Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Kitty Genovese Murder

The Journey of Winston Moseley

Photo: 'Today I'm a Man who Wants to Be an Asset.' <br /> (photo by author)
Photo: "Today I'm a Man who Wants to Be
an Asset." (photo by author)

When he was arrested in March 1964, Moseley was 28 years old. He owned a house in Queens, was married and had two children. He had a steady job and no criminal record. But Catherine was not his only victim. He committed dozens of burglaries and rapes, which he later admitted to the police and at his trial. "I chose women to kill because they were easier and didn't fight back," he once said.

After his conviction, Moseley was remanded to the Department of Corrections and eventually shipped to Attica prison. In 1967, the New York State Court of Appeals found that evidence of Moseley's mental condition should have been admitted into trial. His death sentence was reduced to life imprisonment. But in 1968, during a routine transfer to a hospital in Buffalo, Moseley managed to overpower a guard and steal his gun. He later took five people hostage and raped a woman in front of her husband. The FBI located the escaped killer in a second floor apartment in downtown Buffalo. A courageous FBI agent named Neil Welch managed to enter the apartment and for a nail-biting half hour, Moseley and Welch pointed guns at each other point-blank while they continued negotiations. Moseley later surrendered.

He was shipped back to Attica prison where he became just another lifer. Over the years, Moseley, like a lot of other convicts who realize they may never get out of prison, became somewhat philosophical. "Prison as it presently stands is an inherently evil place that insidiously and systematically works to destroy imprisoned persons," he said later. He was at Attica in September 1971 when a bloody riot erupted, killing 10 guards and 29 prisoners. "I went through a trial of fire and death," he said in a letter to The New York Times. "The '71 Attica rebellion profoundly affected me...I vowed right then and there that I was going to get on the right track and make amends for my past wrongdoing."

Moseley Gets a College Degree (photo by author)
Moseley Gets a College
Degree (photo by author)

In 1977, Moseley wrote a long letter to The Times airing his thoughts on his killings and life in prison. As for the Catherine Genovese murder, he said, "The crime was tragic, but it did serve society, urging it as it did to come to the aid of its members in distress or danger (sic)." The Times, apparently seeing something profound in Moseley's words, saw fit to publish the entire article in its Op Ed section under the alluring title Today I'm a Man Who Wants to Be An Asset on April 11, 1977. The story spanned 4 columns, replete with graphics and Moseley's own description of a "different" and "constructive" multiple killer. "The man who killed Kitty Genovese in Queens in 1964 is no more," Moseley wrote, "Another vastly different individual has emerged, a Winston Moseley intent and determined to do constructive, not destructive things."

Moseley realized he would become eligible for parole and he began a concentrated effort to gain release from prison. He read books from the prison library, and using taxpayer funds, was able to enroll in a college program. In the late 1970s, he became one of the first inmates in New York State to earn a college degree when he received a B.A. in Sociology from Niagara University. He wrote letters to newspapers and continued his campaign to obtain a parole.

During the period 1984 through 1995, Moseley appeared before the state parole board six times. His appearances were marked by his bizarre, self-serving comments to the panel, and he frequently assumed the role of society's victim. "For a victim outside, it's a one-time or one hour or one minute affair, but for the person who's caught, it's forever," he said in 1984. "People do kill people when they mug them sometimes," he added. At one parole hearing, Moseley claimed he had written a letter to the Genovese family "to apologize for the inconvenience I caused." The Genovese family strongly denied receiving any such communication nor did they wish for one.

In 1995, at the age of 60, Moseley thought he had found a way out of prison. He appealed to a federal court to give him a new trial because he claimed that his attorney, Sidney Sparrow, had a conflict of interest during his trial. Sparrow had once represented Catherine Genovese on a minor gambling charge and, therefore, Moseley surmised, he could not represent him when he was accused of her murder. This time, however, the Genovese family did attend. All three brothers, Vince, Frank and Bill, who lost both legs in 1967 during the Vietnam War, and a sister, Susan, were there. "It was tough to hear it all again," said Bill recently, "but it was tougher on Vince who testified." Sparrow, then 82 years old, also attended the hearing and later said that Moseley was a liar "trying to get out of prison anyway he can." On November 13, 1995, a federal judge denied Moseley's request for a new trial saying that Sparrow in 1964 "gave Moseley effective, competent and capable counsel under difficult circumstances." He was returned to prison once again.

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