Nicolò Terranova (1890 – September 7, 1916), also known as Nicholas "Nick" Morello, was one of the first Italian-American organized crime figures in New York City. Along with his half-brother Giuseppe Morello and brothers Ciro and Vincenzo Terranova, he founded the Morello crime family, and was later one of the participants in the Mafia-Camorra War of 1914-17.
Terranova was born in Corleone, Sicily, in 1890 to parents Bernardo Terranova and Angelina Piazza. In 1893, Terranova emigrated from Sicily with his family, including his brothers Ciro and Vincenzo, arriving in New York on March 8, 1893. In 1903, Nicolo's sister Salvatrice Terranova married Ignazio "the Wolf" Lupo, who was running the Black Hand organization in Little Italy, Manhattan. Lupo went on to become underboss of the Morello crime family. In 1910, when Lupo and Giuseppe Morello were arrested for counterfeiting, Terranova, now known as Nicholas Morello, became the boss of the Morello crime family.
Nicholas Morello rose far above his relations to realize that the Americanization of the gangs would have to give birth to a great criminal network, each of its components at peace with the others and in concert controlling all the rackets in the country. In fact, Nicholas Morello should have had an easier time organizing crime in America than Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky would later, but he found himself too mired down by old-country conflicts.
While Nicholas Morello Sicilian gangs controlled the rackets of East Harlem and Greenwich Village in Manhattan, the Brooklyn Camorristas, immigrant criminals from the Camorra gangs of Naples, extended their power in Brooklyn, collecting protection money from Italian storekeepers, coal and ice dealers and other businessmen, as well as operating rackets on the Brooklyn docks.
In 1915, Brooklyn Camorra leader Pellegrino Morano, a man who had his own dreams of expansion, began moving in on the Morello family's Manhattan territory of East Harlem and Greenwich Village. After a Neapolitan ally of the Morello family, Goisue Gallucci was killed in East Harlem. The more forward-looking Nicholas Morello thought it foolish to continue such old battles and offered to make a peaceful settlement. Pellegrino Morano took such a move as a sign of weakness and spurned the offer. By 1916 the warfare was so intense that only the most hardy mafiosi or Camorrista dared cross the East River into the other's domain. They usually returned home in a hearse.
Surprisingly, that same year Pellegrino Morano announced he was in favor of Nicholas Morello's call for an armistice. Morano invited Morello to come to Brooklyn to discuss terms, of course guaranteeing Morello safe conduct. Morello proved wisely cautious and for six months did no more than dicker about holding such a peace meeting, though he realized he would have to go if he hoped to advance his master plan. The war between New York's Sicilian Mafia and Neapolitan Camorra lasted for over two years.
On September 7, 1916, in Vollero's Cafe on Navy Street in Brooklyn, Nicholas Morello showed up accompanied only by his personal bodyguard Charles Ubriaco. Morano was deeply disappointed, he had hoped Morello would bring his top lieutenants with him. As soon as the mafioso and his bodyguard stepped from their car, a five-man execution squad opened up on them, killing them in broad daylight. Morano, Vollero, and several underlings were soon arrested. Morano was greatly surprised when he was arrested for murder. He had been under the assumption that the payoffs he had made to a New York police detective, Michael Mealli, had cleared the operation with the cops. In 1917 Morano and his top aides were convicted of Morello's murder. With Morano and top members of the Camorra sentenced to life imprisonment the war ended soon afterward and the Neapolitan Camorra was assimilated into the Sicilian Mafia by 1919.
Nicolo and his three brothers lie in bare graves in Calvary Cemetery in Queens, New York, not far from Joe Petrosino, who investigated them, or other Morello crime family members, such as Ignazio "Lupo the Wolf" Lupo.
After his death, Nicholas Morello was replaced by his brother Vincenzo Terranova as the boss of the Morello crime family, with other brother Ciro serving as underboss. With Morello and Morano imprisoned, what the newspapers called the first Mafia War came to an end. So too did the dreams of Nicholas Morello for a great combination of gangs.