New York's Black Hand: Part 2

After the Black Hand leaders were convicted of counterfeiting in 1910, Nicholas Morello and his step-brothers Vincenzo and Ciro "The Artichoke King" Terranova, took control of New York's largest Mafia family. A war with the Camorra and a hostile take-over from "Joe the Boss" Masseria ensured that these men were not allowed to rest on their laurels.

While Ignazio "Lupo" Saietta and Giuseppe "Joe" Morello served their sentences for counterfeiting, Joe’s brother Nicholas Morello took over the Black Hand. Two of his main lieutenants were his step-brothers Vincenzo and Ciro Terranova (Saietta’s brothers-in-law). Though the elder brother Vincenzo was the man who introduced Ciro to the Black Hand, the younger Terranova was to surpass his brother in terms of power and influence. Under the reign of Saietta and Joe Morello, Ciro built up numerous political contacts who made it far easier for him to conduct his business – that business being the sale of what he called the "White Stuff", cocaine. Nicknamed the "Artichoke King", Ciro enjoyed a monopoly on artichokes, an Italian delicacy. He imported huge numbers of the vegetable from California and sold them at unreasonably high prices. The Black Hand protected the monopoly through threats and violence towards anyone who attempted to sell artichokes in New York. Restaurant-owners who found alternative suppliers were treated similarly.

In 1913, the body of Charles Lamonti was found outside the office that served as the headquarters of the Black Hand. Lamonti was a nephew of the Terranovas and a member of their gang. Six months later, in 1914, Lamonti’s brother Giuseppe was killed in a drive-by shooting outside the same office. Another brother, Fortuna Lamonti was shot to death on May 23 1914. It is unclear whether the Lamonti murders were meant as attacks on the Black Hand Gang or part of a personal feud involving the three brothers.

In 1916, a Camorra boss named Pelligrino Morano started to move in on the Black Hand’s territory. The Black Hand responded by killing Morano’s underling Nick Del Gaudio in East Harlem. This sparked off a war between the Black Hand and the Camorra. However, Morello and the Terranovas were also struggling with an internal conflict.

In 1916, the Black Hand held a meeting at Ciro’s request. The gangsters present were Ciro and Vincenzo Terranova, Nicholas Morello, Leopoldo Lauritano, Mike Fetto, Steve La Salle, Nicola Sassi and Luigi De Vivo. The topic being discussed was Joseph Di Marco, a man who operated gambling rackets for Ciro Terranova. Di Marco was challenging Ciro’s position in the gang and Terranova wanted to kill him. The others agreed and Lauritano and Fetto were given the contract. On the first attempt, Fetto was sent but he failed to recognize Di Marco. Lauritano then sent his man, Johnny "Lefty" Esposito to a nighclub with Fetto to complete the job. Ironically, Fetto managed to kill Di Marco but Esposito shot the wrong man, Charles Lombardi, a friend of Lauritano. Esposito, who worked for Lauritano for $15 a week later claimed that his wage was cut to $10 as punishment for the mix-up. The Black Hand also killed Di Marco’s brother Salvatore who was found with his throat cut on November 16 1916. Salvatore Di Marco was probably killed to prevent him from avenging his brother's death.

Ciro Terranova, "The Artichoke King" Meanwhile, the war with the Camorra continued, and Nick Morello was approached by "Torpedo" Tony Notaro, a member of the Camorra who claimed his organization wanted to negotiate a peace-deal. Arrangements were made for Morello and his underboss Charles Umbriacco to meet with Pelligrino Morano and Alessandro Vollero at Vollero’s Café in Navy Street. Vollero was the overall boss of the Camorra throughout the US. The meeting, which was to take place on November 6 1916 was a trap and the two Black Handers were gunned down outside the café. The killers were Bartolomeo Pagano, Tony Corillo, Alphonse Sgroi and strangely enough, Johnny "Lefty" Esposito. This was just two weeks after Esposito had been dispatched to kill Di Marco on the orders of the Black Hand. What Morello and the Terranovas did not know is that Esposito’s power hungry boss, Leopoldo Lauritano, had secretly aligned himself with the Camorra six months previously. With Morello gone, Ciro "The Artichoke King" Terranova became the new Black Hand leader.

Shortly afterwards, Esposito was arrested for Lombardi’s murder, though at the time the police were unaware of his involvement in the Morello-Umbriacco murders. "Lefty" betrayed his boss and confessed that Lauritano hired him to kill Joseph Di Marco. He told the police that the hit had been ordered by Ciro Terranova, who was then arrested along with Lauritano and Mike Fetto. However, under the New York State law of the time, the evidence of a co-defendant was not enough to gain a conviction, and the murderers were released. Nevertheless, Esposito was convicted for the killing.

