From The IPSN Archives: September 1992
The Death of the Don: The Legacy of Tony Accardo
by Richard Lindberg
Summing up the late Tony Accardo's leadership abilities, a veteran
Chicago mob figure once confided to Chicago American columnist George Murray that
"...Accardo has more brains before breakfast than Al Capone ever had all day."
Possessing a nimble mind and a canny instinct for survival, Accardo boasted of having
never spent a night in jail. though he was picked up in Miami Beach in 1929 on vagrancy
charges while playing golf with Al Capone and Jack McGurn. But he was released on his own
recognizance. Accardo's closest brush with the slammer came on Feb. 24, 1945, when he was
forced to suffer the indignity of appearing in a police lineup at the Chicago Detective
Bureau during a murder investigation. But that too, was only a mere formality.
Even during his last years when he was consumed with cancer and his body a thin. frail
shell, this elder statesman of the rackets was accorded a respect that was never shown
other mob cures of his generation who reaped a r more bitter harvest. In death, Tony
Accardo still looms as the most powerful mob figure of this era; the boss of bosses who
helped shape policy on a national level.
Anthony "Big Tuna" Accardo, a product of the Prohibition era, ruled the rackets
in this town for nearly forty years before succumbing to the ravages of old age and cancer
on May 17, 1992. He was an early product of the "Circus Gang," a collection of
Northwest Side toughs who congregated at John "Screwy" Moore's (a.k.a. Claude
Maddox) Circus Cafe on North Avenue. Moore was nominally connected to the Torrio-Capone
outfit, and he willingly obliged Scarface with a percentage of his gang's liquor revenue,
and the necessary armaments through their gun dealer Peter Von Frantzius.
Accardo, a strapping, flve-nine, 200 pound lad who was the son of an immigrant shoemaker,
joined the Circus Gang while he was still in his teens. He was introduced to the mob boys
by "Tough" Tony Capezio, a gambling boss and syndicate man, who pulled him off
the streets of the Grand and Milwaukee neighborhood, and gave him something more
"useful" to do. By the end of the 1920s, Accardo was performing various tasks
for the Capone mob while running with another gangster of future importance, his closest
friend and confidant, Felice De Lucia, better known as Paul "the Waiter" Ricca.
Mob media writers have always suspected the youthful Accardo of complicity in Chicago's
most sensational gangland killing, the 1929 St. Valentine's's Day Massacre. In all
probability Accardo acted as one of Capone's lookouts on Clark Street and may have had a
small role in the planning the hit, but it is farfetched speculation to place him in the
garage at the time of the actual shootings.
It was after the Massacre, however, when Accardo first began to make a name for himself
as Al Capone's bodyguard and special enforcer. His fearsome reputation for violence and
cunning was no doubt nurtured by one of his immediate superiors: "Machine Gun"
Jack McGurn. Accardo's stock and trade was vengeance and he was particularly adept with a
baseball bat. In May 1929, Al Capone discovered that he was the target of a murder plot,
hatched by Alberto Anselmi and John Scalise, two Sicilian contract killers who had been on
the big guy's permanent retainer for five years. At a lavish dinner party given in their
honor someone, maybe it was Accardo, maybe it was Capone no one knows for sure--took a
baseball bat to their traitorous heads, and afterward dumped the bodies in a ditch in the
south suburbs. Accardo's respectful mob associates would later pin a nickname on him that
he would carry to his grave: "Joe Batters," or "Joe B." Go figure.
The "Big Tuna" moniker was strictly a press invention. There are those who
believe it was given to him in 1949 by the late Ray Brennan of the Chicago Sun Times who
marvelled at the 400-pound tunafish Accardo pulled out of the waters of Wedgeport, Nova
Scotia. Others will tell you that Accardo actually landed the "big one" at
Bimini during a deep-sea fishing expedition in 1955, and he continued to use the nickname
as an alias while serving as a 'phantom" salesman for the Premium Beer Sales Company
between 1956-58. Accardo pulled down a hefty salary of $179.000, even though he was rarely
seen around the offices.. When he would telephone company president Dominick Volpe,
Accardo would identify himself as the Big Tuna placing a call to the "little
Tuna." Volpe had accompanied Accardo on the Bimini trip, and the fish he landed was a
small fry by comparison. Fish stories aside, Tony Accardo had been pegged as one of
Chicago's important gangland figures early on in his career.
