15 December 2019

Extortion victim turns tables on 'The Gimp'

New York Sun
On this date in 1912...

Aniello Prisco, leader of a Neapolitan "Black Hand" extortion band based in East Harlem, was killed by gunshots to the head on the evening of December 15, 1912.

The thirty-two-year-old Prisco was known in the Little Italy community around East 108th Street between First and Second Avenues as "Zoppo" (Italian for "lame") or "the Gimp." These nicknames resulted from a 1909 gunshot wound that shattered a bone in his left leg. When Prisco recovered from the shooting, his healed left leg was inches shorter than his right, causing a pronounced limp.

Threatening Italian business owners into making regular protection payments had been Prisco's primary occupation. The local press referred to him as "Zoppo the Terrible" and "the Terror of East Harlem."

Prisco death certificate

A meeting with Gallucci

Gallucci
In mid-December of 1912, he boldly and unwisely targeted Giosue Gallucci, a wealthy bakery and coffeehouse owner who had strong underworld and political connections.

Prisco had a fearsome reputation. He was believed responsible for numerous acts of violence, including the killing of Gallucci's brother Gennaro several years earlier and the March 1912 murder of Pasquarella Spinelli, owner of the infamous Murder Stable. But apparently he lacked cunning.

Prisco demanded that Gallucci bring payment to a Sunday, December 15, meeting at the DelGaudio barbershop on East 108th Street. When the time came for the meeting, Gallucci sent an apologetic message, claiming that he was ill and could not go out as planned. Gallucci invited Prisco to come to his coffeehouse and residence at 318 East 109th Street to collect his payment.

When Zoppo arrived, he was escorted into a back room with Gallucci and some of his aides. The only reports of what occurred next came from Gallucci's side, as Prisco did not survive the meeting. Police, summoned by Gallucci, arrived near midnight to find the notorious gang leader dead in the coffeehouse with two bullet wounds in his head.

Self-defense

Prisco
The following day, Gallucci's nephew John Russomano walked into the office of New York County Coroner Herman Hellenstein and confessed to fatally shooting Prisco. He claimed that Prisco had drawn a firearm, pointed it at Gallucci and demanded a hundred dollars. Russomano pulled a handgun from a desk drawer. When Prisco turned his weapon toward Russomano and warned him, "Keep out of this, or I'll kill you," Russomano fired. Prisco hit the floor before he could get a shot off.

(Early reports in the New York Evening World and the Brooklyn Daily Eagle told a substantially different story, though their source was not made clear. Those newspapers said that someone in the coffeehouse grabbed Prisco's shooting hand or arm as he entered the back room, leaving him helpless as Russomano pointed a handgun at his forehead and fired.)

Russomano was charged with homicide and placed in the Tombs Prison. He was later released in bail of $5,000.

Prisco's funeral arrangements were handled by D. Scocozza of 2074 First Avenue in East Harlem. He was buried on December 18 at Calvary Cemetery in Queens, New York.

On December 20, Russomano was discharged by Hellenstein, after a coroner's jury was convinced that the killing of Prisco was done in self-defense.

As far as law enforcement was concerned, the matter was closed. But a bloody feud continued in East Harlem's underworld for years.

Read more about Aniello Prisco and the 1910s Italian underworld of East Harlem:
"Owner's killing is start of Murder Stable legend," Mafiahistory.us.

Sources:
  • "35 are caught in Black Hand bomb round-up," New York Evening Telegram, July 26, 1913, p. 3.
  • "Blackhand king shot dead when he demanded $100," Bridgeport CT Evening Farmer, Dec. 16, 1912, p. 3.
  • "Blackmailer killed as he made threat," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Dec. 16, 1912, p. 4.
  • "Man is found dead with bullet holes in his head," New York Press, Dec. 16, 1912, p. 3.
  • "Notorious gunman arrested," New York Call, Oct. 4, 1912, p. 3.
  • "Prisco, lame gunman, meets death at last," New York Sun, Dec. 17, 1912, p. 16.
  • "Record of deaths in murder stable," Niagara Falls Gazette, April 12, 1916.
  • "Silencer is used on rifle to kill Harlem gunman," New York Evening World, Feb. 18, 1913, p. 9.
  • "Slayer of 'Zopo' freed," New York Evening World, Dec. 20, 1912, p. 9.
  • "Slayer of 'Zopo' freed," New York Tribune, Dec. 20, 1912, p. 16.
  • "'Zopo the Gimp,' king of the Black Hand, slain," New York Tribune, Dec. 17, 1912, p. 16.
  • "'Zopo the Terror' dies as he draws weapon to kill," New York Evening World, Dec. 16, 1912, p. 6.
  • Aniello Prisco Certificate of Death, registered no. 35154, Department of Health of the City of New York, date of death Dec. 15, 1912.
  • Critchley, David, The Origin of Organized Crime in America: The New York City Mafia, 1891-1931, New York: Routledge, 2009.
  • 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.

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