Crime & Courts

Wife charged with killing husband in Gaston County; 2 others slain

Crystal Gambino fronted her own band. Husband Giovanni told friends he was the grandson of one of the country’s most notorious organized crime bosses.

Monday night, shots rang out at the small, northeastern Gaston County home they shared on Alexis-Lucia Road.

Police say “Gio” Gambino, 40, died, along with Geoffrey Glenn Gilliland, 39, and Stephanie Lynn Sanchez, 33. Gilliland and Sanchez lived at the Greenleafe Inn in Charlotte. Crystal Leah Gambino, who grew up in Alexis, remained jailed Tuesday without bail in connection with the triple slaying.

Gambino, 42, has been charged with first-degree murder in the shooting death of her husband. Further charges are expected, police said.

Gaston County Police said they were called to the home about 8 p.m. Monday. A concerned family member met officers outside, and police found the victims after they entered the house.

Police have not released a motive for the shootings. They arrested Crystal Gambino a short time later at a relative’s home in nearby Stanley.

A portrait of the couple pulled together from interviews with neighbors and a collection of public records reveals an unwieldy business network and a sometimes stormy marriage.

Gio Gambino was born in New York. For years, he told residents and business owners in rural, unincorporated Alexis that he was the grandson of the late Carlo Gambino – “the boss of bosses” and one of New York’s most notorious and powerful organized crime chiefs in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s. Public records don’t reveal an immediate family connection.

Crystal Gambino is a singer-songwriter whose Crystal Gambino Band performs Americana and alternative rock music, according to her biography on, a website that promotes musicians.

The couple lived in a three-bedroom home valued at $78,000. It was built by Crystal’s great-grandfather, said her cousin, Bob Hager, who lives a mile away.

Hager said that he doesn’t know Crystal that well but that Gio attended services with him from time to time at Mount Zion Baptist Church.

“Everybody liked Gio,” Hager said. “He was a good father, and he had great concern for his wife. He asked me to pray for her on one occasion.”

Public records indicate the Gambinos’ marriage had been troubled at times.

In 2009, Crystal took out a temporary restraining order against her husband and filed for divorce, requesting custody and child support for the couple’s daughter, now 9. The case was dismissed. That same year, Gio Gambino was charged with communicating threats against his wife. The charge was later dismissed.

The Gambinos filed for bankruptcy in 2009 and 2012; the latter occurred after the home became the subject of foreclosure proceedings. Crystal Gambino also has two DWI convictions on her record during the last 15 years.

The couple appear to have been involved in a complicated series of business enterprises.

Records indicate Gio Gambino started a nonprofit charitable and religious organization, Sons of Italy San Giovanni Lodge 2837, as well as an entertainment company. Both listed the Alexis-Lucia address.

He incorporated Gambino Enterprises in Nevada, although the registration was revoked a decade ago, public records indicate. The couple’s bankruptcy filing also included Gambino New York Deli & Specialty Foods LLC and Gambino Wine Imports, records show.

Gio Gambino also appears to have used two other names, Demitrios Stokes and Demitrios Hilliard. At one time, each name was listed as a registered voter by the N.C. Board of Elections, though only Gio Gambino, a registered Republican, remained active Tuesday. All three names appear on records with the same North Carolina driver’s license number.

The killings stunned neighbors in the 1,200-resident community that longtime resident Brenda Propst calls “Mayberry.” The business district includes a post office, D & R Country Store, a couple of auto body shops and the Old Firehouse Shop where general merchandise is sold. Crime is rare.

Propst, 68, said she’s been ill and hasn’t seen Crystal Gambino in more than a year. But she recalled how she and the woman always waved to each other, sat and chatted on Crystal Gambino’s porch a couple of times and how Gambino would always say “I love you” when they ran into each other at the post office.

“She grew up in this area,” Propst said. “We went to the same church, Mount Zion Church. I liked them a lot.”

David Robinson, co-owner of Old Firehouse Shop, shook his head in disbelief when asked about the killings.

“I’ve known her since she was born,” Robinson said. “Normal people. He ran a wholesale wine business. Just down to earth. I can’t explain it.”

Researcher Maria David contributed.

Joe Marusak: 704-358-5067, @jmarusak