By John William Tuohy
Tony Accardo, is, without a doubt, the most successful, the most powerful, most respected and the longest lived Boss the Chicago syndicate, or probably any criminal syndicate for that matter, has ever had. During his long tenure, Accardo's power was long reaching and frightfully vast.
He was so respected and feared in the national Mafia that in 1948 when he declared himself as the arbitrator for any mob problems west of Chicago, in effect proclaiming all of that territory as his, no one in the syndicate argued.
He was the boss pure and simple. Unlike Torrio, Nitti or Ricca, Tony Accardo looked exactly like what he was, a mob thug who could and did dispatch men and women to their death over money or the slightest insult.
He was a peasant, even he said that. But he was a reserved man and a thinker, unlike Colosimo or Capone or Giancana and all those who came after Giancana.
Unlike the other bosses, Accardo knew his limitations. He consulted often with Ricca, Murray Humpreys and Short Pants Campagna because he recognized their intelligence and wisdom and he used it.
He admitted to not having the outward intelligence of Ricca or Nitti or Torrio or even the flare and occasional self-depicting wit of Capone or Giancana.
Yet it was Accardo who expanded the outfit's activities into new rackets. It was Accardo who, recognizing the dangers of the white slave trade, streamlined the old prostitution racket during the war years into the new call girl service, which was copied by New York families even though they laughed at the idea at first.
Two decades after prohibition was repealed Accardo introduced bootlegging to the dry states of Kansas and Oklahoma, flooding them with illegal whiskey. He moved the outfit into slot and vending machines, counterfeiting cigarette and liquor tax stamps and expanded narcotics smuggling to a worldwide basis. He had the good sense to invest, with Eddie Vogel as his agent, into manufacturing slot machines and then placed them everywhere, gas stations, restaurants and bars. When Las Vegas exploded, Accardo made sure the casinos used his slots and only his slots.
Watching someone as clever as Paul Ricca and as smart as Frank Nitti go to jail over the Bioff scandal, Accardo pulled the organization away from labor racketeering and extortion. Under Accardo's reign the Chicago mob exploded in growth and grew wealthy as a result.
The outfit grew because, outside of the Kefauver committee, there wasn't a focused attempt on the part of any law enforcement agency to bust up the Chicago syndicate. The FBI was busy catching cold war spies and they didn't acknowledge that the Mafia or even organized crime existed anyway.
Under Accardo's leadership, the gang set its flag in Des Moines Iowa, down state Illinois and, Southern California and deep into Kentucky, Las Vegas, Indiana, Arizona, St. Louis Missouri, Mexico, Central and South America. Accardo's long reign highlighted a golden era for Chicago's syndicate. But it also ushered in the near collapse of the outfit as well. In 1947, as Tony Accardo took the reins of power from Paul Ricca, the outfit produced $3,000,000 in criminal business per year with Accardo, Humpreys, Ricca and Giancana taking in an estimated $40 to $50 million each per year.
Accardo pensioned off the older members of the mob and gave more authority to the younger members of the mob, mostly former 42 gang members like Sam Giancana, the Battaglias and Marshal Caifano.
The money poured in, in hundreds of thousands of dollars every day from all points where Chicago ruled. The hoods who had survived the shoot-outs, gang wars, intergang wars, purges, cop shootings, the national exposés and the federal and state investigations now saw what they had hustled so hard for.
They had more money then they knew what to do with. Like any set of super rich men they hired the best crooked investors money could buy, not the Jake Guzak-Meyer Lansky types either, real investment experts with law and accounting degrees from Harvard and Yale who taught them all sorts of legal tax loopholes to get their cash out of the rackets and into legitimate businesses.
By the time he died in 1992, Tony Accardo, the son of illegal immigrant parents from an Italian ghetto in a Chicago slum, had legal investments in transportation as diverse as commercial office buildings, strip centers, lumber farms, paper factories, hotels and car dealerships, trucking, newspapers, hotels, restaurants and travel agencies.
He dictated to his men that "when things are in order at home, it's easier to concentrate on business" so although he allowed them their mistresses and girlfriends, it was his rule that his men spend times with their wives and children. Accardo himself was said never to have cheated on his wife of many years, Clarice.
He declared that no one in the organization could ever threaten or harm a cop or member of the media, no matter how annoying they were. In so long as they were honest and doing their job, they were to be left alone. Yet when an honest Chicago beat cop named Jack Muller ticketed Accardo car for double parking outside the Tradewinds, a mob salon on Rush Street, Accardo made sure that officer Muller was made an example of by his superiors. From that day on, it became commonplace to see hoods park their cars whereever they pleased along Rush street and other places.
