On this date in 1912, Mrs. Pasquarella Mussone Spinelli was shot to death in an East Harlem structure later dubbed "the Murder Stable."
|NY Herald, 21 Mar 1912|
Just before 6 p.m., Mrs. Spinelli, a resident of 335 East 108th Street in East Harlem, went across the street to the stable she owned and managed in order to do her nightly check of the horses boarded there. Her daughter, Nicolina "Nellie" Lener (also spelled "Lenere") watched from the front window as her mother crossed the street. Nellie noticed some odd movement near a lantern positioned some distance from the entrance. A short time later, Nellie heard gunshots and saw two men rush from the stable and down the street toward Second Avenue. She recognized one of the men as Aniello Prisco.
Prisco, known locally as "Zoppo" (Italian term meaning "lame") or "the Gimp," was the terror of East Harlem. He led a gang that was suspected of murders, robberies, extortion and other offenses. He acquired his nickname and his distinctive gait in the spring of 1909, when he unwisely provoked a gangster known as "Scarface Charlie" Pandolfi. Pandolfi expressed his displeasure by firing a dozen slugs into Prisco's body. Doctors managed to save his life, but had trouble mending a badly shattered bone in his left leg. When the bone healed, the left leg was inches shorter than the right one.
Many suspected that Prisco had been planning an attack against Pasquarella Spinelli due to a bloody incident about five months earlier. On October 29, 1911, Nellie was alone with twenty-four-year-old Prisco underling Frank "Chick" Monaco. Monaco reportedly tried to rob Pasquarella Spinelli's safe, and Nellie responded by picking up a kitchen knife and stabbing Monaco repeatedly until he was dead. An autopsy found that Monaco died of a hemorrhage following stab wounds to the lung and the heart. A coroner's jury found Nellie not guilty of any wrongdoing, but Prisco had a different opinion. The shooting death of Spinelli appeared to be Zoppo's revenge.
Death of Harlem's 'Hetty Green'
A crowd quickly assembled in front of the stable. When authorities arrived, they found Mrs. Spinelli dead of gunshot wounds. Her body was resting on a ramp that led to the building's second floor. One bullet had struck her in the neck. Another had penetrated her right temple and lodged in her brain.
Following a post-mortem examination, a death certificate, issued in the name of "Pasqua Musoni Spinelli Lener," officially established the cause of death as "pistol shot wounds of brain (homicide)." The document stated Mrs. Spinelli's age as 57. It noted that she was born in Italy to Tommaso and Concetta Musoni and spent the last 21 years in the United States.
Press reports of the killing labeled Spinelli the "Hetty Green" of Harlem's Little Italy. The reference, far more easily understood in 1912 than it is today, was to Henrietta Robinson Green. Nicknamed "the Witch of Wall Street," Green was a wealthy and notoriously miserly businesswoman who gathered riches through work, investments and inheritance. Newspapers noted that Pasquarella Spinelli was the richest female in Harlem and owned stores, markets and tenement houses in addition to the stable.
Spinelli was buried on March 23, 1912, at St. Michael's Cemetery. Funeral arrangements were handled by Anthony Paladino of East 115th Street.
Mrs. Spinelli's background is a bit hazy. The few available records indicate that she was born in the mid-1850s in the Naples area of Italy and traveled to America in 1892, settling in Manhattan. The 1905 New York State Census located her, then 49, at 345 East 109th Street with husband Pietro Spinelli, a fish dealer, and children Tommaso, 19, and Nicolina, 16.
When the federal census was taken five years later, Pasquarella showed up at 2097 First Avenue, between 107th and 108th Streets. The census indicated that she was living with her husband Pietro, the fish dealer, and her daughter Nicolina Lener, 19. Curiously, Pietro's name in this document is written as "Solazzo" rather than Spinelli. The federal census revealed that Pietro was Pasquarella's second husband, and Nicolina Lener was Pietro's step-daughter. Apparently, Pasquarella had been married previously to a man with the surname Lener, with whom she had children Nicolina and the older Tommaso (no longer living with her by 1910) and possibly others. (The census record states that Pasquarella gave birth to seven children and had six children living.)
One candidate for the role of Pasquarella's first husband was a blacksmith named Tommaso Lener, who was born in Caserta, Italy, a short distance north of Naples, in 1865, traveled to the U.S. in 1895, and at the time of his 1906 naturalization petition was living at 301 East 109th Street. (For some reason, during the naturalization process, New York County Justice Samuel Greenbaum suspected Lener of underworld connections. Greenbaum asked if Lener's naturalization petition witness, insurance broker Salvatore Tartaglione was a member of the Mafia. Tartaglione said he was not.) What became of blacksmith Tommaso Lener is not known.
