Beating death of gay rights activist remains unsolved nearly two years later

Posted at 9:31 PM, May 29, 2014
and last updated 2014-07-18 12:18:27-04

QUEENS, N.Y. (PIX11) — Danyal Lawson still can’t bear to eat dinner alone.

It’s been nearly two years since his husband, 62-year-old Louis Rispoli, failed to come back from a late-night walk.

Rispoli, an administrator with the Greenwich House Music School, was last seen 10 blocks away from their Woodside apartment.

A witness told police that Rispoli was bashed in the back of the head after getting out of a light-colored sports car with three other white men in their 20s.

It happened about 2:15 a.m. on Oct 20, 2012. The car had stopped on the corner of 43rd Avenue and 42nd Street in Sunnyside.

“We were together for 32 ½ years, and he would constantly go out for walks,” Lawson recalled to PIX11 News. “He didn’t go out to meet anybody. He was really part of the community. Everyone who knew him, loved him.”


Louis Rispoli, 62, would often go for walks to clear his head. On his last walk in 2012, he did not take his phone or wallet. The motive for the attack remains unclear.

Lawson doesn’t think his husband knew his attackers and believes he might have been targeted for a robbery and perhaps tried leading the young men to a building away from his own home.

“Lou was really a street-smart New Yorker. Lou would never get into a car with somebody he didn’t know,” Lawson said.

Detective Thomas Hirdt of the 108th Squad said the Hate Crimes Task Force had investigated this as a potential bias crime but noted that robbery was also a possible motive.

But he pointed out to PIX11 News that witnesses did not notice any tension between Rispoli and the three men when they emerged from the car.

“No one was holding him, grabbing him,” Hirdt told PIX11 from the 108 Squad Room. “From what the witnesses said, they all seemed to be getting along. Suddenly, out of nowhere, one of the suspects strikes the victim in the head, and he falls to the ground.”

Unfortunately, there is no surveillance video of the attack, and the NYPD had to make sketches of two attackers.

The lighter-skinned male hit Rispoli over the head. The other man walking with Rispoli had darker skin. A third man stayed near the corner of 43rd Avenue and 42nd Street, by the light-colored car. Witnesses said the car had a loud muffler.

Danyal Lawson didn’t know his husband was missing until the next morning.

He started calling various hospitals and learned there was a ‘John Doe’ at Elmhurst. When he arrived at the medical center, he realized just how bad Rispoli’s injuries were.

“They had done surgery and removed part of his left brain,” Lawson said. “They (the attackers) had done so much damage, he would have been a vegetable for the rest of his life.”

Louis Rispoli died five days later, on Oct. 25, 2012.

Lawson recalled how joyful he was, when he and Lou could marry on Aug. 10, 2011, on the 31st anniversary of the day they met.

Rispoli was a great cook and made all the food for their 130 guests. The reception was held in the backyard garden of their building on 51st Street in Woodside.

Rispoli had written many love notes to Lawson, including one called “Marry Me Haiku.”

“Every day, I get up and I miss Lou,” Lawson told PIX11. “We loved each other very much.”

The NYPD is offering a $22,000 reward for anyone with information that leads to the arrest and conviction of Rispoli’s killers.

Anyone with a tip can called Crime Stoppers at 1-800-577-TIPS. All calls are kept confidential, and tipsters receive a code number that allow them to receive cash, if the case is successfully solved.