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Two May Memorials for Slain Queens Gay Activist

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A police sketch of two suspects in the October murder of Lou Rispoli. | NYPD
A police sketch of two suspects in the October murder of Lou Rispoli. | NYPD

The brutal and mysterious murder of Queens gay community leader Lou Rispoli, 62, on October 20 of last year has yet to be solved. But his friends and loved ones will remember him on two occasions in May, with a concert and a memorial service in his honor.

Lou Rispoli to be celebrated in Mozart and in words

On Friday, May 3 at 8 p.m., a Mozart Celebration for Lou takes place at Manhattan’s Greenwich House Music School at 46 Barrow Street, where he was “a backstage mom who made sure everything ran perfectly,” said pianist Sara Davis Buechner, an organizer of the event. She will perform along with pianist Danyal Lawson, Rispoli’s husband, and violinist Stephanie Chase. The concert will be followed by a candlelight vigil at 9:45, at which all are welcome, including those who cannot attend the concert.

Tickets for the concert are $20, payable in cash at the door, and will benefit the German Diaz Piano Scholarship Fund, named for the longtime piano teacher at Greenwich House who will be on hand. Reservations are encouraged but not required by calling 646-325-8039 or emailing rainie@creagercole.com

A memorial service is also planned for Saturday, May 11 at 2 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Church at 160 Central Park West at 75th Street. Those who would like to attend are asked to RSVP to LouRispoliFriends@gmail.com.

Buechner, who went to Juilliard with Lawson, said Rispoli and his widower “were one of the first committed couples I knew. They were brave pioneers.”

She said, “It’s so shocking and upsetting.” The neighborhood where Rispoli was killed “was their home for decades. I don’t want it to go cold-case. I’m a trans person and acutely aware of the dangers from the haters out there. I understand the threat of violence.”

The killing has yet to be classified as a hate crime nor has any rationale for the murder been uncovered.

Lawson is looking forward to the concert.

“I love playing Mozart,” he said, explaining he plans “a slow movement from a sonata.”

Buechner said, “Making music is such a positive thing. I said to Danny, let’s make something beautiful out of something so dark. Mozart represents hope and purity and spirit.”

The lack of progress in the investigation is frustrating to Lawson.

“I’m sad and a little bit angry,” he said. “For me, it is not about vengeance, but closure. The part that is sad is having this question mark hanging over me for my whole life. He was an amazing human being. You only had to meet Lou for a few minutes in order for it to last a lifetime.”

Lou Rispoli.
Lou Rispoli.

Lawson said people are coming in for the concert “from Brazil, Amsterdam, Singapore, Germany, England, California, Pittsburgh, and Washington — all over the world. He touched a lot of people’s lives. It keeps me going to know all the love and incredible support that is out there.”

Lawson spoke about the difficulty of his loss.

“We were together for 32 years — a lifetime,” he said. “I am surviving, but it is really hard. At concerts, he was always there for me and it will be hard to go on without him. He gave me strength. He was a man of many passions — not one thing. But I was the most important thing in his life. His purpose in life was to care for others. When he was there, you felt everything was taken care of. He left a big hole in a lot of people’s hearts.”

Police released sketches of two suspects in the murder in January, and a $22,000 reward has been offered for information leading to their arrest and conviction. One suspect is described as a white male in his 20s, the other as a Latino male in his 30s. Witnesses to the late night attack outside of 41-00 43rd Avenue in Sunnyside reported that the two suspects approached Rispoli, briefly spoke with him, and then delivered a fatal blow to his head using a blunt object.

In the immediate aftermath of Rispoli’s death, out gay City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, a friend of the victim who represents Sunnyside, organized a candlelight vigil, and fliers with the suspects’ sketches have been widely disseminated. However, according to Van Bramer, “We do not have any new or different news to report on the investigation. I speak weekly with the commanding officer of the 108th precinct, Donald Powers. When police released the sketches, Danyal and I and his friends distributed fliers and there were a couple of leads — but ultimately nothing has yet produced meaningful progress in the investigation.

Van Bramer voiced determination to see the investigation through to a successful end, but also exasperation.

“It is incredibly frustrating that such a brutal murder could take place and no suspects have emerged,” he said. “I will keep it in the forefront of the NYPD’s minds, and Inspector Powers knows how important it is to pursue the suspects in this murder. They know I will not let this go by the wayside. I believe him when he says that detectives are on this aggressively. I hope that the memorial services will keep it in forefront of people’s minds.”

The councilman reiterated criticism of the NYPD’s immediate response to the murder.

“The investigation and initial response to the 911 call was not handled correctly,” he said. “The call was reported after 2 a.m. on that Friday night into Saturday morning and the police responded quickly, but they loaded Lou into an ambulance without ID and he was admitted as a John Doe and they left him after an hour. The evidence collection van only showed up Saturday at 6 p.m. Clearly in an attempted murder that became a murder when he died, protocol should have called for collection of evidence immediately.”

Powers, Van Bramer said, has been responsive to his criticism.

“The inspector shared my concern and said he would do an internal investigation on response to the crime scene,” the councilman said. “I have not to date received an update on whether that investigation has been completed.”

Van Bramer added, “I loved Lou very much. He was a very dear friend as is Danyal, and we’re never going to stop fighting for Lou Rispoli.”

Anyone with information that might help solve the case is urged to call Crime Stoppers at 800-577-8477 or report it online at nypdcrimestoppers.com.

Updated 5:17 pm, July 20, 2018
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