Was Frank Spano guilty, or did his fatal trouble arise because he was innocent?  Did Frank Spano have a connection to the infamous mobster Dutch Schultz? What does ‘collect a debt’ really mean, anyway? Who was the man who committed the murder, and what became of him and his family? And just how corrupt was the government? Reaching out to known Gotti crime soldiers and using actual autopsy reports, court records, and newspaper articles, Cynthia von Buhler goes to new lengths to find out the truth about her family’s dark history. Mafia members, mistresses, corrupt government officials, even Spano’s own twelve-year old son: von Buhler meets new ghosts from the mysterious past.

Left to right: A cousin, Angelo Spano, Frank Spano, Dominick Spano (he has a toy pipe in his mouth), Mary Spano (pregnant with Lou Spano)

Frank Spano

Frank Spano is my grandfather. In Grumo Appula, Italy he was famous for his dazzling "pirotecnici" displays. His family in Grumo Appula still continue to run the legendary fireworks display company. Ambitious and strong, this red-haired, blue-eyed Italian came to America after proving himself as a brave soldier in Italy. He ran two speakeasies in the Bronx during Prohibition. He also owned Spano Ice, an ice delivery business. The police report referred to Frank as “a big man,” but his autopsy stated that he was 5' 6" and 155 pounds. He must have had a big personality. Three different sources, from both the Spano and Guerrieri families, say that he may have cheated on his wife (my grandmother) with his murderer’s wife, but none of these accusations are currently conclusive. His autopsy report revealed a cut near his groin which was "practically healed" when he had entered the coroner's office for the autopsy. A New York Post article states that that he carried a knife, but a knife was never mentioned in police or coroner reports. My mother knew very little about the shooting, but she had been told that his arms were caught in the sleeves of his coat at the time, so he couldn't defend himself. Coroner records corroborate this. His coat did not have a bullet hole in it (or blood on it) although it was extensively torn. His vest and shirt did have bullet holes and blood on them.

Frank Spano was buried in an unmarked grave. Mary was incapacitated at the time of the funeral. Apparently, a relative was talked into giving a grave plot to the family, but for some unknown reason they did not want to put a gravestone for Frank on it.

Mary Spano with her son Dominick.

Mary Spano's passport.

A collage of Mary Spano including her pictures of her family. Clockwise: Mary Spano, Frances (in the carriage) and Lena. Frances making her first communion. Frank, his ice truck, Mary holding baby Lena, Louie, Dominick, and Angelo. Mary's passport.

Mary Spano is my grandmother. In Italy she was Maria Sforza. Nuns taught her to embroider and she rode horses on her parents’ farm. She was from Bari, where the royal Sforza castle still stands today. Extremely pious, Mary prayed constantly and her closest confidants were priests. Mary, a sturdy, stoic woman, made bootleg beer and anisette in her bathtub and carried a gun to protect herself “from the mafia.” When I asked my mother what her mother would have done if she found out that Frank was cheating on her she said "she would have spoken to a priest." When I asked my Aunt Lena the same question she said, "she would have shot him!" My mother wasn't born until the day after her father was shot. My Aunt Lena was 10 years old when the shooting occurred.

Mary (on right) and a friend on their roof in the Bronx. Lena stands in front of them.
Mary Spano's mother sent her this burning-in-hell prayer card after Frank died. Mary's mother was living in Italy at the time. She suffered a stroke when she heard about the details of the murder, but she did not die from it.

The back of the prayer card features a pencil note from Mary. It says "Mother sent to me in 1935."

Dominick Spano as an adult.

Dominick's younger brothers, Louie and Angelo.

Dominick Spano is Mary and Frank’s oldest son. He was only 13 or 14 years old when his father was murdered in front of him. Dom and his two brothers bar backed in the speakeasy and helped their mother make the bootleg liquor. He was supposed to fight John Guerrieri’s son, Frank Guerrieri, but things went awry. The one thing Dom stressed was that his father was shot just as he was taking off his coat. He claimed that his father was defenseless because his arms were stuck in his sleeves. This is the only detail of the case that Dom ever shared with his brothers and sisters. My mother had always thought that her father had been shot in an apartment and not on the street. The police records revealed otherwise. Taking your coat off on the street in the cold month of March has a different connotation than taking your coat off in an apartment.
A bizarre article in the New York Post about the shooting. The New York Post article states that Frank carried a knife, but a knife was never mentioned in police or coroner reports. My mother knew very little about the shooting, but she had been told that his arms were caught in the sleeves of his coat at the time, so he couldn't defend himself. Coroner records corroborate this. His coat did not have a bullet hole in it (or blood on it) although it was extensively torn. His vest and shirt did have bullet holes and blood on them.

