Vincenzo “Vincent” Terranova, Underboss of the Morello Gang

Born in May 1886 in Corleone Italy, Vincenzo “Vincent” Terranova’s legacy is somewhat overshadowed by his stepbrother Giuseppe Morello who was a successful Italian American mafia boss. Nonetheless Terranova had his own successful run in the mob as the underboss to the Morello family, today known as the Genovese family; the family his stepbrother controlled.

Terranova was the first son of Bernardo Terranova, a member of the mafia in Corleone, Italy. Bernardo married Angelina Piazza who had a son from a previous marriage, Guiseppe Morello. She would later give birth to Vincent’s two brothers Ciro Terranova and Nicolo Terranova. The family immigrated to the United States arriving on March 8, 1893. A year earlier Guiseppe arrived in the U.S. and founded the 107th Street Mob, which would later become the Morello gang.

After arriving in the New York, Vincent and his other two brother’s joined Giuseppe in his gang. The first year in New York was tough for Terranova and his family. There was little work, so they were forced to move Louisiana where his stepbrother Guiseppe and his father worked in sugar cain fields, before moving again to Bryan, Texas where the entire family worked picking cotton.They stayed in Bryan for two years until the family came down with Maleria and were forced to move back to New York.

Upon arriving in New York Terranova and his brother Ciro enrolled in a New York school while they helped out with their father’s new plastering business. The brother’s were also involved in their brother’s 107th Street Mob, which was now called the Morello gang. In early 1903 the murder of man who was stuffed into a barrel started a highly publizied case that put the Morello gang in law enforcement sight. Terranova was arrested mulitple times for minor crimes over the next several years as law enforcement kept up pressure on the gang.

In 1908 Terranova was arrested for the murder of another gangster named Diamond Sam Sicca. He was eventually released and not charged with the crime but it’s widely thought he committed the murder.

In 1910 Terranova was indicted with Guiseppe on counterfeiting charges. Guiseppe was sentenced to prison while Terranova went free. Over the next decade Terranova served several small sentences for assault, and other minor crimes. By this time Terranova had climbed through the ranks and was the underboss of the Morello family. During this time there was a large gang influence in New York and several top gangsters were manuerving for control of the city Terranova included. However he had built up several enemies and was often a target for hits.

On May 8, 1922 Terranvoa was walking down East 116th Street dressed in his usual pin striped suit and silk shirt wearing diamond rings when a vehicle pulled along side him. Realizing another attempt on his life Terranova pulled a pistol and dropped to one knee. A gunman from the vehicle fired on Terranova at close range. He returned fire but was hit several times and died. His murderer is attributed to Rocco Valenti, a hitman for the Morello crime family who was trying to gain control. Below is a newspaper clipping describing the shootout.

Giuseppe “The Clutch Hand” Morello – The First “Capo di Tutti Capi” of New York

 Giuseppe “the Clutch Hand” Morello was born on May 2, 1867 in Corleone, Sicily. His biological father, Calogero Morello died when Giuseppe was just five years old. One year later his mother Angelina remarried to Bernardo Terranova, a member of the Corelonesi Mafia in Corleone. The two had three additional sons and two daughters during their marriage. Terranova is partially credited with introducing the Sicilian mafia to the young Morello. In 1892 at the age of twenty-five Morello was forced to immigrate to the United States after becoming a suspect in a murder in Corleone and after his counterfeiting ring had been compromised. Although he was now in the United States the Italian government brought the counterfeiting case to court finding him guilty. In September 1894 he was found guilty in absentia and sentenced to 6 years and 45 days in prison. He would never set foot in Italy again.

Six months after arriving in New York, Morello’s family arrived including his mother, step father, and siblings. Morello and the family worked in New York for approximately a year before moving to Louisiana to look for work. Before leaving Morello founded the 107th st mob. At the time of his departure it was a small time gang that dabbled in racketeering, and minor loansharking. He turned control of the gang to an unknown person and headed to Louisiana with his family. In Louisiana the family worked for a short time planting sugar cane before moving to Texas to work as cotton pickers. They worked for almost four years before bouts with malaria forced them to move back to New York.