Like his mentor Paul Ricca, it was Accardo's firm belief that in order to avoid the tax men, that the outfit should conduct itself as meekly as possible to avoid public attention. Accardo decided that he would keep the lowest profile a mob boss could have and he directed his underbosses to follow the same route. They did, except for Sam Giancana.
Like Ricca, Accardo preached moderation, low profile and patience in all things but unlike Ricca, Accardo seldom practiced what he preached.
His estate in exclusive River Forrest, outside of Chicago was extravagant. Far more extravagant then he would allow for any of his men.
Accardo bought the place in 1943 when he started to roll in wartime profits. It had twenty-one rooms, a built in pool...in the house...a black onyx bathtub that cost $10,000 to install in the fifties, and a bowling alley.
The baths were fitted with gold inlaid fixtures, the basement had a large gun and trophy room that sometimes doubled as a mob meeting hall. It had vaulted ceilings, polished wood spiral staircase, a library full of hundreds of volumes of books, pipe organ and a second bowling alley. In the rear of the house stood a guest house.
His backyard barbecue pit, a status symbol in gangdom, was the largest in the outfit only because nobody was stupid enough to build a larger one than the bosses. The half-acre lawn was surrounded by a seven foot high fence and two electrically controlled gates. "It was," wrote Sam Giancana's daughter Annette, "almost obscene the way he flaunted his wealth."
His penchant for showing the world his wealth was in contradiction to his self-effacing ways. In fact, Tony Accardo lacked any real personal flamboyance at all.
A powerfully built man, Accardo was taken with loud clothes, expensive white on white dress shirts, and conservative suits that cost $250, four and half times the average amount for the price of a good wool suit in 1959.
An ardent fisherman, he often spent long weekends fishing the waters off Florida or Bimini or Mexico, most of the time taking Sam Giancana along as his bodyguard.
Over time, he made real efforts to improve himself. He traveled with his wife, or Frank Nitti's son or sometimes alone to tour the great museums and churches of Europe.
When Clarice joined a group of educators and traveled around the world to study the living customs of other societies, Accardo sometimes joined her.
Otherwise, Accardo's attempts at respectability were often bumbling. Once, friends managed to have him brought into a private and very exclusive golf club. Everything was fine until Accardo called his thugs to a general meeting on the links. The boys brought no clubs and instead sped across the course in golf carts, ramming into each other and had a picnic on the sixth fairway. The membership was appalled and requested that Accardo resign, which humiliated him no end.
Accardo was a compulsive gambler and was one of his own best customers at his club in Calumet city; the Owl Club. Even towards the end of his life, when he wasn't able to get around as freely, Accardo phoned in his bets. He once said that if he died at the crap tables, he would die a happy man.
He enjoyed his role as the big boss, he liked having his men gossip about him, having them bow and fall all over themselves trying to keep him happy. Accardo made no secret of the fact that he looked down on them and made sure they understood that they were subordinate to him. However he was careful not to act superior around Paul Ricca, the man who had trained him for his position.
Unlike any that came before him or after him, Tony Accardo was totally in charge of his organization, from top to bottom, in large measure due to the fact that Accardo was a feared man and he ruled by fear, and he delighted in his reputation for brutality.
But his ruthlessness was probably unneeded, since he was seldom challenged in his position, in large part, because Chicago is ruled by one family, unlike New York, which is ruled by five families. As a result, the control of the organization was easier.
He could be extremely moody and sullen and took offense easily and seldom overlooked even the most delicate of slights against his powerful, and he was powerful, position.
"Tony," said one of his acqaintances, "could have the disposition of a rattlesnake, it depended on his mood."
When he snapped, the most accurate way to describe his temper tantrums, the stone cold facade of a businessman, and the thin veneer of respectability dropped away and the world got a peek at the real Tony Accardo.
He could be charming when he had to be, in so long as it wasn't for long periods of time, but otherwise he was surly, rude, crude, and foul-mouthed. "Basically," an FBI report read, "Accardo is a rather simple and often crude and surprisingly cheap individual."
Once, when a teenage waiter was too slow to serve him his hamburger in a restaurant, Accardo sat and fumed. When the teenager arrived with the hamburger, Accardo grabbed a knife off the table and slashed the child's arm open.
