Chicago Tribune


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 death.

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 over.

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.

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