Faced with brutal crime, neighbors can take refuge in fear.
It was true in 1874. But maybe not in 1964.
Fifty years ago this month Kitty Genovese, a New York City waitress, was stabbed, raped and killed outside her apartment. Not long after, The New York Times published a story with a first sentence detailing how “38 respectable, law-abiding citizens in Queens” supposedly did nothing while watching the crime.
The story went viral in a 1964 way, prompting church sermons that lamented an erosion of community in modern America.
“Most people encountered the story in their college textbooks, about all those New Yorkers who were watching and did nothing,” said Kevin Cook, author of “Kitty Genovese: The Murder, the Bystanders, the Crime That Changed America.”
But several witnesses responded, Cook said. One opened his apartment window and yelled at the attacker to leave Genovese alone.
There were, however, 38 entries in the detectives’ case file. Cook wonders if an officer made an innocent mistake passing on that number to a police commissioner who later had lunch with a New York Times editor.
“The United States was growing more urban,” Cook said. “The New York Times story resonated because people thought this proved urban life took away our humanity.”
Cook speaks at 6:30 p.m. March 11 at the Central Library, 14 W. 10th St. For info, go toKCLibrary.org
In 1874, someone entered a southwest Illinois farm cabin and killed a family of five with an ax.
Two of the dead were children: 3 years and 8 months old. Their bodies were found next to their mother, bludgeoned in bed. Found nearby were the woman’s husband and father-in-law.
“This happened before our modern justice system came into place,” said Nicholas J.C. Pistor, author of “The Ax Murders of Saxtown: The Unsolved Crime that Terrorized a Town and Shocked the Nation.”
The murders occurred on March 19, prompting one resident to wonder whether the killings had to do with someone not getting his potato seeds planted before St. Patrick’s Day. Many others wondered whether a neighbor could be the killer.
“If someone acted weird or looked funny, they wanted a confession,” said Pistor, a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
The crime remains unsolved.
For more information, go toNickPistor.com.