Ciro Terranova

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Ciro Terranova
New York City Police Department
mugshot of Terranova
Born July 1888 (1888-07)
Corleone, Sicily, Italy
Died February 20, 1938 (1938-02-21) (age 49)
New York, New York, U.S.
Occupation Gangster
Children Natalie and Libby

Ciro "The Artichoke King" Terranova (July 1888 − February 20, 1938) was a New York City gangster and one time underboss of the Morello crime family.

Early life[edit]

Ciro Terranova was born in the town of Corleone, Sicily. In 1893, Ciro moved to New York with his father, mother, four sisters, brothers Vincenzo and Nicolo to meet half brother Giuseppe Morello, who had arrived six months earlier. Years later, Ciro, Vincenzo, Nicolo, and Giuseppe would found the powerful Morello crime family.

Due to lack of work in the New York area, Terranova and his family only stayed there for about a year. They eventually traveled to Louisiana, where the father planted sugar cane, then moved to Bryan, Texas, where they worked as cotton pickers. After two years in Texas, malaria struck the family. They moved back to New York in 1896.

Return to New York[edit]

Ciro and Vincent went to school and worked at the family business, a plastering store, on evenings and weekends. Ciro later worked as a waiter at a restaurant owned by his stepbrother Giuseppe, at the rear of the Prince Street Saloon. In 1903, Giuseppe was charged with the barrel murders but released due to lack of evidence. After the trials ended in June 1903, the Morello crime family continued to deal with police searches and harassment. On one such occasion Ciro, Vincent, and his nephews Charlie and Nick Sylvester were arrested and held overnight. Another time, Ciro was arrested while trying to find a doctor for Charlie.[citation needed]

Rise to power[edit]

When Ignazio "the Wolf" Lupo and Ciro's brother Giuseppe were sent to prison on counterfeiting charges, Ciro, Vincent, and Nick filled the power vacuum. They soon rose to be the top gangsters of Italian Harlem, running the Morello family.

Ciro earned his nickname, "the Artichoke King", by purchasing artichokes at $6.00 a crate from California, then selling them in New York at a 30-40% profit. Ciro's violent reputation preceded him, frightening vegetable sellers into buying them. Giuseppe Carulli one such vegetable seller, in Brooklyn, NY, stood up to Terranova refusing to buy his artichokes from Ciro ignoring various threats. Carulli and a few others siding with him successfully stood up to Ciro and refused to purchase artichokes until after the ban. Carulli went on to build a successful produce business opening multiple outlets in Brooklyn under the name Carulli and Sons delivering to restaurants and hotels in the New York area.

In 1916, Joe DiMarco, a gambling joint operator, challenged the power of Ciro and the Morellos. The Morellos then conspired with the Navy Street Gang to kill DiMarco and gave the job to Leo Lauritano, the Navy Street leader. Lauritano in turn passed the job on to Mike Fetto.

Accounts differ as to what happened next. In one narrative Fetto went to DiMarco's club to kill him but could not identify DiMarco and returned without finishing the job, which was then given to John "Jonny Left" Esposito, with Fetto as his assistant. Esposito likewise could not find Dimarco, so he killed Charles Lombardi instead. Fetto eventually caught up with DiMarco and murdered him.

In another account of the Mafia-Camorra War, Fetto shot Lombardi thinking he was DiMarco. A third Morello associate in the room, Giuseppe Verrizano, ended up killing DiMarco.

Change in power[edit]

After the DiMarco murder, the police arrested hitman John Esposito. Esposito then implicated Ciro, who was indicted on the two murders. However, the charges against Ciro were soon dropped. The reason was that the testimony against Ciro was given by co-conspirators and accomplices and under New York law outside corroboration was necessary. Two weeks after the DiMarco hit, but before his arrest, Esposito was ordered to kill Charles Ubriaco and Ciro’s half-brother Nicholas, who were discussing peace terms with rival gang members.