When Morello returned he immediately took back control of the 107th st mob and began to expand his territory. On June 11th. 1900, Morello and another member of the 107th. St mob were arrested and accused of selling counterfeit money. Their arrests were the result of a Secret Service investigation where they tracked $5 bills that were being passed to retailers in Brooklyn. Morello was believed to be one of the originators of the bills. However, without a clear connection to the bills, Morello was allowed to walk, and no additional charges were filed. Despite walking free, the Secret Service were determined to put Morello away and although they didn’t have enough evidence to convict, they continued to track Morello hoping to catch him slip.

In 1902 Morello acquired a saloon on 8 Prince St. in Manhattan which became the official meeting place for the gang. From Prince St. Morello launched his empire employing several enforcers whose sole job was to kill anyone Morello requested. Within a ten year period his chief enforcer Ignazio Lupo, is thought to to have murdered sixty people on Morello’s orders. By 1905 Morello had built the largest Italian American mafia in the United States. He was recognized as the boss of bosses, or “capo di tutti capi” by all other rival gangs.

True to their word, the Secret Service caught Morello in a 1909 counterfeiting scheme much like the 1900 plan. He was arrested at his home on November 15th. 1909. While he was detained, the Secret Service searched his home and uncovered six letters written by Morello. Four of the letters were found in his child’s diaper and two were confiscated when Morello tried to pass them off to his son who was standing nearby. Below are a few of these letters:

‘MR. BATAGLIA: ‘Do not think that we are dead. Look out for your face; a veil won’t help you. Now is the occasion to give me five hundred dollars on account of that which you others don’t know respect that from then to now you should have kissed my forehead I have been in your store, friend Donate how you respect him he is an ignorant boob, that I bring you others I hope that all will end that when we are alone they give me no peace as I deserve time lost that brings you will know us neither some other of the Mafia in the future will write in the bank where you must send the money without so many stories otherwise you will pay for it.’

‘DEAR FRIEND : Beware we are sick and tired of writing to you to the appointment you have not come with people of honor. If this time you don’t do what we say it will be your ruination. Send us three hundred dollars with people of honor at eleven o’clock Thursday night. There will be a friend at the corner of 15th Street and Hamilton Ave. He will ask you for the signal. Give me the word and you will give him the money. Beware that if you don’t come to this order we will ruin all your merchandise and attempt your life. Beware of what you do. M. N.’

‘FRIEND: The need obliges us to come to you in order to do us a favor. We request, Sunday night, 7th day, at 12 o’clock you must bring the sum of $1000. Under penalty of death for you and your dears you must come under the new bridge near the Grand Street ferry where you will find the person that wants to know the time. At this word you will give him the money. Beware of what you do and keep your mouth shut…’

This time Morello did not beat the wrap. He and his second in command Ignazio Lupo, were sentenced to a total of 25 years hard labor and within one year of his incarceration Morello lost the position of boss of bosses. The next year Morello was thought to have given the prosecutor information on an unsolved police officer’s murder in exchange for a lighter sentence. Although there is nothing to corroborate this claim, Morello’s sentence was reduced to 15 years.


Giuseppe Morello Prison photo approximately 1920

With Morello imprisoned, his half brother Nicola took over the family until his murder in 1916 at the hands of the Napolitan Camorra (Sicilian mafia) boss in Brooklyn, Pellegrino Morano. From there, Morello’s half brother’s Vincenzo took over as boss, and Ciro, as underboss. In 1920 Morello was released from prison after serving 10 years of a 15 year sentence. After being out of touch for a decade he was in no position to try for the top spot. Instead he slipped back into building his reputation back up in hopes of taking back control from his half brother.

By this time former Morello crime family capo Giuseppe “Joe the Boss” Masseria had gained influence over several gangs and become a powerful force. In the middle 1920’s as Morello was gaining strength, Masseria forcefully took over Morello’s operations in Manhattan and Masseria ally Salvatore D’Aquila took over in Brooklyn.