In 1931, the Chicago Crime Commission named Accardo to its first published list of
"Public Enemies," at a time when the power structure of the Chicago outfit was
being revamped due to Al Capone's imprisonment for tax evasion in violation of the Federal
income tax laws, Accardo expanded Capone's gambling operations across the city and suburbs
siphoning portions of this illegal revenue into various legitimate enterprises including
trucking firms, lumber and coal companies, labor unions, and restaurants and hotels.
As the "old guard" slowly faded away Ricca and Accardo broadened their
responsibilities. When Frank Nitti committed suicide in 1943, Paul "the Waiter Ricca
assumed control of the Outfit, even though he was incarcerated in a federal prison at the
time. Accardo functioned as his second in command and always managed to defer final action
to Ricca during the entire three-year period the "Waiter" spent in confinement
at the Leavenworth Penitentiary. Upon his release, Accardo was handed a rich plum for his
abiding loyalty: he was put in complete control of wire operations and betting parlors
from northwest Indiana to the northern suburbs of Chicago. Evidence of Accardo's
propensity for violence, and willingness to employ whatever means necessary to effect an
outcome was clearly demonstrated on June 24, 1946, when James M. Ragen was cut down in a
fusillade of bullets as he drove south on State Street near Pershing Boulevard. Ragen
controlled the Nationwide News Service (the name was later changed to Continental Press),
a telephone wire that dispensed race track results to participating poolrooms across the
U.S. The stormy history of this operation extends back to the horse and buggy era when
gambling czar Mont Tennes seized control of the wire from John Payne. After Tennes was
"squeezed. by Capone In the 1920s, he sold his interests to publishing mogul Moses
When Annenberg was forced to divest his gambling interests in 1939, because of tax
troubles with the government, James Ragen stepped in and took control. But Ragen was
intractable with the syndicate, and refused to share his spoils with Accardo, who
allegedly ordered his removal. When the bullets failed to kill the aging Ragen, a mob
operative slipped into his hospital room in August. In the autopsy that followed, traces
of mercury were found in Ragen's blood system.
Under Accardo's direction, Continental became the outfit's cash cow - so much so that
Estes Kefauver's Senate investigating committee called it "the life blood. of the
outfit. That same year -1950 - Accardo, acting under Ricca's orders, shoved aside
"Big" Jim Martin who controlled an enormous policy racket in the Twenty-eighth
ward. Political protection was provided by Alderman George Kells, and with so much revenue
and "clout" at stake, Martin and his silent partner in City Hall were
understandably perturbed at Ricca for demanding that they relinquish control. On November
15, Martin suffered serious gun shot wounds. The shooter missed the mark, but Accardo
achieved his original purpose. Martin fled to Los Angeles, and Kells drove to Florida
never to return. The alderman told reporters at the time that he was doing it because his
wife was in "poor health."
Accardo now personally controlled more than 10,000 gambling dens in Chicago ranging from
corner cigar stands, right up to the lavish Loop pool rooms. He also played a role in
establishing Havana, Cuba as a new base of operations for organized crime figures
following the repeal of Prohibition. The revenue from these operations netted the Outfit
millions, but narcotics trafficking was one area Accardo refused to involve himself with.
Aunt on the advice of Jake Guzik and men to deal in drugs. Only in recent years has this
dictate been challenged by the "Young Turk" faction, and usually with a
corresponding loss of life within the ranks of the interlopers.
Accardo, like others before him, had a penchant for the good life. As his wealth, esteem,
and political influence escalated in the early 1950s, he purchased a lavish mansion at 915
Franklin Street in River Forest for the sum of $150,000, this time ignoring the advice and
counsel of Humphreys who told him that "the smart money don't go to the
"You and your family will stick out like a sore thumb and the Feds will always
know exactly where you are." Nevertheless, Accardo stocked his mansion with the most
expensive furniture, and a black onyx bathtub that served as his unofficial command post.
Later, Accardo added a twenty-room mansion in Miami to his holdings.
Accardo's opulent lifestyle, and a celebrated European vacation he took with his wife
Clarice, and a well-known Chicago police lieutenant in 1959, attracted national media
attention which compelled the government to sit up and take notice. A year later he was
indicted, convicted, and sentenced to six years on charges of income tax evasion. However,
the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals later overturned U.S. Attorney Richard B. Ogilvie's
successful prosecution of Accardo due to what they called "prejudicial newspaper
coverage." In a second trial convened in 1962, the Chicago mob boss was acquitted.
