|Director, writer:||James D. Solomon|
|When and how viewed:||Netflix instant|
I remember the newspaper coverage of the murder of Kitty Genovese outside her Queens apartment building at night on March 13, 1964. I was working at the National Bureau of Standards at the time, on my first job, in what was a somewhat depressing period of my own coming of age. But I would later go to the New York World’s Fair in August, 1964 on the train and meet college friends in the city there. It was an adventure then, in those pre-Vietmam war LBJ days (about the time of Tonkin).
The film “The Witness” (2015, directed by James D. Solomon) starts out with barebones coverage with black and white stills of the murder, before the narrator, her brother William, gets into his quest to get behind the New York Times account of the supposed apathy of other apartment residents who heard the screams and witnessed the murder but didn’t even call police. Bill Clinton would later say that shows we are too much “alone.”
Actually, her attacker returned and attacked her a second time, which is what led to her final death. But William’s gumshoeing reveals complications that question whether the New York Times presentation of personal apathy was itself a fabrication.
At this point, it’s worth noting the main excuse reported from residents, “it’s better not to get involved.” Indeed, when to get involved when someone comes knocking (and sharing that person’s risks and shoes) is a tremendous moral issue in a free society. In 2015, my car was struck in a three-way accident caused by another driver. I was asked by the policewoman if I had tried to attend to one of the drivers. I hadn’t, since I dialed 9-1-1 and police showed up in two minutes. But you get the drift of the question, even if nothing came of it later.
But William Genovese’s investigation leads to other fascinating leads, giving the film momentum. He gradually discovers that Kitty bad been both charismatic in her own social circles, and a lesbian, with a girl friend.
In time, the documentary shifts to the narrative of the killer, Winston Moseley, serving life in prison. He had been sentenced to death, but the capital punishment was overturned. He seems to have been a gifted man intellectually with a crazy streak, to go psychopathic. There was the idea of racial anger, but his other murder victim had been black. And he would be apprehended after an alert neighbor did notice a burglary. He would escape from prison in Buffalo and start a brief reign of terror. But in prison he would “reform” and try to claim he was going to be good by 1977, earning a degree.
William tries to contact Moseley for an interview, but through Moseley’s son (who does talk to him) he learns of the declination. The son expresses the bizarre rumor that there is a connection to the Genovese crime family.
Throughout the film, we see William Genovese as a double amputee, without prosthesis, in a wheel chair. In a flashback near the end, Genovese shows a black-and-white reenactment of the Marine battle in the Mekong Delta where he lost both legs in a blast in 1967. His buddies came to his rescue, but observers left his sister alone. Nevertheless, he would marry and have children.
Background music included a Grieg nocturne for piano, and the slow movement of a late Beethoven quartet.
The profile of the killer reminds me of the psychology of convicted Maryland killer Jason Thomas Scott whom I believe could have a connection to the Kanika Powell case in Laurel MD, and possibly Sean Green later in 2008 (story) . These cases, while still unsolved, deserve full re-investigation, and maybe a documentary filmmaker could help (or maybe NBC Dateline or ABC 20-20). There’s a Crime Watch Daily short film of the case here. The NBC Dateline show on Scott was called “The Unusual Suspect” (see index). The obvious concern about “smart” psychopaths, especially “intermittent” in their crime, is that they could be recruited by foreign terrorists.
(Posted: Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016 at 10:45 PM EDT)