Although he hadn’t regained enough power to rally against Masseria and D’Aquila, he did have a following of loyal associates from his time as boss. Shortly after losing many of his operations, Morello hired Rocco Valenti to aid in his attempt at a comeback. After failing to kill Masseria two times, Valenti set up a truce meeting between Masseria and Morello. Several of Masseria men showed for the meeting, but neither Masseria or Morello showed. When Valenti tried to escape, he was shot dead by Masseria associate Lucky Luciano. In August 1922, Morello aligned himself with Masseria as his consigliere and Luciano as one of his caporegimes.

With control of New York, Masseria and Morello had fierce competition in a powerful Brooklyn based gang led by Salvatore Maranzano and Joseph Bonanno. The feud turned into the Castellammarese war and lasted from 1929-1931 with Morello leading the conflict as “War Chief”, a position known today as Wartime Consigliere.

On August 15, 1930 shortly after the war began, Morello and a Masseria associate Joseph Perriano were collecting cash from retailers in East Harlem when two men approached. Perriano was shot first, and Morello who was wise in the way of the hit, made an attempt at escape. According to witnesses, he had no place to run and was gunned down on the street.

Ignazio Lupo – Implicated in the early 1900’s Barrel Murders

Ignazio Lupo was born to a middle class family in Province of Palermo, Sicily on March 19, 1877. From an early age he was involved in crimes ranging from simple robbery to theft. In 1889 Lupo is believed to have committed his first murder when a man named Salvatore Morello (unrelated to the Giuseppe Morello family) was found dead. Lupo reportedly shot him after Morello attacked him with a knife. The investigation led to Lupo and charges were filed, but at the advice of his parents, he fled Italy traveling across the globe through Liverpool, Montreal and Buffalo before ending up in New York in 1898. Italian courts convicted him in absentia of murder on March 14, 1899.

Once he was settled in New York Lupo joined his cousin and opened a store in Manhattan. In 1902 his father joined him where they opened a retail grocery store on 39th street between 9th and 10th avenues. Lupo was only 25 years old and in control of two stores and a bar across from one of his stores, but he wasn’t satisfied. His next move was to prey on Italian immigrants in what is known as Little Italy. There Lupo used Black Hand tactics from Italy to extort money from the weak and joined forces with fellow Italian gangster Giuseppe and Nicholas Morello and their brothers through marriage, Vincenzo and Ciro Terranova.

Over his lifetime, Lupo was expected to have taken part in 60 murders. Many went unsolved but rumblings on the street often pointed to Lupo and the Morello-Terranova faction.

On July 22, 1902 grocer Giuseppe “Joe the Grocer” Catania was stabbed and later died from his wounds after he spoke about his association with Lupo and Morello and a counterfeiting operation they established. His body was found a day later stuffed in a potato sack. His throat had been slit from ear to ear.

On April 14, 1903 Benedetto Madonia, a stone mason from New York became one of the first victims of the

1903 Barrel murder crime scene photo

1903 Barrel murder crime scene photo

“barrel murders” made famous by the Provenzano crime family in New Orleans and adopted by the newly formed Morello crime family in New York. Madonia, was found stuffed inside a barrel of sawdust after his throat had been slashed and his body stabbed more than 20 times. Several Morello crime family members were arrested under suspicion of murder, but it was Morello hitman Tomasso Petto who eventually held but released in January 1904 due to lack of evidence. Lupo and Morello were said to be accomplices but never charged.

In November 1909 Giuseppe Morello and several of his conspirators are arrested for counterfeiting after the police raid a Highland, NY home. Lupo is arrested at his home two days later and formally charged with extortion and counterfeiting on January 9, 1910. The trial began just seventeen days later.

After nearly a month’s long battle between the prosecutors and mafia attorneys, Judge Ray of the U.S. Circuit Court issued two hours and 35 minutes worth of instructions to the jury to aid them in their deliberations. They were sent to decide the fate of the accused on February 19, 1910 at 2p.m. and returned with a verdict at 3:15p.m., the same day. All were found guilty with no one receiving less than a 15 year sentence. Both Morello and Lupo received 15 years and a $500 fine. Lupo was sent to the United States Penitentiary at Atlanta, GA, as inmate #2883 on February 20, 1910.

