The Murder Stables

by Jon Black

1909-1915. East 108th Street becomes the mythical centre of a killing spree in Harlem, striking fear into the local community.

The First Killing at the Stables

Pasquarella (or Mosoni) Spinelli lived at 239 E109th Street, the newspapers nicknamed her ‘The Hetty Green of Harlem’ due to her supposed wealth. She owned a large stable located at 334 E108th Street, and had interests in several other businesses, including leasing tenements in Harlem and the management of a picture theatre in 2nd Avenue. The stable was described in the press as ‘a rambling one storey structure, built partially of sheet iron, packing boxes, discarded odds and ends of house wreckage – doors for instance with hinges still on them yet. It is a rabbit warren which shelters two or three junk shops, a wheelwrights, a blacksmiths, a boarding stable and a hay and grain store’. The building later to become known as the ‘Murder Stables’, due to the large number of killings in it’s vicinity.

On October 29th 1911, the daughter of Pasquarella, Nellie Lenere, presented herself at E104th Street station claiming ‘a man had met with accident in her home’. The police discovered the body of Frank ‘Chick’ Monaco, a well known Harlem gangster. He had been stabbed twenty five times in the back, Lenere claimed she had killed him as he tried to rob the family safe.

After the autopsy on Monaco was complete the police threw doubt on her story, claiming she was shielding the real killers, and that she had arrived at the police station with clothes too clean to have been involved in such a violent struggle. She was committed to the Tombs by Coroner Feinberg.

Nellie Lenere told how she had married Gaetano Napolitano in a civil ceremony in 1909, but he had disappeared before they could arrange the church ceremony. She claimed that Monaco visited her saying he had located Napolitano, luring her to a cottage in Westchester, where she was robbed and held for two days.

Lenere was eventually acquitted by the Coroner’s jury due to a lack of evidence. Aniello Prisco, 37, nicknamed ‘Zopo the Gimp’, a much feared crippled gangster in Harlem, was rumoured to have sworn revenge for the killing of his friend ‘Chick’ Monaco.

Monaco’s friends later revealed that he had used his position within the Spinelli family to blackmail the mother, Pasquarella. Using inside information from Luigi Lazzazara, a part owner of the stable, he had demanded money under threat of telling the police about the dealings of Spinelli, which included horse theft and extortion.

Horse Theft

In 1912, Nicholas Terranova opened a blacksmith shop in the stables. The Terranova brothers and long been involved in horse theft, proved when Antonio Comito testified to the Secret Service in 1910, telling them the following tale about Nick Sylvester, one of the Morello gang members:

Sylvester boasted that his first sentence was for five years in the reformatory as a minor. He ran away from the reformatory in company with several other boys and got into the horse-stealing business. He was sentenced several times for small offenses and he once was arrested for carrying concealed weapons. During his imprisonment he came to know a certain Terranova, who was a half-brother of Morello, and they became fast friends. They stole horses in New York and sold them in other cities at reduced prices ; or they would bring the horses to friends in the country (Highland) and receive payment. He told of being arrested once when with Morello’s son and brother; they had thrown a bomb into a store in Mott Street. They were let go because there were no witnesses to the crime.

Horse theft was a big business. In 1909 it was estimated that 800 horses were stolen in the city, at a value of around $300 each. Owning a large stable, in which to temporarily house stolen horses whilst they were clipped, put the owner in a powerful position within the criminal world.

Pasquarella Spinelli Murder

Pasquarella along with her daughter Nelli, relocated from their home on E109th Sreet to be closer to the stables. They moved in to a property at 335 E108th Street over looking the yard. At around 5.30pm on March 20th, 1912, Pasquarella left her apartment and crossed the street to the stable. Nellie, who was still at home heard gunshots and leapt to the window to see her mother dead and two gunmen fleeing from the scene. She ran across to the road to find her mother dead from two gunshot wounds.

The police immediately realised the killing was in revenge for the death of Monaco only months before, the description given by Lenere matched those of Monaco’s men. Giovanni Rava, who worked at the stables, was arrested as a material witness. Angelo Losco, a saloon keeper of 319 E108th Sreet was later arrested in connection with the killing, he was eventually freed only to be killed himself nine months later.

Several anonymous letters were sent to the District Attorney, they claimed that Pasquarella had been killed by Aniello Prisco on the orders of Giosue Gallucci, because of ‘her willingness to to give the police information in regards to the killing of her son-in-law’.

Two days after the killing of Pasquarella, Luigi Lazzazara, part owner of the stable, was arrested in connection with the murder. He was charged with opening a stable door to allow access to the gunmen. Lazzazara had been a friend of the late Monaco and was reported to have been helping him blackmail the family, but he was later discharged.

The daughter, Nellie Lenere, after witnessing the murder, feared for her own life. She fled to Italy and sent back false reports of her own murder to confuse her enemies. It was later thought that she returned to New York and went in to hiding. The friend of Monaco who had sworn his revenge, Aniello ‘Zopo’ Prisco, was tried on the charge of murder but was acquitted.

More Stable Killings

Since the death of Spinelli, the ‘Murder Stables’ were now owned by Luigi Lazzazara, her once business partner. He had previous convictions for horse theft and unlicensed firearms in 1912. Lazzazara, 62, who lived at 339 E108th Street was found stabbed to death at 1am on February 20th, 1914. Policeman Flaherty saw three men struggling at the junction of 1st Av and 108th Street, as he approached one man fell. The body was identified as the wealthy Lazzazara, an old friend of ‘Chick’ Monaco and ‘Zopo’ Prisco.

On April 9th 1914, Giuseppe Gandolfo was mortally wounded outside the stable. He had been returning home to 337 E108th with his son when they were both shot. Gandolfo had previously been employed at the stable by Spinelli as a blacksmith.

Ippolito Greco of 230 E107th, the current owner of the ‘Murder Stables’ was killed on October 7th, 1915. Greco a saloon keeper with Morello associate Angelo Gagliano at 227 E107th Street had been involved in the killing of Barnet Baff. He received a message at the stables one night to meet some friends at a saloon on E108th Street. As Greco left the stable with four men, including his brother Vincenzo, he was shot and killed. The four men arrested as witnesses were Giovanni Viserta, Nicola Vitrano, Francisco Ingemato and Vincenzo Greco. The men told conflicting stories, Vincenzo Greco claimed to have fired his gun into the air to scare the killers, four chambers of his gun were found to be discharged. He was held on $300 bail as a material witness to the coroner.

During this four year period, since the first murder at the stables, there were numerous other killings in the same vicinity. The press linked these killings together under the same ‘Murder Stables’ headline, it made for easier reporting and bigger sales. They sometimes also linked the killings and stables with the big Barnet Baff case of the same era. The truth is that most of these other murders and shootings were linked to a power struggle between Neapolitan and Sicilian gangs in New York.