Cousin Frankie Spano worked for Frank at Spano Ice. Frankie identified the body in the morgue, hired the undertaker, organized the funeral, and dealt with the police while Mary was giving birth to my mother. He was very close with Frank Spano. Frankie liked to gamble and ran card games for money. My mother remembers hearing that Frankie took over control of Spano Ice after the murder. Mary was left without any income other than what she could eke out from her embroidery work. I believe that Spano Ice still exists to this day. An oil company in Yonkers goes by the name of Spano Fuel. Spano Fuel began as Spano Ice and was founded by the red-haired, blue eyed Spano family in the 1920s. This Spano family is now the leading political family in Yonkers. Nicholas Spano was formerly a state senator. I'm continuing to research this possible connection.
A census report shows that Frankie was married to Anna and they lived in Manhattan.

Anna Spano was Cousin Frankie's wife. She was Jewish. My grandmother was close with Anna and respected her opinion. Cousin Frankie and Anna had two children.

Is this Lucrezia and John Guerrieri? Lena Doino's granddaughter believes that this woman might be Lucrezia.

John Guerrieri is a barber from Italy. He was Frank’s neighbor in the Bronx, but he moved to Manhattan four months before the shooting. His nephew remembers him as “headstrong.” He is referred to as a “small man” in the police records. After he “willfully and feloniously shot several chambers of a pistol loaded with powder and a ball” at Frank, he threw away the gun and went into hiding. When he was found, he admitted to the shooting but declared himself “not guilty.” He was held in jail for one month until the case was mysteriously dismissed without even a mandatory manslaughter charge. A year after the shooting he opened a newer, larger barbershop in Manhattan. All of John's sons have passed away. John’s daughter-in-law, who was married to John's youngest son, had never been told about the murder. When I informed her of the 1935 shooting she said, “I’m not surprised.” She remembers him as a “tiny and wonderful man, with a temper.” He was "a wiseass, like her husband." John's granddaughter said that he was 4' 10" tall. She also told me that John adored his wife and was devastated when she died. Years after her death he would still break down in tears when he thought about her. John's granddaughter also informed me that all of John's sons were hemophiliacs. It is unknown if John knew this at the time of the shooting. Little Frankie Guerrieri was still young at the time. John's granddaughter's own father didn't find out about his hemophilia until he was an adult.
John Guerrieri's fingerprints were taken when he was caught.

The Guerrieri's lived in the Bronx four months before the shooting.

The Guerrieri's census address was listed as 4327 Bathgate and the Spano's address was 4327 3rd Ave. This map shows that the likely reason for this coincidence was that the census taker entered through the back door and wrote the 3rd Avenue address number on the form.

Lena Doino's granddaughter believes that this might be Lucrezia Guerrieri in the 1930's.

Lucrezia Guerrieri, is John’s wife from Naples, Italy. She had four sons. Her youngest son, John Jr. was born one year before the murder. At that time she was neighbors with the Spanos in the Bronx. John Jr. was over 6’ tall although his father was described as a very “small man.” Three different sources, from both the Spano and Guerrieri families, say that Lucrezia may have cheated on her husband with Frank Spano, but none of these accusations are currently conclusive. Lucrezia’s daughter-in-law remembers her a “nasty woman.” Lucrezia's granddaughter remembers her as a nice, chubby granny. Lucrezia died fairly young from heart problems. She was the carrier of the hemophilia gene, although she didn't suffer from it herself. Lucrezia had ambitions for her children. She didn't want them to grow up in the Bronx. She wanted them to grow up in Manhattan so they would speak English and not Italian.
Lucrezia's naturalization papers show her children's names and birth dates. The witnesses are Lena Doino and John Guerrieri.

A detail of the previous image. Lucrezia's naturalization papers show her children's names and birth dates. The witnesses are Lena Doino and John Guerrieri.

John Junior's DMV states that he was over 6' tall. His father was tiny. His niece said that he didn't look like his older brothers or his father. He looked like his mother (although she was also very short).

Detective Thomas F. Crane of the 17th Precinct in Manhattan was assigned to handle the murder case. He arrested John Guerrieri for homicide and held him in jail for one month. Hand-written notes on Crane’s police paperwork refer to Frank as a “big man” and John as a “small man.”
The police report.

The police report.

Catherine Spano is Frank Spano’s sister. When Mary wanted to name her baby Patricia in honor of a St. Patrick’s Day birth, Catherine talked her into naming the baby Frances, after Frank.

Dutch Schultz's mug shot.

