my head.” He pursued her and then stabbed her twice. Crying for help, she collapsed to the ground. A neighbor, hearing her cries, shouted out his window, demanding to know what was going on. Moseley ran away, and the neighbor saw Genovese rise and walk into her apartment building. Once inside, she collapsed on the entryway floor.
After getting away from the scene of the crime, Moseley slowed and thought. And then he went back to his victim and killed her. The murder became infamous for the number of witnesses to the crime who did nothing to help her (although many of the facts in the New York Times story that appeared two weeks after her murder were later questioned and found to be grossly exaggerated). Still, 55 years later, the murder is remembered as an example of what can go horribly wrong when everyone thinks, “I shouldn’t get involved.”
One woman who got involved — albeit inadvertently, and years later — was Melody McCloud. Moseley’s account of his murder of Genovese is detailed in a series of letters he wrote to McCloud, then a pre-med student at Boston University.
While still in school, she’d been involved in a prison ministry, sharing the message of forgiveness and redemption with prisoners. Later, in 1975, she saw a television news story about Moseley, in which he was identified as “Inmate Liaison to Attica Correctional Facility.” He told the reporter he was working to improve conditions for prisoners following Attica’s deadly riot in 1971. Although Moseley was a total stranger, McCloud wrote him a letter of encouragement in his liaison work. The next month, she received a letter back from him, and a correspondence began.
Over the next five months, he wrote twelve letters. Some included poems or cards. It was in his third letter that he wanted her to know about his conviction “right from the start so you can decide whether or not the facts…are going to make any difference to you.” He told her that he was the murderer of Kitty Genovese in 1964 and once escaped from custody.
The name “Genovese” sounded familiar. She recalled that the case had been a big deal at the time. She looked up details in the library and discovered that Moseley had confessed to murdering two other women — Barbara Kralik and Annie May Johnson — and was accused of forty robberies and various assaults and rapes.
McCloud was stunned by what she read. She recalls thinking, “What’s a nice girl like me doing in a story like this?”
She wrote back to Moseley about what she’d learned. He responded to her questions about Kralik. He also described, at length, his mental state the night of Genovese’s murder.
He’d felt defeated by his two divorces and separation from his children. His parents, to whom he was very close, had been having serious problems for years. He wrote that it created “a psychological disturbance for me.”
After attacking Kitty and running away, he wrote, “what I went back for was some vague notion of taking her to a hospital.” After putting on a wide-brimmed hat to avoid recognition, he returned to her apartment building. He found Kitty on the floor of her building’s entry. When she saw him, he claimed, she began using abusive, racist language. In his letters, he wrote “I stopped being human.” Overcome with hatred, he attacked her again, stabbing her repeatedly while she called for help.
Moseley wrote that he didn’t feel hurried because he knew no one would come, no one would interfere.
“I didn’t want to get involved,” was reported to be a common excuse of the witnesses. The incident gave rise to a new, sinister, phenomenon: “bystander syndrome,” a symptom of urban life in which people abandoned their sense of responsibility and human connection.
In response, residents of New York City began neighborhood watch patrols. And the city established the first 911 system for calling the police.
Later investigation contradicted the claim of 38 inactive witnesses. Moseley said the number had been exaggerated to make the crime sound worse. It was certainly bad enough, becoming the most infamous murder in a year that saw 630 murders in New York. But this crime magnified New Yorkers’ fear that they couldn’t count on others for help in an emergency.
Less than a week after murdering Genovese, Moseley was captured while burgling a house. He confessed to the murders of Genovese, Kralik, and Johnson.
After learning the details about Moseley’s past, McCloud continued to write, but not as often. She began easing away from the correspondence, telling him she was too busy. “How can you be so busy you can’t write?” he challenged in his next letter. He was angry, she says, and he added threateningly, “you better be careful!” In a later letter, he apologized for his anger.
Their correspondence ended in May of 1976.
Moseley remained in prison until his death in 2016. During his 52 years in prison, he had applied for, and was denied, parole 18 times.
While Moseley lived, McCloud, who is now an obstetrician-gynecologist and author who lives in Atlanta, Georgia, did nothing with the letters.
Today, her collection of letters offers a unique insight into the mind of a serial killer, made even more valuable for their candor. “I was not anyone who could really help him,” she says. “I was just a kid, basically. So I don’t feel he had anything to gain by lying to me about his psychological state.”
For 43 years, Dr. McCloud has held onto these letters, not wishing to publicize them while Moseley lived. This year marks the 55th anniversary of Genovese’s death. It’s time, she says, to share their contents.
Feature image credit: Courtesy Dr. Melody McCloud. Used with permission.
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