In the brief period between the 1910 Census and Spinelli's murder, it appears that she separated from her fish-dealer husband Pietro, moved in with daughter Nellie at 239 East 109th Street, where Chick Monaco was stabbed to death in 1911, and then moved again with Nellie to 335 East 108th Street.
Within a few days of Spinelli's death, police arrested Luigi Lazzazaro, 58, of 337 East 108th Street. Lazzazaro was a business partner of the victim, and Nellie Lener said she saw him standing outside the stable's entrance while two other men murdered Spinelli inside. Lazzazaro was charged with acting in concert with the killers, though he denied knowing anything about the murder.
Prisco was not arrested for Spinelli's murder until June. By then, witnesses were so intimidated by the gangster that no convincing case could be made against him. All suspects in the Spinelli murder were released.
Newspapers reported that Nellie, fearing for her life after openly accusing Lazzazaro and Prisco, went to join relatives in Italy. Reports indicated that, even across the Atlantic, Nellie was not safe. It was rumored that she soon died under suspicious circumstances.
Aniello Prisco did not live for very long after Spinelli's murder. During a December 15, 1912, attempt to extort money from Giosue Gallucci, an East Harlem entrepreneur with strong underworld and political connections, Prisco was fatally shot through the head by a Gallucci aide.
Additional killings over the years helped give the Murder Stable its violent reputation. Lazzazara, who became the facility's sole owner after Spinelli's death, was fatally stabbed near the stable early in 1914. Mafia boss Fortunato "Charles" LoMonte took charge of the building and operated his feed business from the location. He was shot to death near the stable in spring of 1914. Mafia-linked East Harlem businessman Ippolito Greco became the stable's owner. Greco was shot to death as he left the building for home in November of 1915.
The legend of the Murder Stable continued to grow. It became linked in tales to the Morello-Terranova Mafia clan, as well as to Ignazio "the Wolf" Lupo. While embellishing its history, writers also frequently assigned new addresses for the building, moving it up and down in East Harlem to suit their stories.
(Visit the full article on Pasquarella Spinelli's Murder Stable on The American Mafia history website.)
- Death certificate of Frank Monaco, Bureau of Records, Department of Health of the City of New York, registered no. 32570, Oct. 29, 1911.
- Death certificate of Pasqua Musoni Lener, Bureau of Records, Department of Health of the City of New York, registered no. 9128, March 20, 1912.
- Death certificate of Aniello Prisco, Bureau of Records, Department of Health of the City of New York, registered no. 35154, Dec. 15, 1912.
- Naturalization Petition of Tommaso Lener, Supreme Court of New York County, Bundle 299, Record 74, index L 560, March 26, 1906.
- New York State Census of 1905, Manhattan borough, Election District 5, Assembly District 33.
- Passenger manifest of S.S. Hindoustan, departed Naples, arrived New York City on July 6, 1892.
- Trow's General Directory of the Boroughs of Manhattan and Bronx, City of New York, Vol. CXXIV, for the Year Ending August 1, 1911, New York: Trow Directory, Printing and Bookbinding Company, 1910.
- United States Census of 1910, New York State, New York County, Ward 12, Enumeration District 339.
- "Murdered in vendetta," New York Tribune, March 21, 1912, p. 2.
- "Woman murdered to avenge death of band leader," New York Herald, March 21, 1912, p. 1.
- "'Will kill me,' cries girl, mother slain," New York Evening Telegram, March 21, 1912, p. 1.
- "Arrest victim's partner," New York Sun, March 23, 1912, p. 1.
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- "35 are caught in Black Hand bomb round-up," New York Evening Telegram, July 26, 1913, p. 3.
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- "Shoots man and woman and makes his escape," New York Evening World, May 23, 1914, p. 2.
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- "Lamonte dies of shot wound," New York Sun, May 25, 1914, p. 5.
- Thomas, Rowland, "The rise and fall of Little Italy's king," Fort Wayne IN Journal-Gazette, Dec. 12, 1915, p. 33, Pittsburgh Press, Dec. 12, 1915, Sunday Magazine p. 4.
- "'Murder Stable' around which Baff case centres is scene or cause of 14 deaths," New York Herald, Feb. 13, 1916, p. 1.
- "Record of deaths in murder stable," Niagara Falls Gazette, April 12, 1916.
- "Patriotism, pacifism, anarchism, meet here," New York Times, Jan. 6, 1918, p. 12.