Dutch Schultz aka Arthur Flegenheimer is an infamous Jewish mobster. Dutch owned a speakeasy at 3468 Third Ave. Frank Spano and John Guerrieri lived at 4327 Third Ave. Frank owned two speakeasies in the same neighborhood, near Arthur Avenue which was even closer to Dutch's speakeasy. It is highly likely that Frank and Dutch knew each other. Dutch bootlegged liquor from Canada and worked in trucking. So did Frank. Dutch wanted all of the speakeasies in the Bronx to buy his beer. When one Bronx speakeasy owner declined, Dutch hung him from his thumbs on a meat hook and allegedly wrapped a gauze bandage smeared with discharge from a gonorrhea infection over his eyes. Dutch was good friends with Tammany Hall leader Jimmy Hines. Dutch wanted to kill off Thomas Dewey, the district attorney who had set his sights on ending organized crime in New York, beginning by bringing down Dutch. This desire to kill the D.A. caused his own mobster associates to kill Dutch first. Dutch was killed by Murder Inc. a few months after my grandfather was murdered.
Dutch Schultz's mug shot.

Dutch had a speakeasy at 3468 Third Avenue. Frank Spano and John Guerrieri lived at 4327 Third Avenue.

A map showing the distance between the Brook Avenue speakeasy Dutch apprenticed at and Third Avenue where Frank and John lived. The exact location of Frank's speakeasies is not known, but they were near his apartment. It is likely that John Guerrieri's first barbershop was on or near Arthur Avenue as that was the center of business in the area at the time.

The District Attorney's main focus was bringing down Dutch Shultz and his pawns.

Dutch was shot by Murder Inc. to keep him from killing the District Attorney, Thomas Dewey. This occurred a few months after my grandfather was murdered.

Dr. Gonzales performing an autopsy.

Dr. Thomas A. Gonzales was The Chief Medical Examiner in New York City at the time of Frank’s murder. He was known for his distaste for lawyers. A cartoon hanging on his office wall stated "Lawyers, please make room for the bodies." He was a pioneer of forensics, utilizing that science to aid court cases and benefit the living. His five-page autopsy report was excrutiatingly detailed. Frank wore four mismatched socks, had a tattoo with four Chinese characters, and there were freckles on his penis. There was a “scar in the left groin… this is practically healed… covered with a black salve” and “there is an abrasion on the index finger of the left hand.” There were no bullet holes in Frank’s coat, nor was there any blood on it, although it was “extensively torn.”

Magistrate Hulon Capshaw was the New York City judge was in charge of Frank’s grand jury murder trial. In the beginning, Hulon seemed to be handling the case fairly. John admitted to the shooting, and was jailed without any bail. However, one month later, the case was dismissed without explanation. John did not even receive a mandatory manslaughter charge. Hulon was indebted to Jimmy Hines, who placed him in his high position in the New York court. Whatever Jimmy wanted, Hulon gave him. One month after my grandfather’s case was dismissed, both Hulon and Jimmy were tried for corruption in connection with Dutch Schultz, Jimmy’s buddy. Eventually, Hulon was disbarred and disallowed from practicing law. He ended up as a clerk in his brother’s law firm.

John Guerrieri is held without bail.

Without explanation the case against John Guerrieri is "dismissed." He was not even given a mandatory manslaughter charge.

John Guerrieri opened a new, larger barbershop in in 1936, one year after he shot and killed Frank Spano. This is his shop assistant in front of the new barbershop in 1937.

Magistrate Capshaw is disbarred, forbidding him to practice law.

Jimmy Hines was a Tammany Hall leader at the time of the murder. Incredibly powerful and influential, Tammany Hall was a Democratic Party political machine. It controlled New York City politics and helped immigrants, most notably the Irish, rise up in American politics from the 1790s to the 1960s. This buddy of Dutch Schultz had Magistrate Hulon Capshaw and other law enforcement officials in his pocket. Jimmy’s ties to corruption were revealed by Dutch’s nemesis, District Attorney Thomas Dewey. Jimmy was sent to Sing Sing prison.

The trial of Jimmy Hines.

Nicholas Zeccho was walking on the street where Frank and Dominick were at the time of the shooting. He and Dominick were key witnesses in the case. Unfortunately, the police records do not give any information about Nicholas’s testimony.

Dominick Grimaldi was Frank’s undertaker. The slogan on his stationery read “Open day and night.”
Dominick Grimaldi's letterhead.

Frances Flegenheimer was Dutch Schultz’s wife.

Lena Doino was Lucrezia’s friend and neighbor in Manhattan. Her husband Anthony Doino worked for Knickerbocker Ice. My grandmother was terrified of Knickerbocker Ice. She claimed that Knickerbocker Ice was run by the mafia.

Lena Doino (wedding photo)
Anthony Doino (on the left).

Lena Doino's husband also worked in the ice business.

Lena and her husband lived in the same building as John and Lucrezia Guerrieri.

Bessie Stitch

Bessie Stitch, an ex-Gibson girl, was Dr. Gonzales's Assistant. She sewed up corpses after the autopsies were finished.

Frank Spano and his family on the ice truck used to bootleg liquor from Canada.


Read through all of the above evidence carefully. Pore over the court documents, autopsy reports, and news articles. Come and see the play. Afterwards, join the conversation **HERE**. Comment as yourself or post anonymously to whisper your thoughts in my ear. Your insight is greatly appreciated.