In 1917, a Black Hander named Giuseppe Favarro was killed by "Torpedo" Tony Notaro and Ralph Daniello, two members of the Camorra. Notaro and Daniello were arrested for the murder and became state witnesses in exchange for reduced sentences. They testified that Vollero and Morano had ordered the killing of Morello and Umbriacco. This effectively ended the Mafia-Camorra war and broke the power of the Camorra. Camorra bosses Vollero and Morano were convicted of murder and Lauritano was convicted as an accessory.

In 1921, the original bosses, Ignazio "Lupo" Saietta and Guiseppe "Joe" Morello were released on parole. Saietta seems to have retired from organiZed crime at this point, but Morello went back to take control of the gang, making his step-brother Ciro his underboss. Joe Morello, who now went under the name "Peter" to conceal his previous record from the police, became the Mafia’s "capo di tutti capi" (boss of all bosses) in the US. However, the gang once again faced the double threat of an internal and external war.

Guiseppe "Joe" Masseria was a tough Sicilian hoodlum who had earned his reputation as cold-blooded killer during the Mafia-Camorra war. Now Masseria wanted to take over the gang and the Black Hand was split between the Morello and Masseria factions. George Terranova (Uncle of Ciro and Vincenzo) became the first casualty of the war when he was murdered on January 27 1921.

Masseria’s rebellion was backed by Salvatore "Toto" D’Aquila, head of the Mafia in Brooklyn. D’Aquila hoped that once in power, Masseria would support D’Aquila’s bid for the much-coveted title of capo di tutti capi. The Brooklyn boss made plans to assassinate "Peter" Morello and the head of an allied gang, Rocco Valenti, but Morello and Valenti went into hiding.

One influential Black Hander named Nicola Gentile refused to support either side in the conflict. He retreated to his native Sicily, deciding not to return until dust had settled in New York. However Gentile soon found himself in hot water when he shot a man named Francesco De Paglia in Sicily. On his deathbed, De Paglia named his killer. Morello and Valenti helped Gentile escape to the US in exchange for his help against Masseria and D’Aquila. In 1922, the war began in earnest. The loyalist faction of the Black Hand was lead by Morello and included Gentile and the Terranova brothers. Morello also had the support of New York mafioso Rocco Valenti and head of the Pittsburgh Mafia, Salvatore Caldrone. Opposing them were Toto D’Aquila, Joe Masseria and the Cleveland boss Joe Lonardo.

On May 9 1922, Vincenzo Terranova was killed in a drive-by shooting outside his home. On the same day, Masseria escaped an ambush in which 4 innocent bystanders were wounded. The following day, Rocco Valenti and one of his men, Silva Tagliagamba ambushed Masseria. The only casualty was Tagliagamba who died from his wounds in June. Salvatore Mauro, who ran a speakeasy with Valenti also died in June when Masseria’s right-hand man Charlie Luciano gunned him down.

On August 9, Valenti made another attempt on the life of Masseria when he found his enemy walking down a street with two bodyguards. Valenti opened fire emptying his pistol and killing the bodyguards. While Masseria fled into a military store, Valenti re-loaded and pursued, confident that his quarry was now trapped. As Masseria ducked and dived around the shop, Valenti fired off ten rounds and missed each time. Standing in the store with no ammo and listening to the police sirens in the distance, he took the only sensible option and fled. After that incident, Masseria inspired much fear among New York gangsters, many of whom now believed he could actually dodge bullets.

Shortly afterwards, Morello agreed to step down as leader of the Black Hand and take the position of consiglieri (councillor or advisor) to Masseria. A consiglieri is the third most powerful man in a Mafia family. Both men knew that his ally Valenti would never agree to surrender in this way, so they kept their pact a secret. On August 11 1922, Valenti went to a so-called peace meeting in a restaurant. Charlie Luciano and two other gangsters from the rebel faction met him. All four sat down to a meal together while they waited for Morello and Masseria. During the dinner, Valenti came to the sudden realization that Morello and Masseria had set him up. Without warning, he leapt up from the table and ran out of the restaurant under fire from Masseria’s men. He jumped onto the running board of a passing taxicab and returned fire, but was killed by Luciano's pistol.

The murder of Valenti ended the war and secured Masseria’s position as leader of the Black Hand. He became known as "Joe the Boss", and Salvatore Lucania aka Charlie "Lucky" Luciano was his underboss. Giuseppe Morello (aka Joe Morello, aka Peter Morello) became consiglieri and the rest of the Black Hand, including Ciro Terranova and Nicola Gentile went back to business as usual. With the backing of Masseria, Salvatore "Toto" D’Aquila accomplished his dream and became capo di tutti capi of the American Mafia. This was five years before the arrival of Salvatore Maranzano, the mafioso who would spark off the infamous Castellamarase War. In the meantime, the New York Mafia families enjoyed a relatively peaceful coexistence.

Return to Part 1

Return to New York

Return to Index