While in prison, Lupo was far from a model prisoner. On June 23, 1910 he was placed in solitary confinement, placed on a restricted diet, and lost 20 days of “good time” when he tried bribing a prison guard to mail unauthorized letters. In February 1911 he received another three days solitary confinement and restricted diet for antagonizing another inmate. Lupo was said to have been laughing, talking, and making hand signs, commonplace in today’s prison system. October 1913 he is warned for disorderly conduct. January 1915 he reprimanded for spitting on the prison floor, and August 1915 he receives five days solitary confinement and restricted diet for renumbering his prison uniform.

December 1916 Deputy Warden Brock of Atlanta Prison is murdered by inmates. At a deposition, Lupo is questioned about his involvement in the crime. He denies even knowing about the murder, however other inmates place him “six feet away” while the crime was committed. He was even said to have known about the plot and positioned himself to witness the slaughter. No charges are ever filed. Lupo was released from prison on June 30, 1920 after his sentence was commuted to time served.

 After his release from prison, Lupo went back to Italy for a couple of years. Upon his return he was briefly detained by immigration but released after convincing them he was now a wine exporter. He reestablished himself in mafia life but never to the level he obtained prior to his prison term. He was a shell of his former self but still feared by other gangsters and the newly created commission as a hot head that brought down too much heat for being a murderer. In the early 1930’s it’s widely believed the commission stripped him of all his rackets leaving him with only one small Italian lottery in Brooklyn.

 In an effort to make more money and get back what he lost to the commission, Lupo began extorting local Italian bakeries. On October 8, 1930 he murdered bakery owner Roger Consiglio.

 July 16, 1935 law enforcement finally caught up with Lupo and charged him with extortion. For the past several years he had been working to persuade the local bakeries to join his “union” aka protection. One year later Franklin Roosevelt deems Lupo a menace and in violation of his terms of conditional release and sends him back to prison to finish his sentence on the counterfeiting charges from 1909. Upon his admittance to prison a local newspaper had a short blurb about the prisons newest inmate.

       Atlanta penitentiary gates clanged yesterday on Ignazio (Lupo the Wolf) Saietta, oldest living public enemy in the United States. The grizzled Mafia terrorist, now in his sixtieth year and reputed to have banked in Italy more than $3,000,000 gleaned from New York rackets, was returned to the prison on a warrant signed by President Roosevelt.” (Prison shuts again on Lupo the Wolf. (1936, July 16)).”

Lupo served ten more years in prison and was released back to society in 1946. He died a virtual unknown on January 13, 1947.

Frank Costello – Luciano Crime Family Boss Part II

Like Masseria, Maranzano was an old-school mob boss, a “Mustache Pete,” as they were known. Costello, Luciano and the other “Young Turks” had had enough of the old ways, and they decided Maranzano, like Masseria, needed to go.

In late 1931, less than six months into his reign as “boss of all bosses,” Maranzano called a meeting with the Young Turks. But they knew, through spies, that it was a trap: Maranzano planned to kill them because he feared Luciano and his ambition.

So the young men turned the tables: They sent a hit squad to the meeting in their place. On September 10, 1931, four Jewish hit men, disguised as tax agents, gunned Maranzano down in his Midtown Manhattan office, then stabbed him for good measure. Most historians consider his death the end of the Castellammarese War, which took the lives of about 60 mobsters.

Now that Maranzano was out of the way, Luciano moved into the top spot, strengthening the National Crime Commission and taking over as “boss of all bosses.” He was also firmly in control of what became known as the Luciano crime family, descendant of the Morello family and predecessor of the Genovese family.

Luciano ran the day-to-day business, while Costello served as one of the biggest earners. From the start he ran a large and lucrative gambling enterprise, setting up thousands of slots throughout New York and managing a bookie operation credited with revolutionizing gambling systems across the United States.

His slot operations went swimmingly until reformist New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia made a show of confiscating every machine and dumping it in the East River. Costello reacted by simply moving his game to New Orleans, where he worked under the protection of corrupt Senator Hughie Long.

