Although Ciro Terranova often gained a "good press"—from the underworld's point of view—as a brutish killer, the fact remains he was one of the most overrated mafiosi ever to be called a boss. Terranova came to the fore during the heyday of New York's Morello family and Lupo the Wolf; as long as he had them to lean on, he too was a dynamic crime figure. He could and did order a number of murders but gained a reputation as a man who could not do the dirty work himself.
Actually he operated quite well as a number two man and was to thrive as a junior partner to Dutch Schultz in the Harlem numbers racket. He was also called "the Artichoke King" by the newspapers for running an efficient racket with Morello muscle behind him. As informer Joe Valachi explained: "He tied up all the artichokes in the city.
The way I understand it he would buy all the artichokes that came into New York. I didn't know where they all came from, but I know he was buying them out. Being artichokes, they hold; they can keep. Then Ciro would make his own price, and as you know, Italians got to have artichokes to eat."
With the passing from the active roster of most of the leading Morellos and Lupo the Wolf by the 1920s, Terranova was in position to claim the leadership of mafioso elements in New York. He proved incapable of that and had to settle as an underboss to Joe the Boss Masseria.
During the Maranzano Masseria war of 1930–1931, he had another opportunity to assert his leadership but could only watch as Lucky Luciano took up the reins. Luciano and his assistant Vito Genovese tabbed Ciro Terranova a weakling and one who could be, according to Valachi, "stripped [of power] ... a little at a time."
Luciano's disdain for Terranova was rooted in the cowardly role the latter had played in the murder of Joe the Boss. Luciano arranged the killing by luring Masseria to a meal in a Coney Island restaurant. While Luciano went to the men's room, four killers—Genovese, Albert Anastasia, Joe Adonis and Bugsy Siegel—marched in and ventilated Masseria.
The quartet marched rapidly out of the restaurant to a waiting black limousine where Terranova sat at the wheel. The four killers were cool and relaxed, but Terranova was trembling, so much so that he was unable to put the car in gear. Contemptuously, Siegel shoved him away, took the wheel himself and sped off.
When, in the new order in the underworld, Luciano ordered Dutch Schultz's murder, Terranova moved to take control of the Harlem numbers racket. Luciano and Genovese informed Terranova he was now in retirement, replaced by Trigger Mike Coppola. Usually, such displaced crime leaders are assassinated for fear they will go to war to retain their rights. Luciano correctly figured that Terranova would do nothing.
Three years later, according to a gloating Valachi who hated Terranova for personal reasons, "he died from a broken heart." Generally speaking the death of Terranova was considered the final demise of the old Morello Gang, the first Mafia family established in New York. Many descendants of the Morellos are still active but have been absorbed by the other crime families.