On another occasion, Accardo ordered the death of a lawyer for the Chicago Restaurant Association to be killed when the two had an argument over disclosing to the IRS Accardo's $125,000 retainer.
Only the pleading of the always level headed Murray Humpreys saved the lawyer from Accardo's gunners.
Accardo was born to Francisco and Maria Accardo, Sicilian immigrants, on April 28, 1906. He was baptized at the infamous Holy Name Cathedral, seven blocks away from his home on 1353 West Grand Avenue, near Ogden, on the West side.
However, there is some evidence that he may have been born in Italy, in or near Palermo, Sicily. His mother would later file a delayed birth affidavit with the federal government stating that Tony was born in 1904 in Chicago, a full year before she arrived in the United States.
One of six children, Accardo dropped out of the Holy Name Cathedral School in the fifth, or possibly the sixth grade, and took to petty street crime, working mostly in the loop.
While still only a child, he came to the attention of Vincenzo de Mora, AKA Machine Gun Jack McGurn, who was then the leader of the Circus gang, which was run out of the Circus Café at 1857 North Avenue. Both operations, the gang and the café, were owned by Claude Maddox. Maddox would later play a pivotal role in the St. Valentine's Day Massacre.
Among the tens of thousands of young and impressionable poor Italian boys who survived in the teaming slums of Chicago, Jack McGurn had an almost godlike stature, so, when McGurn chose Accardo to act as his Gofer, it was an honor.
On March 22, 1922, a young Tony Accardo was arrested for the first time, just six weeks before he turned sixteen, for a motor violation. Several months later, in 1923, Accardo was arrested for disorderly conduct inside a pool hall. He was fined $200 plus court costs. According to court records, Accardo said that he was still living with his parents, which is doubtful, and that he was employed as a delivery boy for a grocery store in Little Italy and later as a truck driver which apparently was true.
Most professional crooks kept a full time job, if in name only, to appease any judge that they might stand before. At that point in his very long criminal career, Accardo was restricted to muggings and pickpocketing inside the loop during the day and stalking on drunks and old people at night.
Like so many other Chicago mobsters who came up through the ranks, Accardo drove a Capone beer truck part time. He graduated to look-out status and then burglaries in the west side.
In 1923, when McGurn left the circus gang to join the Capone operation, Accardo was 17 years old and already an experienced and reliable full time criminal and a big time member of the Circus gang.
By 1925, Tony Accardo had been promoted from daylight muggings to driving for Jack McGurn around town. It signaled to everyone that Accardo was on the way up.
In the summer of 1926, when Al Capone was locked in yet another beer war, he told McGurn the operation needed new gunmen and to "go out and find somebody."
The somebody that McGurn got was Tony Accardo who now had a first rate reputation as an enforcer due to a bloody incident that had happened at the start of the year.
In January of 1926 that year the Circus gang, almost exclusively Italian in its makeup, was having a problem with an equally tough Irish street gang called the Hanlon Hellcats, which made its headquarters at the Shamrock Inn. The Hellcats were creeping in on the Circus gang's territory and Accardo was dispatched to take care of the problem any way he saw fit.
At midnight on January 20, Accardo and at least three others blasted the hellcats to kingdom come with shotguns as they left the Shamrock. A police squad from the Austin district was nearby and gave chase but Accardo was shrewd enough to know the law, he ordered the guns to be tossed away just a few minutes before the cops collared him. They were released on bail and eventually the case was dropped, due to lack of evidence.
Now McGurn rushed Accardo over to Capone's office at the Lexington Hotel. Capone, still in his fire-engine-red pajamas at five in the afternoon looked Accardo over and said, "McGurn likes you, so I make you. So you are now one of us, if you fuck up, we take it out on McGurn. He is your sponsor. Fuck up, it's his ass. You work in his crew, he is your capo."
Accardo was assigned to be a hall guard for Capone, spending most of his time in the Lobby at the Lexington, a shotgun on his lap covered by a newspaper.
Capone took a liking to Accardo. Once, the story goes, after Accardo beat a Capone enemy senseless with a baseball bat, Capone saw him in the lobby of the Lexington and yelled, "There's my kiddo, Joe Batters!"
Joe Batters. The name stuck and Accardo loved it. Even years later when he was running the mob, Accardo, who insisted on being called "Mr. Accardo" by his people and their families, allowed a select few to always refer to him as Joe Batters.
Mr. Tuohy can be reached at MobStudy@aol.com.
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