The Murder Stables

by Jon Black

19091915. 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.