The Spero Brothers of Kansas City

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Mystery and Crime  |  House: Booksie Classic

Then came challengers. By 1973, Nick Civella and his associates evidently thought their sternest test was coming from four brothers named Spero — Nick, Michael, Joseph and Carl. One by one over the years, the Spero brothers were thrust aside, each time with bloody, headline-making results.

In April 1973, Nick Spero’s body was discovered in the trunk of a 1966 Cadillac convertible parked along a secluded street in the Village of Oakwood in Clay County. The 37-year-old Spero — who appeared on the Kansas City Crime Commission’s 1970s list of the organized crime family and whose occupation was listed as a truckdriver — had been shot twice by a .38-caliber weapon.

The three surviving Spero brothers blamed the henchmen of Nick Civella and his brother and chief lieutenant, Carl Civella. The Civillas’ motive, informants thought, was fear that Nick Spero was trying to gain power in the Teamsters union local. The Civellas had made important inroads into that local.

In May 1978, Michael and Joseph Spero were sitting in a booth at the Virginian Tavern on Admiral Boulevard, and Carl Spero was standing at the bar. Men wearing masks entered, walked up to the booth and opened fire.

Michael Spero, 39, was killed. Joseph Spero was wounded. Carl Spero, who tried to escape, was shot as he crossed the street and wound up paralyzed from the waist down. Joseph Spero later wrote a letter to authorities identifying the gunmen as three Civella proteges.

In retaliation, Joseph Spero made a remote-controlled bomb to place under the car of Civella’s street boss, whom Spero thought was one of the gunmen at the Virginian Tavern. In May 1979, shortly before it was to have been used, the bomb was seized by Kansas City police and federal agents. Joseph Spero was convicted in the plot that October.

A year later, in June 1980, a bomb exploded at a Clay County storage shed, hurling Joseph Spero 50 yards through the wall of the shed, killing him instantly. At first authorities thought Spero, 48, accidentally set off the bomb. A decade later, an FBI agent quoted an informant as saying the dynamite had been booby-trapped on orders of the Civella organization.

The feud carried on until January 1984, when the last surviving Spero brother died in an explosion at a used-car lot owned by his cousin on East 12th Street. Carl Spero was 44 when the blast took place and still using a wheelchair because of the wounds he suffered at the Virginian Tavern in 1978.

Through the cacophony of the 1970s, through the murders and fires and explosions and retributions, the Civella group maintained its grip on the local mob.

Submitted: February 10, 2019

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