Past Treasure of the Month – April 2021
During the late 19th century, Vincent Guzzi opened a grocery store at the northeast corner of Market and 8th Street in Galveston. In 1903, Guzzi was murdered on the property, and while a suspect was charged with the killing, various details of the case remain a mystery.
Born in Italy in 1857, Vincenzo “Vincent” Guzzi immigrated to the United States in 1882. After settling in Galveston, he married Texas native Lena Neumann in 1889. At the time of their marriage, Vincent was 32 years old; Lena was about 15. According to the 1900 Census, the Guzzis had four young children. Together, Vincent and Lena operated a corner store at 728 Market Street. The family lived in rooms above and behind the shop.
In October 1902, Lena filed for divorce from Vincent. According to Lena’s family, she and the children moved out of the house after Vincent physically assaulted her during an argument. She stayed with her parents for several weeks before eventually reconciling with Vincent. The Neumann family was unaware of any subsequent domestic trouble until late February 1903.
Around 10:00 pm on February 28, Vincent Guzzi was shot several times at close range near the stable on his property. Lena Guzzi told police that she and her husband were preparing to go to bed when they heard someone outside shout to them that their horse had gotten out of the yard. She claimed that Vincent Guzzi took a gun from the bedroom and went outside to investigate. She then heard multiple gunshots and screamed for help from a window. When neighbors arrived, they found Mr. Guzzi dead in the yard. Police arrived on the scene and began questioning nearby witnesses.
Within two days, Galveston resident Elijah Nicks was taken into custody. Nicks confessed to killing Guzzi but claimed that he had been shot at first. Guzzi had indeed fired three shots from his weapon but Nicks was not injured. Nicks immediately fled the scene.
During police questioning, Nicks revealed that he had received a telephone message earlier in the day from Mrs. Guzzi asking him to come to the residence that evening. The two had been acquainted for some time, as Nicks had been a frequent customer at the store when he worked as a streetcar conductor on the Market Street route. During the spring of 1902, Nicks had witnessed Vincent Guzzi verbally and physically abusing his wife at their shop. He told Guzzi to stop or he would have him arrested. According to Nicks, he and Guzzi encountered each other on the street several times after this, and each time Guzzi told Nicks he was going to kill him. Lena also testified that her husband threatened to kill Nicks for interfering during the couple’s altercation in the store.
When Lena filed for divorce several months later, she asked Nicks to be a witness in her case and provide testimony on the abuse he had witnessed at the store. Nicks declined to become involved in the dispute, and the case was later dropped.
Lena Guzzi and Elijah Nicks provided two separate versions of what happened that night. Nicks expressed at the trial that Lena had in fact met him in the barn the night of February 28; she then called her husband outside where he encountered Nicks, prompting the shootout. Mrs. Guzzi contended that she had not summoned Nicks to the home but it was possible that her husband had in order to trap Nicks. She denied being an eyewitness to the night’s events and also claimed that since her husband’s death, her life had been threatened by several of his associates.
In November 1903, Elijah Nicks was found guilty of murder and was sentenced to 40 years in the state penitentiary. He appealed the case and was granted a new trial the following year. This time, he pled guilty to manslaughter and received a sentence of five years.
Lena Guzzi continued to operate Guzzi’s Store for the next several years. When Elijah Nicks was released from prison in 1909, the two quickly married and relocated to Nashville, Tennessee. They later moved to Louisiana and are recorded as spouses on Elijah Nicks’s 1918 draft registration card. However, the relationship ended at some point, and Elijah Nicks married his second wife, Eliska Grice, in 1923. The couple had 7 children together and lived in the New Orleans area until his death in 1961.
Lena resumed the use of “Guzzi” as her surname after her split from Elijah Nicks. By 1930, she had returned to Nashville where she operated a root beer stand. She owned a home where she lived with two of her sons, Frank and Louis Guzzi. She died in 1941 and is buried in Nashville.
Guzzi’s store and the surrounding properties were acquired by St. Mary’s Hospital around 1920. The building was razed and a nursing school was constructed on the site. Today, the entrance to UTMB’s John Sealy Hospital is located near the original site of Guzzi’s Store.