By Ronald Koziol and John O`Brien.
May 28, 1992
Anthony J. Accardo, who rose to become the
reputed boss of the Chicago crime syndicate from a job as Al Capone`s
bodyguard on no more than a 6th-grade education, died Wednesday
night in St. Mary of Nazareth Hospital Center, Chicago. He was
86 and a resident of Barrington Hills.
He was once described at a U.S. Senate Rackets
Committee hearing as the "godfather of Chicago organized
crime . . . a legend in his own time, the heir to Al Capone."
Accardo, known as chairman emeritus of the
Chicago mob, was admitted May 14 to Nazareth after returning to
the Chicago area from his winter home in Palm Springs, Calif.
He died at 7:36 p.m. Wednesday, said nursing
coordinator Carrie Quidayan. The causes of death, she said, were
congestive heart failure, acute respiratory failure, pneumonia
and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Accardo spent the summers at the secluded
Barrington Hills home of a son- in-law, Ernest Kumerow, president
of Laborers Union Local 1001. His last known hospital stay was for treatment
of head injuries suffered in a 1984 fall in his former condominium
in River Forest. The fall occurred during a dizzy spell suffered
just after returning from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.,
where he was treated for heart and lung ailments.
Accardo was one of the last of an era that
included such mobsters as Jack McGurn, Sam Giancana, Frank Nitti
and Paul Ricca. Accardo was one of the few to die a natural
Over the years Accardo was often referred
to in media accounts by a variety of nicknames, the sources of
which appeared to be rival mobsters, frustrated detectives or
creative news reporters. He was known as "Big Tuna," for
his frequent fishing trips, "Joe Batters" and "J.B."
But he seldom answered to any nickname unless in the company of
close friends. Old police reports indicate "Batters,"
apparently overheard on an illegal wiretap, referred to Accardo`s
prowess as a mob enforcer.
He almost fell victim to a mob hit in 1954,
when someone took a shot at him as he walked near his River Forest
home after a meeting with Giancana, Sam Battaglia and Jack Cerone.
Despite a long arrest record on charges of
murder, kidnapping, extortion, tax fraud, union racketeering and
gambling, Accardo was never convicted of a felony, and he boasted
that he had never spent a night in jail. The closest he came was on Feb. 12, 1945,
when Detectives Peter McGuire and Lawrence Weir detained him at
the Detective Bureau for 24 hours while he was viewed in a series
of lineups in connection with a homicide that never was solved.
He was convicted of disorderly conduct, a
misdemeanor, a total of three times in 1923 and 1924, when, as
a surly, short-tempered street hoodlum- according to law-enforcement
officials-he caught the eye of Capone.
The second of six children of Italian immigrants
Francesco and Maria Accardo, Antonino Leonardo Accardo (his baptismal
name) was born on Chicago`s Near West Side on April 28, 1906. His father was a shoemaker. Young Tony
was able to drop out of elementary school at age 14 after his
mother filed a delayed birth affidavit listing him as having been
born in 1904, a year before she arrived in the United States.
His first job was as a delivery boy for a
florist, and he later worked as a grocery clerk. Those two jobs
probably constituted his only legitimate employment, according
to law enforcement authorities and one-time associates. While
in his teens, he became a truck driver in the bootleg alcohol
trade in Chicago. According to Virgil Peterson, late operating
director of the Chicago Crime Commission, Accardo was an associate
of the Circus Cafe gang, whose members became affiliated with
the Capone syndicate and were suspects in the 1929 St. Valentine`s
Day massacre, in which seven gang rivals were killed. It was about
that time that Capone made him one of his bodyguards.
Antonino Leonardo became Anthony Joseph Accardo,
and he made the crime commission`s Public Enemy list in 1931.
In 1934, Accardo married the former Clarice
Porter in Crown Point, Ind. The Accardos were accompanied on their
honeymoon by a police sergeant, Anthony DeGrazio, who, 25 years
later, toured Europe with the couple. After Capone went to prison, the leadership
of the crime syndicate passed to Nitti and Ricca, who used Accardo
as their front man, according to the crime commission. Nitti committed suicide, and Ricca went to
prison in 1944 for an attempted multimillion-dollar extortion
of the movie industry, leaving the door open for Accardo to take
In 1950, the crime commission named Accardo
No. 1 overlord of Chicago`s crime syndicate. He had been an enduring
influence on the city`s reputation ever since. In 1956, Accardo retired as full-time head
of the Chicago mob, turning control over to Giancana, according
to the FBI. But when Giancana went to prison briefly in the early
1970s, Accardo resumed active control, law- enforcement officials
said. Giancana was shot to death in his Oak Park home in 1975.
For more than 40 years, Accardo lived in
River Forest, once in a palatial, 22-room mansion at 915 Franklin
Ave., later in a smaller home, and eventually in a condominium
on Harlem Avenue. For the last 20 years, he spent most of his
time in Palm Springs.
Of all that has been written about him, perhaps
the most chilling account of violence attributed by law-enforcement
authorities to Accardo arises from a minor burglary. In 1978, while Accardo vacationed in California,
burglars brazenly entered his River Forest home. Within a month,
five of the suspected thiefs were found slain gangland-style.
Prosecutors at the time said they believed Accardo, furious that
his lair had been violated, had ordered the killings.
Nothing came of a subsequent investigation.
At a televised Senate appearance in 1958,
Accardo invoked his 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination
130 times in refusing to answer questions. In 1983, he
again refused to answer questions from a Senate subcommittee dealing
with his sources of income and his links to the Hotel Employees
and Restaurant Union.
He did tell the committee that he was "retired"
but refused to say what he had retired from. He also said he was
receiving Social Security benefits.
Federal investigators said Joseph Aiuppa
had taken over as chairman of the Chicago mob, with Accardo assuming
the role of chairman emeritus.
A federal judge subsequently ordered Accardo
to answer all the questions or go to jail. He averted the dilemma
through medical reasons several times, including heart trouble,
back trouble, lung surgery for cancer and because he had fallen
and cut his head. When he finally testified in 1984, making
his last Senate appearance, he told senators, "I have no
knowledge of a crime family in Chicago."
Accardo is survived by his wife, Clarice;
two sons, Anthony Ross and Joseph Frank; two daughters, Marie
Judith Kumerow and Linda Lee Palermo; a brother; three sisters;
and six grandchildren.
Copyright 1998, The Tribune Company.