A true story...



"Frank and Mary Spano (my grandparents) came to this country from Italy during the Roaring Twenties. They opened two speakeasies in the Bronx: one masquerading as a bakery, and the other one a secret nightclub. Shortly after Prohibition ended, Frank was shot and killed on the street in Manhattan. My mother was born on the same day he died.
Nobody knows why Frank was shot. Nothing was known about the killer, his motive, or a trial. Mary Spano took these secrets to her grave." - Cynthia von Buhler 



This is an immersive event. Each guest will be assigned a name and role. We encourage you to explore. Unlocked doors (or revolving bookshelves) should be entered. Ignore the advice your parents gave you as children, be nosy and talk to strangers.

Time is warped here; it is between 1933 (prohibition-era) - 1935.

A few days before the event you will receive three emails from Frank Spano's granddaughter, Cynthia von Buhler, with the secret password, instructions and evidence.

In order to have the best possible experience we recommend that you read the evidence Cynthia sends you before you show up.


Cast & Characters



Speakeasy Dollhouse
Off-Broadway, New York City, 2011-2014


Producer: Stageworks Media
Creator, writer and director: Cynthia von Buhler


Company Manager: PJ Mead
Stage Manager:  Asiya Abdulmajid
Production Manager: Justin Moore
Merchandise Manager: Kate Black


"These are factual people who had something to do with the murder of my grandfather, Frank Spano. No names have been changed." -Cynthia von Buhler




Frank Spano is my grandfather. 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 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.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 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.

Dominick Spano is Mary and Frank’s oldest son. He was only 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. Dom and his brothers raised homing pigeons. He enjoyed writing and disliked fighting.  

Frankie Spano is Frank’s cousin. He 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. 
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.”   

Lucrezia Guerrieri is John’s attractive wife from Naples, Italy. She had four sons. There was a four-year age gap between her second and third 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.” Her granddaughter remembers her a typical, sweet grandmother. Lucrezia carried a hemophiliac gene that was passed to her sons. It is inconclusive if she knew that they were affected with this disease when they were boys.

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


Detective Thomas F. Crane is the cop 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.”

Dutch Schultz aka Arthur Flegenheimer is an infamous Jewish mobster. Dutch apprenticed at a speakeasy in a Brook Avenue tenement building in the Bronx. He opened his own speakeasy on Third Avenue in the same area. Frank Spano lived on Third Avenue and owned two speakeasies. 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.


Jimmy Hines is 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 eventually sent to Sing Sing prison.


Magistrate Hulon Capshaw is the New York City judge in charge of Frank’s grand jury murder trial. In the beginning, Hulon seemed to handle 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.


Frances Flegenheimer is Dutch Schultz’s wife. Dutch met her when she was a cigarette girl in one of his clubs.


Dr. Thomas A. Gonzales is The Chief Medical Examiner in New York City at the time of Frank’s murder. He was known for his distaste for lawyers. He was a pioneer of forensics, utilizing that science to aid court cases and benefit the living. His five-page autopsy report was excruciatingly detailed. Frank wore four mismatched socks, had a tattoo with four Chinese characters, and had 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”.


Lulu Rosencrantz is Dutch Shultz's body guard.


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


Lena Doino is 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.


Bessie Stitch is an ex-Gibson girl and Dr. Gonzales's Assistant. She sewed up corpses after the autopsies were finished.
Officer Dempsey is Detective Crane's assistant. He was present at the crime scene.


Previous performers, corpses and special guests:

Edgar Oliver, Neil Gaiman, Amanda Palmer, Jason Webley, Kim Boekbinder, E. James Ford, Aileen Leung, E. Stephen Frederick, Veronica Varlow, Porcelain Dalya, Cormac Bride, Katherine Bergeron, Nicole Schiff, Dennis Preski, Miss Susie, Stephanie Stetson, Dogan Perese, Walter Sickert, Edrie, Stav Meishar, Foley, David A. Desrosiers, Jon Sadleir, Rich Burns, Sarah Coombs, Brian Bateson, Conner, Baron Misuraca, Cliff Fuller, John Giganti, Svetlana Shmulyian and The Delancey Trio.


Speakeasy Dollhouse photographs featured on this page are ©2013 by Margee Challa, Dese'Rae L. Stage, Arin Sang-urai, Kamila Harris, Esther Crotty, Steve Prue, Kate Black, Neil Moskowitz and Janelle Rominski.

WHAT DO YOU THINK HAPPENED?

Read through all of the evidence carefully. Pore over the court documents, autopsy reports, and news articles. Then, if you are in the New York City area, attend the play. Afterwards, post your thoughts here. Am I missing something? I want to hear from the Spano, Guerrieri, and Sforza families. I want to hear from people who have seen the play and read the book. I want to hear from the actors in the play. I want to hear from you. Comment as yourself or post anonymously to whisper your thoughts in my ear. 

Click **HERE** to leave your feedback on the EVIDENCE page.