In 1970, FBI agents installed a wiretap on the telephone inside the Columbus Park Social Club located at 5th and Troost. This club was deep in the heart of what most K.C. residents called “Little Italy.” After the western District of Missouri U.S. Attorney obtained an indictment on the boss Nick Civella, the mob learned a couple of big bettors were going to be called as witnesses. One of these bettors was a Chevrolet dealer named Lester Moore. A mob associate named Carl Spero had introduced Moore into the Civella gambling ring, and Nick held him responsible for Moore.
Nick Civella sent word that Lester Moore was to be “taken care of.” By this time, Kansas authorities had convicted Carl Spero of a large warehouse theft, and he was incarcerated. The duty to handle this witness fell to the eldest Spero brother, Nick Spero. After consulting with Carl Spero and his other brothers, Mike and Joe Spero, Nick sent word back that this was not their job and refused to murder Moore.
Nick Spero grew up in what was known as “The North End” or “Little Italy” during World War II. He came from a large family with three brothers and two sisters. The Spero bothers, and their cousins ran the streets like the Gopher boys of New York City. Nick, being the oldest, was always the leader. The North End looked like the Mulberry street neighborhood in Manhattan, complete with two mafia social clubs, several small Italian restaurants, and a corner store ran by a part-time gambler called Cheebay. Nobody knew his real name. The homes were townhomes built out of red brick in the 19th or early 20th Century Federal style. They were very narrow with two or three floors above ground, and many had two floors below the street level. A few had tunnels under the street to a relative’s house. They used these tunnels to transport alcohol during prohibition. Some homes looked more like storefront businesses than residences. The Spero brothers and their cousins knew the back alleys and streets between Little Italy, the City Market, and downtown. They often got work helping produce vendors unload vegetables. They were all enthralled with the older gangsters at the Northview Social Club, where men like brothers Nick and Carl Civella held court out front on the sidewalk on warm days. They saw these men had respect and power, and they wanted to be part of that mysterious thing that scared most other men.
Nick got his first jobs with trucking companies in the East Bottoms just a few blocks away. He was a natural leader, and soon, he had a crew of other Teamsters stealing small appliances, cigarettes, watches, film, booze, and other desired items from the parked trailers. He graduated to holding up drivers on the road. He knew the schedule and could tell his gang exactly how to intercept a truck loaded with easy to sell merchandise. The drivers knew better than to resist, so they just took a small payoff and reported it as a robbery to their superiors.
Nick was not just an ordinary thief. He wanted more power inside the Teamsters Union and hatched a plot to increase his value to the freight line, Yellow Freight. First, he had his crew steal a load of liquor, and then he went to his bosses and told them he could recover the load. When he returned the load, minus a few cases of bourbon, they promoted Nick to a supervisor’s job. Of course, thefts increased after this promotion. In the end, they offered Nick Spero a cash settlement to just quit.
During these years, as Nick Spero matured into his 30s, FBI agents started making observations that he was a frequent visitor to the Columbus Park Social club. They witnessed him having conversations with the local crime bosses, Nick and Carl Civella. Nick Civella was the leader, while Carl was more likely to deal with people like Nick Spero. Nick Spero was running a crew who burglarized jewelry and fur stores, clothing warehouses and robbing Yellow Freight and other truck lines during this time. Nick Spero was a rising young mobster, but the generation gap caught him in a bind.
Nick Spero was of an age that he wanted to dress like his hippy peers with bell bottoms and flower printed shirts. Spero grew his hair long and had facial hair. But the boss, Nick Civella, had a few ironclad rules for his made guys and all associates. The dress code included conservative shirts and slacks, clean cut hairstyles, and no facial hair. Nick Spero rebelled on all accounts. Nick Spero grew his hair out to almost shoulder length and sported a long Fu Manchu beard.
An FBI informant told his controller, “What the…? This guy dresses like a f^&*@ hippy.”
Despite his rebellious nature, Nick Spero was a good thief and had a successful crew, so he continued to operate as an associate. When Nick Civella ordered a man named Sam Palma killed, someone in the hit team got Nick Spero to help set up a scene where the murder would appear as a suicide. The next day Palma’s body and the murder weapon were found lying across the grave of his father. While this did not fool the authorities, the murdered mobster’s family bought the story.
Nick Spero grew in power among his fellow Teamsters. He bought an R.C. Cola and Nehi Soda soft drink dealership and hired several salespeople and drivers. When a storeowner did not want to install a soda machine or buy his brands, Nick Spero made a personal visit, and usually, they became customers.
In the early 1970s, Civella ordered the Spero brothers to take care of Lester Moore. Because of his position as a trusted Civella Family associate, Nick Spero was expected to carry out this order. But, Spero was building his power base within the Kansas City Local of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Union and the criminal community, so he refused. He sent word that Lester Moore was a Civella problem and not a Spero problem.
Later the FBI asked Spero why he hadn’t officially joined the Civella organization. His reply was, “I ain’t no jock strap and don’t want to be one. They use you until your stretch is all gone, then forget about you. I’ve always been my own man. The only man I listen to is my father, and he is dead”.
On April 11, 1973, a patrol car will find Nick Spero’s jockstrap yellow Cadillac convertible parked on a back road in a suburban neighborhood. The officers open the trunk to find the body of Nick Spero. He was dressed in combat boots, a silky patterned shirt, and bright green with yellow flower-patterned trousers. The autopsy stated someone shot Nick Spero twice in the body and once in the head.
The police or FBI will never solve this murder. They cannot get an informant to finger any specific person. Nick Civella forgot one thing, “When you set out to kill one brother, you had better kill them all.” This hit would be the start of the bloody Civella-Spero mob war in Kansas City.
THIS LIST OF LINKS IS NOT AN ALL-ENCOMPASSING SOURCE CITING. ALL OF THE INFORMATION USED IN THIS ARTICLE CAN BE EASILY FOUND ONLINE. LINKS BELOW WERE USED AS SOURCES AND ARE RECOMMENDED READING FOR SYNOVA’S READERS. SYNOVA STRIVES TO CITE ALL THE SOURCES USED DURING HER CASE STUDY, BUT OCCASIONALLY A SOURCE MAY BE MISSED BY MISTAKE. IT IS NOT INTENTIONAL, AND NO COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT IS INTENDED.
Recommended Works:Brothers against Brothers: The Civella-Spero War
Nick Civella: The Kansas City Mafia and the Teamsters Union
About our Wonderful Guest Blogger:
Gary Jenkins retired from the Kansas City Police Department in 1996. He served 25 years with 12 years in the Intelligence Unit investigating the mob. Jenkins attended the University of Missouri School of Law and was admitted to the Missouri Bar in 2000. He produced and released four documentary films. The most recent documentaries were Gangland Wire and Brothers against Brothers: The Civella Spero War. He wrote Leaving Vegas: The True Story of How FBI Wiretaps Ended Mob Domination of Las Vegas Casinos. This book recounts the inside story of the 1970s investigation into skimming from Las Vegas casinos. He created a Mob Tour app titled the Kansas City Mob Tour. He produces and hosts a mob-oriented podcast called Gangland Wire Crime Stories. The podcast can be found on all the usual podcast apps and at his website https://ganglandwire.com/
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