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
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 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.
Rise to power
When Ignazio 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.
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. Fetto went to DiMarco's club to kill him. However, Fetto couldn't identify DiMarco and so he returned without finishing the job. The job was then given to John "Jonny Left" Esposito, with Fetto as his assistant. Espocito couldn't 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
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 just with rival gang members planning out peace between them.
By 1920 the Morello-Terranova-Lupo rule was being challenged by Giuseppe 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 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 the Bronx.
Troubled murder contract
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 gun men, 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.
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 didn't 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 supposedly wanted to see the contract to refresh his memory. If the signature was indeed his, he would pay the rest. Instead, 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.
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. Gaetano 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, Giuseppe 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, Bugsy Siegel told him to get in the passenger seat and Siegel drove instead. When the word of this went out, Ciro's reputation suffered. many gangsters at the time viewed this as the beginning of Ciro's downfall.
Downfall and death
Dutch Schultz eventually took over the number rackets in Harlem. As Schultz' partner, Ciro received only 25% of the profits. Ciro's career briefly rose again after the death of Schultz and his associates. However, Luciano then put Michael "Trigger Mike" Coppola in charge of destroying Terranova. With artichokes as his only legitimate source of income, Ciro didn't last very long.
On December 21, 1935 New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia appeared at the Bronx Terminal Market and banned the sale, display, and possession of artichokes. Six men were indicted on violation of the anti-trust laws, including Joseph Castaldo, a relative of Terranova and his successor in the artichoke business. La Guardia even had the police keep Terranova out of the city; every time Ciro appeared south of Westchester County he was arrested for vagrancy. In 1937, Ciro was living on borrowed money and lost his house.
On February 18, 1938, Ciro Terranova suffered a paralyzing stroke. He died two days later, with his son and wife at his side, at the age of 49.