BY DAVID RUSSELL
Kew Gardens Cinemas is showing The Witness, a documentary analyzing the infamous 1964 murder of Kitty Genovese, which took place about 100 feet from where the theater now stands. The murder was major news not because of the victim or murderer, but a New York Times article, which reported that 38 witnesses saw the attack but did nothing to help Genovese.
The non-action from witnesses has led to countless sociological studies, discussion, and has been a subject on shows such as Perry Mason, Law & Order, and was even discussed on All In The Family. Genovese’s brother, Bill, spent more than a decade researching the facts surrounding the night and has tried to separate truth from myth.
A 2004 article on the 40th anniversary of Kitty’s death brought new details to light, and Bill wanted to know more about the real story.
“We get to learn about somebody who we only know for the last 32 minutes of her life, but the most important focus of reclaiming her is his whole family,” director James Solomon told the audience after the opening night screening in Kew Gardens. “The story was so public and so horrific that not only did we go over 32 minutes but in Bill’s own family and the next generation, that’s how most of the family knew her.”
It turns out that several people did call the police, and one friend actually left her apartment and was with Genovese when she died. It is also explained that because Genovese walked around a corner after the initial attack, if most neighbors went to look out their windows, they wouldn’t have been able to see her. And the number of witnesses was an educated guess, but could have been more or less.
The events of Kitty’s murder make up one part of the movie. Other facts in the film regarding her life have not been as well known. Genovese was actually married but Bill learned decades later that Kitty was gay with her roommate. In the movie, Bill wonders how well he could’ve known his sister if he didn’t know something like that.
The most famous picture of Genovese, and the one that is used on the poster, is actually a mugshot taken in 1961.
A piece of string can still be seen on the left side of the cropped photo. Genovese, a bartender, had been arrested for running numbers.
Bill’s fascinating story is one of the reasons the movie is so compelling. He was upset about the bystander apathy and several years later when his friends tried getting out of the service, Bill enlisted in the Marines. He would go to Vietnam, where he lost his legs in combat.
As Bill keeps digging, he finds news writers and broadcasters from the era, tries to contact the murderer and deals with his own siblings who don’t understand his fixation on the subject.
By the time the movie ends, Bill has answers but told the Kew Gardens crowd that the story has not ended. “It’s not really over,” Bill said after the movie. “Kitty’s always with me. In fact, my questioning nature and my tenacity is kind of the way she taught me. She kind of raised me.”