Winston Moseley: Social Psychology's Famous Killer

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Winston Moseley died on March 28, 2016 at the age of 81. His obituary appeared in the New York Times on April 4th. Moseley was the catalyst for an event that everyone who has taken Intro Psych since the mid-1960s remembers, but I’m not surprised if you don’t recognize his name. The event is known for the victim, not the killer. In 1964, Winston Moseley murdered Kitty Genovese.

“His life behind bars had been relatively eventful. Mr. Moseley was condemned to die in the electric chair, but in 1967, two years after New York State abolished most capital punishments, he won an appeal that reduced his sentence to an indeterminate life term. While at Attica Correctional Facility, in 1968, he escaped while on a hospital visit to Buffalo, raped a woman and held hostages at gunpoint before being recaptured. He joined in the 1971 Attica uprising; earned a college degree [bachelor’s in sociology] in 1977; and was rejected 18 times at parole hearings, the last time in 2015.”

The obituary explains that this would have been just another murder among the 635 others that year in New York City had it not been for a front-page New York Times article published two weeks later. The story’s angle was apathy – that 38 people witnessed the whole thing yet did nothing. But that’s not quite what happened.

“None saw the attack in its entirety. Only a few had glimpsed parts of it, or recognized the cries for help. Many thought they had heard lovers or drunks quarreling. There were two attacks, not three. And afterward, two people did call the police. A 70-year-old woman ventured out and cradled the dying victim in her arms until they arrived. Ms. Genovese died on the way to a hospital.”

For more, see last month's blog post on Kitty Genovese.

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About the Author
Sue Frantz has taught psychology since 1992. She has served on several APA boards and committees, and was proud to serve the members of the Society for the Teaching of Psychology as their 2018 president. In 2013, she was the inaugural recipient of the APA award for Excellence in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning at a Two-Year College or Campus. She received in 2016 the highest award for the teaching of psychology--the Charles L. Brewer Distinguished Teaching of Psychology Award. She presents nationally and internationally on the topics of educational technology and the pedagogy of psychology. She is co-author with Doug Bernstein and Steve Chew of Teaching Psychology: A Step-by-Step Guide, 3rd ed. and is co-author with Charles Stangor on Introduction to Psychology, 4.0.