Nicolo Terranova was born in Corleone Italy in 1890. When he was two years old his family, including his brother’s Ciro, Vincenzo and four sisters immigrated to the United States. They arrived in New York on March 8, 1893 joining their step brother Guiseppe Morello who arrived six months earlier.
The Terranova family stayed in New York for about a year, however work was scarce so they packed up and moved to Louisiana where their father, Bernardo Terranova and Guiseppe worked planting sugar cane. When work slowed, the family moved again to Bryan, Texas where the family worked picking cotton. They did this for two years before the family contracts malaria and moved back to New York in 1896.
In 1903 Terranova’s sister married Ignazio “the Wolf” Lupo a member of the Black Hand organization in Little Italy, Manhattan. By that time, Morello and Terranova had started the Morello gang. They welcomed in Lupo who eventually became the underboss of the family.
The Morello family was an organized gang that concentrated their efforts on counterfeiting money, extortion, and loan sharking. By 1905 Morello had built the Morello crime family into the most influential gang in New York. He was known as the capo di tutti capo (boss of bosses) by mafia leaders in the United States. Terranova, then known as Nicholas Morello was by his side.
Guiseppe’s reign although fearsome, was short lived. He was arrested several times and by 1909 was sentenced along with Lupo to a 30 year term for counterfeiting. With the two top bosses in prison, Terranova took the lead of the Morello crime family becoming boss in 1910.
Terranova and his brother Vincent were arrested in June 1912 for assaulting a policeman. Vincent received a ten day jail term and Terranova received a suspended sentence. Later that month Terranova was suspected in the murder of Rocco Tapano in the Bronx New York. It was retribution for Tapano killing Guiseppe’s son Calogero. The FBI learned of Terranova’s involvement from an informant, but no charges were ever filed.
By 1914 there was a large scale power struggle that involved most of the gang’s in New York. This struggle, dubbed the Mafia-Camorra War lasted from 1914-1917. Terranova was a willing combatant in the fight. In 1915 Brooklyn Camorra leader Pellegrino Morano began to make moves to take over Morello territory, particularly East Harlem and Greenwich Village. In November 1915 “Three Fingered” Sam Antonio shot Terranova with a shotgun wounding him. It was the first attempt on the bosses life.
By 1916 the Morello family struck back at the Brooklyn Camorra dealing a devastating blow when the murdered Nick Del Guido a high ranking member of the Camorra. Not long after, a peace meeting was presented to the Camorra by the Morello to prevent more bloodshed. Camorra boss Morano, refused the meeting and the fighting continued.
On September 7th, 1916, Terranova and Morello member Eugene Ubriaco walked downtown to meet with members of
the Navy Street Gang. Their goal was to recruit them to their side during the war. As they walked, both men were ambushed by Morano men outside Vollero’s Café in Brooklyn. Both men tried to flee but were cut down by Morano bullets. The men responsible for the slaying were soon arrested. Several of the top members of the Morano’s were convicted of the murders and sentenced to life in prison. The balance of the Morano gang were assimilated in the Sicilian mafia by 1919.
Terranova’s brother, Vincent replaced him as boss of the Morello family. Brother Ciro became the underboss.