At the same time he was drawing in millions for the family, Costello was pumping much of it back out, serving as behind-the-scenes greaser with corrupt pols. It was his agility in this field that would eventually earn him his famous nickname.

Indeed, he bragged that he owned Tammany Hall, the famously crooked machine that ran politics in New York City. He may not have controlled La Guardia, but he had much of the rest of the city in his pocket.

In 1936, Luciano was sent to prison for 30 to 50 years on what may have been trumped-up prostitution charges. That eventually left Genovese in charge of the family, with Costello second in command.

Then, one year later, Genovese faced indictment for the murder of a fellow gangster over the proceeds of a gambling scam. To avoid prosecution, he fled to Italy. Luciano, still acting as permanent boss from prison, put Costello in as acting head of the family.

Costello was a successful boss: He worked with different nationalities and boosted the family’s profits substantially. He controlled a massive gambling empire across the country and gave millions to crooked pols and cops to grease the wheels.

After the end of World War II, Luciano was deported to Italy and his sentence commuted. That put Costello firmly in control of the family. But about the same time, Genovese was shipped home to face murder charges after a botched attempt to cooperate with the U.S. Army in Italy.

The prosecution went nowhere. The witnesses against Genovese wound up dead, and the charges were dropped. Genovese wanted back in charge of the family, and Costello faced a threat to his rein. Genovese was one of the most violent and ruthless leaders in the history of the Mafia, unlike Costello, a sophisticated don who preferred intellect to brawn.

Genovese was now a low-level capo in the family, a fact that made him even angrier at Costello. He started a campaign to win over soldiers to his side in a campaign to oust Costello or have him killed. It was a tough job: Costello had plenty of support within the family and among members of the Commission. His underboss, Guarino “Willie Moore” Moretti, was strong, making the task even more difficult.

Estes Kefauver

Estes Kefauver-Lead the investigation into organized crime in the early 1950’s. Dubbed the Kefauver Committee or the Kefauver hearings.

Costello’s undoing as boss came by way of the so-called Kefauver Hearings on organized crime in 1951. The hearings, led by U.S. Senator Estes Kefauver, drew the testimony of more than 600 mobsters, politicians and lawyers, many on national television.

Unlike the gangsters who testified before him, Costello agreed not to plead the Fifth Amendment. He didn’t answer many questions, and his face never appeared on camera, but many Mafiosi were still unhappy with the fact that he testified at all.

The attention brought new law enforcement and media scrutiny on Costello and his family. It earned him the moniker “the Prime Minster of the Underworld.” His rule quickly began to fall apart.

Moretti, whose tertiary syphilis may have led him to make embarrassing disclosures before the Kefauver Committee, was assassinated later in 1951 for saying too much. Over the next few years, Costello did several stints in prison, including one on contempt charges for walking out of the hearings.

Genovese used all this as an excuse to knock Costello from the top rung. On May 2, 1957, Genovese’s driver, Vincent “Chin” Gigante (a future don himself) shot Costello in the head as he walked to the elevator in the lobby of his apartment building in New York. It was part of a power play against a larger faction of the Mafia in the city.

Amazingly, Costello survived. The bullet merely grazed his head. Gigante turned himself in, but Costello, a loyal mobster to

Frank Costello

Frank Costello sporting a gauze wrap around his head after surviving the assassination attempt.

the end, refused to identify him.

Genovese seized control of what quickly became known as the Genovese family, and Costello voluntarily stepped aside. He was allowed to keep his Louisiana gambling enterprises and legitimate businesses. He and Genovese made peace, and others in the organization continued to treat him as a leading figure in the Mafia for the rest of his life.

Frank Costello died on February 18, 1973, after suffering a heart attack at his Manhattan apartment. His remains are buried in St. Michael’s Cemetery in Queens.

Willie Moretti – “What do you mean, like do I carry a membership card that says “Mafia” on it?”

