this day in crime history: march 13, 1964


On this date in 1964, 28 year old Catherine “Kitty” Genovese was murdered outside her apartment building in Queens, NY. Her killer, 29 year old Winston Moseley, stabbed her twice, but fled the scene when he thought he had been seen by one of Genovese’s neighbors. He returned a short while later to find Genovese on the ground at the back of her building. He then raped her, stabbed her several more times, and robbed her of $49.

Two weeks later, an article in the New York Times told the story of how as many as thirty-eight of Genovese’s neighbors had heard her scream, but had made no effort to assist her or call the police. The story ignited a national controversy about the apparent callousness of people living in large cities. The details of the Times report are still disputed to this day. Many of the people living in the neighborhood at the time stated that they could not hear the attack, and those that did hear something weren’t certain what was actually happening.

Winston Moseley was arrested six days after the murder. He was tried and convicted of the crime. He was originally sentenced to death, but the NY Court of Appeals overturned the sentence and reduced it to 20 years to life. Moseley died while incarcerated at Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, NY. He was 81 years old.

Further reading:

“Thirty-Eight Saw Murder Didn’t Call the Police” (Original New York Times Article)

Wikipedia – Murder of Kitty Genovese

New York Times – “Reviving Kitty Genovese Case, and Its Passions”


this day in crime history: march 12, 1909


On this date in 1909, New York Police Lieutenant Joe Petrosino was assassinated in Palermo, Sicily.

Born in Padua, Italy in 1860, Giuseppe Petrosino came to the United States as a young boy. In 1883, he joined the New York Police Department. In 1895, then-police Commissioner  Theodore Roosevelt promoted Petrosino to Detective Sergeant in charge of the NYPD’s Homicide Division. He was promoted to Lieutenant in 1908 and placed in command of the department’s Italian Squad, a special unit manned by Italian-American officers tasked with investigating Italian organized crime.

While head of the Italian Squad, Petrosino arrested members of the Black Hand organization who were attempting to extort money from opera star Enrico Caruso. While working a case involving an anarchist group, he received a tip that there was a plot to assassinate President McKinley while he was at the World’s Fair in Buffalo, NY. He passed the information on to the Secret Service, but McKinley chose to ignore the warning. This, as it turns out, was a fatal mistake. President McKinley was assassinated in Buffalo by anarchist Leon Czolgosz.

In early 1909, Petrosino planned a trip to Sicily to investigate connections between the Sicilian Mafia and Italian organized crime in the United States. The trip was supposed to be a secret, but NYPD Commissioner Theodore Bingham inadvertently revealed it to the New York Herald, which reported on the impending trip. Petrosino, believing the Italian Mafia would observe the same prohibition on killing police officers as their American counterparts, decided to go anyway.

Lieutenant Petrosino was in Palermo on March 12, 1909, when he went to what he believed would be a meeting with an informant. The meeting was a setup. Petrosino was killed by Mafia assassins. No one was ever convicted of his murder.

Further reading:

New York Times Blog – “A Park Is Renewed, the Better to Honor the Hero in Its Name”

Officer Down Memorial Page – Lieutenant Giuseppe “Joseph” Petrosino

Find a Grave – Joseph Petrosino

Wikipedia – Joseph Petrosino

this day in crime history: march 10, 1980


On this date in 1980, Dr. Herman Tarnower, creator of the Scarsdale Diet, was shot and killed in his home in Purchase, NY. Tarnower’s killer was Jean Harris, headmistress of the prestigious Madeira School in McLean, VA. Harris had been in a romantic relationship with Tarnower since 1966. Harris was upset with Tarnower when she discovered he was also having an affair with a secretary in his office.

At trial, Harris claimed she had gone to Tarnower’s house to commit suicide, and that Tarnower was accidentally shot while trying to take the gun from her. The jury didn’t buy it. She was convicted of 2nd degree murder and sentenced to 15 years to life in prison. Her sentence was commuted by Governor Mario Cuomo. She was released in 1993. She died in December 2012 at the age of 89.