By 1920 the Morello-Terranova-Lupo rule was being challenged by Giuseppe "Joe the Boss" Masseria, an up-and-coming gangster. Vincent Morello was murdered on East 116 St. A powerful ally of the Morello Family, Umberto "Rocco" Valenti, was killed by Charles "Lucky" Luciano, then a member of the Masseria family. After Valenti's death, many of Ciro's men switched sides to Masseria. Even Peter Morello switched sides and became one of Masseria's most trusted lieutenants, even though the Masseria gang had killed his brother. When the dust settled, Ciro controlled the 116th Street Crew in Upper Manhattan and Masseria ruled the Bronx.

Troubled murder contract[edit]

On December 7, 1929, the board of directors of the Tepecano Democratic Club threw a banquet in honor of Judge H. Vitale at the Roman Gardens in the Bronx. Over 70 guests attended, including Ciro, six of his gunmen, and numerous political figures, police officers, and friends. While Judge Vitale was giving his speech at 1:30 a.m., seven gunmen entered the dining room. They stole money and jewelry from the guests, along with the gun of detective Arthur C. Johnson. The incident was to be kept quiet until it could be looked into. However, within three hours, all the stolen items had been returned.[1]

At the time, it was believed that Terranova had staged the Roman Gardens robbery to steal back a murder contract that he had signed. The contract was for $30,000 to murder Frankie Yale and Frankie Marlow. Ciro had paid the hitmen an advance of $5,000, with $25,000 to be paid after the job was done. However, after the hitmen killed Marlow and Yale, they did not receive the remaining $25,000 from Ciro. The hitmen then threatened to turn the contract over to the police (although how they would profit from this move is unknown).

Terranova by some accounts stated that he wanted to see the contract to refresh his memory; if the signature were indeed his, he would pay the rest. Instead, according to this version of events, Ciro staged the Roman Gardens holdup to get the contract. He was released when everything blew over. Vitale was removed from the bench in March 1930.

Castellammarese War[edit]

While the Castellammarese War was going on, Joseph "Joe Cargo" Valachi tried to patch up his friendship with Ciro and even befriended Ciro's driver. Tommaso "Tommy" Gagliano (who later became boss of the Lucchese crime family) then asked Valachi to take his side in the gang war.

Valachi's first assignment was to kill Ciro's driver; instead, Valachi killed Ciro's nephew, Joseph Catania. At Catania's funeral, Terranova swore revenge. Valachi also claimed to have killed Peter Morello, Ciro's half brother, but Lucky Luciano said that Albert Anastasia and Frank Scalise killed Morello.

On April 15, 1931, Masseria himself was murdered. Terranova, who drove the killers to the Masseria hit, was reportedly so unnerved after the murder that he could not put the car in gear. When the word of this went out, Ciro's reputation suffered. Many[who?] viewed this time as the beginning of Ciro's downfall.

During the early 1930s, New York mayor Fiorello LaGuardia led a successful effort to decriminalize the artichoke trade, destroying Terranova's power base. By the time of his death, Terranova was reportedly impoverished.[1]


On February 18, 1938, Ciro Terranova suffered a paralyzing stroke. He died two days later at Columbus Hospital, at age 49,[2] with his son and wife at his side.[1] Ciro was the only one of the four Terranova brothers to die in bed.[2] Ciro and his three brothers lie in bare graves in Calvary Cemetery in Queens, New York, not far from Joe Petrosino, who investigated them, or other Morello crime family members, such as Ignazio "Lupo the Wolf" Lupo.[3]


  • Critchley, David (2008). The Origin of Organized Crime: The New York City Mafia, 1891-1931. New York: Routledge. 
  • Dash, Mike (2009). The First Family: Terror, Extortion and the Birth of the American Mafia. London: Simon & Schuster. 

In popular fiction[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "TERRANOVA DEAD; ONCE RACKET 'KING". New York Times. February 20, 1938. Retrieved 23 December 2015. 
  2. ^ a b Dash, epilogue
  3. ^ Dash, Mike (2009). The First Family: Terror, Extortion and the Birth of the American Mafia. London: Simon & Schuster. p. Epilogue, page 27. ISBN 978-1-84737-173-7. 

External links[edit]

Business positions
Preceded by
Vincenzo Terranova
Morello crime family

Succeeded by
Vincenzo Terranova