      “Willie” Moretti, birth name Guarino Moretti was born in Bari Puglia, Italy on February 24, 1894 and immigrated to the Unites States with his family in the early 1990s. The family settled in New Jersey where Moretti met brothers Frank and Eddie Costello where the three youth would eventually form a gang on the streets of New Jersey.
     On January 12, 1913, at the age of 19, Moretti was convicted of robbery in New York City and sentenced to year in state prison. It was his first arrest and he was released after a few months due to his young age relatively minor crime for the time period. After his release Moretti continued working with the Costello brothers committing crimes such as robbery, extortion, theft, and burglary. It was known early on that Frank Costello was the brains and Moretti was the muscle, and the two worked well together.
     By late 1920’s into the early 1930’s Moretti, who had continued his life of crime, had become a very powerful man in New Jersey working for the Genovese crime family of New York. He ran a successful gambling racket throughout New Jersey and upstate New York and had other Mafia notables such as Joe Adonis and Abner Zwillman working alongside him. His gang would eventually consist of at least 60 men.

Young Frank Sinatra

     In the mid-1930’s Moretti’s name came to light when he became friends with then an unknown singer named Frank Sinatra. Sinatra’s first wife Nancy was related to John Barbato, one of Moretti’s men. At the time Sinatra had a tough time booking gigs, so Moretti helped him book New Jersey clubs in return for some of his earnings. By 1941 Sinatra was known throughout the United States and was on the cusp of signing a lucrative contract with a national promoter. However, years earlier he had signed a contract with his band leader, Tommy Dorsey, who was reluctant to let him out. With help from Moretti shoving a pistol down Dorsey’s throat, the contract came to an end and Sinatra was free to sign a huge record deal with a national promoter.
     Around the same time Sinatra was signing a national contract, Moretti became acquainted with up-and-coming comedians Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis who performed at several nightclubs he frequented. It’s been said that Martin, Lewis, Sinatra, and comedian Milton Berle all performed at the wedding reception of Moretti’s daughter.
     As a popular mafioso in New Jersey, Moretti had no problem attracting women. However, he often visited prostitutes to avoid commitment and eventually contracted syphilis, a disease that attacks the brain. As Moretti became more ill, the other Mafia bosses, particularly New York became concerned that Moretti was losing his mind. It’s been said he bet on nonexistent horses at the track, told stories that often made no sense, and spoke about Cosa Nostra to civilians which is punishable by death.
     In 1950 Moretti and other members of the Genovese crime family were called to testify in front of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Organized Crime. The committee convened to discuss allegations that the Mafia was behind much of the corruption that was running rabid through New Jersey and New York. When each of the Genovese members were called to testify each one of them refuse to testify and invoked the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which provides legal protection against self-incrimination. However, when Moretti made it to the stand he did just the opposite having spoke candidly telling jokes and playing it up for the camera. When he was asked how long he had been involved with the Mafia he replied, “what do you mean, like do I carry a membership card that says “Mafia” on it?” The statement and others like it amused the Senators however; the Genovese and other families of New York were not pleased. Moretti had spoke publicly about Omerta and violated the mafia code of silence.
     Early the next year several Cosa Nostra commission members met to discuss the ailing Moretti. Members Vito Genovese and Albert Anastasia wanted Moretti killed for speaking about the mob. As they had said for years, Moretti was becoming a danger to them with his loose tongue. Costello and Adonis who attended the meeting were opposed to killing Moretti, however the more powerful Genovese and Anastasia prevailed and a murder contract was issued.

Willie Moretti dead

On October 4, 1951 Moretti and four other men met for lunch at Joe’s Elbow Room Restaurant in Cliffside Park, New Jersey. Moretti and the men were the only patrons in the restaurant that afternoon. According to reports from employees of the restaurant when the wait staff was in the kitchen gunfire erupted in the dining area. When they ventured out to look, they found Moretti dead of bullet wounds to his face and head. The other men in attendance, now suspected as being the gunmen, were gone.
     An interesting fact about the Moretti murder: Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis were scheduled to attend lunch that day, however Lewis had contracted the mumps and Martin had forgotten about it. Later that night while Martin was attempting to contact Moretti to apologize, he learned of his death from the television news.

Hit Counter provided by Skylight