American Mobsters – Ciro Terranova – The Artichoke King
Ciro Terranova was one of the treacherous Black Handers in the early 1900’s, but he later got a reputation in the mob as a weakling, which cost him dearly.
Ciro Terranova was born in 1889, in the town of Corleone in Sicily. In 1902 Terranova’s family, including his brother Vincent, moved to New York City, and Terranova took up with his half brothers, Joe, Antonio and Pete Morello. He started out as a waiter in Joe Morello’s Prince Street saloon, but then soon became a member of the 116th Street Crew in Harlem, which specialized in sending “Black Hand” notes to Sicilian immigrants, demanding money, or their life and limbs, or businesses would be in grave danger. Whereas the Morello brothers, along with Ignazio “Lupo the Wolf” Saietta, did the actually killings, maimings and bombings, Terranova worked mainly behind the scenes, to establish relationships with local politicians like Giosue Gallucci, who was more crook than public servant.
After Joe Morello and Saietta went to prison for counterfeiting, and Nick Morello was killed, the two Terranova brothers took over the numbers rackets in Harlem, along with their partner Dutch Schulz. Terranova was basically the brains behind the operation and Schulz the stone-cold killer who kept everyone in line. One of the men who worked for them was Joe Valachi, who in the 1960’s became famous for being the first major mob figure to become a informant, or a “rat,” as they are called in the mean streets of New York City. At his testimony at the McClellan Committee hearings, Valachi said that Terranova had become the Artichoke King, and nobody ate an artichoke in New York City, unless Terranova got his cut.
Valachi testified, “The way I understand it, Terranova bought up all the artichokes that came into New York City. Being artichokes they hold (don’t go bad). They can keep them. Then Ciro would name his own price, and as you know, Italians got to have artichokes to eat.”
In 1931, the Castellammarese War stared in New York City, with Joe “The Boss” Masseria’s gang fighting the men loyal to Salvatore Maranzano, over control of the rackets in New York City. Terranova, along with Charles “Lucky” Luciano, sided with Masseria. During this war, Terranova’s brother Vincent was killed, and Luciano decided to kill Masseria, then side with Maranzano. Luciano lured Masseria to an Italian Restaurant in Coney island. While Terranova and Vito Genovese were waiting outside in a black limousine, and Luciano conveniently in the men’s room, four men led by Bugsy Siegel, charged into the restaurant and shot Masseria to death. When they ran outside to escape in the limo, Terranova was trembling with fear and could not get the car into gear. Siegel pushed him aside and drove the getaway car himself.
After Luciano killed Maranzano, he organized a Nation Crime Commission, which began getting heat from New York City special prosecutor Thomas E. Dewey. In 1935, Dutch Schulz, against the National Crime Commission’s wishes, decreed he was going to kill Dewey. Luciano decided that killing Dewey would bring every law enforcement agent in the country down on top of them and their rackets, so he ordered Schulz’ execution. With Schulz out of the way, Terranova assumed he would take control of the Harlem number rackets by himself. But Luciano had other ideas. Remembering Terranova’s weakness at the Masseria killing, Luciano told Terranova it was time for him to retire, and he put Trigger Mike Coppola in control of Harlem instead. Terranova was crushed.
Joe Valachi testified, “Terranova was getting what was called buckwheats. He was being stripped of his power. After a while he died from a broken heart.”
After being shunned by the National Crime Commission, Terranova became a pariah in all parts of New York City. He soon ran out of money, and was said to be totally broke, when he died of a stroke on Feb. 20, 1938.