Further reading:

Wikipedia – Herman Tarnower

NY Post“Jean Harris, killer of Scarsdale diet doctor Herman Tarnower, dies at 89”


this day in crime history: march 8, 1952

On this date in 1952, clothing salesman Arnold Schuster was shot and killed outside his home in Brooklyn, NY.  A month earlier, Schuster had been riding the subway home from work when he recognized a fellow rider as wanted bank robber Willie “The Actor” Sutton.  Schuster followed Sutton from the subway to a nearby garage, where Sutton went to work changing the battery on his car.  Schuster then tipped off the police who arrested Sutton.

Schuster’s murder was never solved.  Years later, mob turncoat Joe Valachi testified that mob boss Albert Anastasia ordered the murder after seeing Schuster on the TV show I’ve Got a Secret.*  Anastasia had no connection to Sutton, he just hated “squealers”.  Five years later, Anastasia would find himself on the receiving end of a “hit”, orchestrated by rival boss Vito Genovese, and Anastasia’s underboss Carlo Gambino.

*While researching the 1947 Holmesburg Prison escape, I recently found something that pokes a major hole in Valachi’s story: I’ve Got a Secret premiered in June 1952, four months after Schuster’s murder. If Anastasia saw Schuster on TV, it couldn’t have been on that show.

For more on Sutton’s escape and the murder of Arnold Schuster, check out my true crime short, Over the Wall: The True Story of the 1947 Escape from Holmesburg Prison.

Holmesburg Prison Escape

Further reading:

Find a Grave – Arnold Schuster

Wikipedia – Arnold Schuster


this day in crime history: march 6, 1970


On this date in 1970, members of the Weather Underground accidentally detonated a bomb they were constructing in a Greenwich Village, NY townhouse. Three members of the group, Terry Robbins, Theodore Gold and Diana Oughton, were killed in the blast. Two more, Cathy Wilkerson and Kathy Boudin, were injured. Both survivors went on the run. Wilkerson surrendered to police in 1980. She served less than a year in prison. Boudin was later arrested in connection with the 1981 robbery of a Brinks armored truck in which two police officers and a Brinks guard were killed. She was convicted and sentenced to 20 years to life in prison. In 2003, she was granted parole.

Further reading:

Wikipedia – Greenwich Village townhouse explosion

New York Times“An Infamous Explosion and the Smoldering Memory of radicalism”

New York ObserverThe Weathermen Townhouse


this day in crime history: february 26, 1993


On this date in 1993, a truck bomb was detonated under the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York City. Six people were killed and over a thousand were injured.

A massive task force was quickly assembled to search for the culprits. A vehicle identification number (VIN) that was found at the scene matched a rental truck that was reported stolen on the day of the bombing. FBI agents arrested Islamic extremist Mohammad Salameh as he was trying to get his deposit back from the rental company. Three more suspects were quickly rounded up. Agents also found a storage locker containing a large amount of cyanide gas. All four men were charged, tried and convicted of the bombing.

The investigation led to the arrest of another terrorist cell that was planning multiple attacks in and around New York. Ramzi Youseff, the mastermind of the bombing remained at large, as did co-conspirator Abdul Rahman Yasin.

In 1995, Diplomatic Security Service agents arrested Ramzi Yousef in Pakistan. At the time, Yousef was planning multiple bombings of US airliners. He was tried, convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

On September 11, 2001, terrorists financed by Yousef’s uncle, Khalid Sheik Mohammad, used hijacked airliners to knock down both WTC towers.

Further reading:

FBI – First Strike: Global Terror in America

US News & World Report – The 1993 World Trade Center Bombing: A New Threat Emerges

Wikipedia – 1993 World Trade Center Bombing

FBI Wanted Poster – Abdul Rahman Yasin


this day in crime history: february 21, 1965

On this date in 1965, Malcolm X was assassinated in the Audubon Ballroom in Manhattan. The three assassins were all members of the Nation of Islam. Malcolm X had previously been a member of the NoI, but had left the organization a year earlier after a falling out with the group’s leader, Elijah Muhammad.

All three of the killers were arrested, tried, and convicted. Two of them were paroled in the 1980s. The third was paroled in 2010.

Further reading:

Wikipedia-Malcolm X