Tony Accardo bragged that he never spent a night in jail, even though he was indicted no
less than four times between 1948 and 1982. Each time the government failed in its mission
to put him behind bars. In the celebrated 1982 labor-racketeering trial in Miami, Fla.,
Accardo and fourteen co-defendants were charged with conspiring to share in $2 million in
kickbacks involving the placement of insurance business from the mob-controlled 550,000
member Laborer's International Union into the hands of a convicted swindler named Joseph
Hauser of Beverly Hills, Cal. In stirring courtroom testimony, Hauser labeled Accardo as
"the number one" power behind the union. He detailed the methods used by the
Chicago mob leader to force the removal of secretary treasurer Terrance O'Sullivan in
favor of his own man
Angelo Fosco, who ultimately succeeded his father Peter Fosco as union president.
But Accardo's two crack defense attorneys, Carl M. Walsh and Eddie Kay, poked holes
through Hauser's testimony and revealed that the government had paid him $105,000 as a
protected witness. The Miami jury freed Accardo but sent six of his associates to jail
including Al Pilotto, president of Local 5, and James Caporale, an official in the
Chicago-based council. While all this was going on, Accardo quietly orchestrated the
appointment of his son-in-law Ernest Kumerow as president of the County and Municipal
Union Local 1001. Kumerow, a former star baseball player at the University of Illinois
took charge took of a Local that represented some 3,000 city street and sanitation
workers. The old man's clout in organized labor was extensive and far reaching.
The unfavorable publicity surrounding Accardo, coupled with his continuing l.R.S. woes,
compelled the nervous Ricca to make a change in the upper echelon of the outfit. In 1957
or so, Paul Ricca decided that Accardo should shun the limelight for a while, in favor of
Sam "Momo" Giancana, an ambitious, but maniacal killer whose modest bungalow in
Oak Park was a far cry from the palatial estate the Big Tuna resided in. Giancana was at
first considered to be a "low- profile" type, but Ricca had erred badly in this
regard. Giancana took up with Phyllis McGuire of the singing McGuire Sisters act, and soon
found himself more enchanted with Frank Sinatra and his Hollywood pals than attending to
his business in the manner Ricca would have preferred.
Paul Ricca succeeded in diverting the attention away from Accardo, but the publicity
surrounding Giancana's own ostentatious life style forced another change in 1966, the year
after Momo went into a self-imposed exile following a year-long stretch in prison after he
refused to testify before a federal grand jury. Accardo resumed control, with Joey Aiuppa
serving as his second in command. This time, Accardo seemed more than willing to avoid the
mistakes of the past. He sold his home in River Forest in 1963, in favor of a more
"modest" 18 room ranch house at 1407 N. Ashland Avenue. It was there in January
1977, when a gang of burglars foolishly broke into the home in search of cash and jewels.
They were stalked, hounded, and ultimately tracked down by syndicate hit men who slashed
the throats of the six burglars. One was castrated, and another disemboweled.
Bernard Ryan, the first of the burglary suspects was found shot to death on Jan. 20, 1978
in Stone Park. Steven Garcia, 29, was pulled out of the trunk of a car parked in the
garage at O'Hare Airport on February 2. Vincent Moretti and Donald Swanson, two veteran
second story men, were stabbed to death on February 4 in an abandoned car in Stickney
Township. John Mandell, who was considered somewhat of an electronics expert suffered a
similar fate. Police located his remains in an auto trunk on the South Side on February
The sixth man suspected of complicity in the burglary, 43-year-old John McDonald, was shot
to death in a North Side alley in April 1978. In the weeks that followed, a number of
burglars and sneak thieves prudently decided to skip town though they were not involved in
the River Forest heist. No-one was taking any chances with the old man on this one,
especially after Accardo's 75-year-old houseman Michael Volpe disappeared. just five days
after testifying before a grand fury. Accardo had sent an important message to all those
who would question his leadership abilities or willingness to dispense justice as he had
years earlier. Since 1979 and up to the time of his death, Tony Accardo alternated his
residence between his Indian Wells condominium located twenty miles outside of Palm
Springs. Cal., and his other home in Barrington Hills. From his location in the warm
California desert, Accardo served as the outfit's "chairman emeritus" while
younger men carried out his directives back in Chicago.
In the last years of his life, Accardo was beset with various legal and personal problems.
In February 1983 his 40-year-old nephew John Simonelli was indicted by a DuPage County
grand jury on auto theft charges.
A few months later, the Big Tuna was dragged before a Senate Subcommittee investigating
labor racketeering within the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union
(HEREIU), led by Richie Daley's pal Edward Hanley. Accardo was
an uncooperative witness even though he was under an immunity grant from the government.
His refusal to answer sensitive questions or provide clarification to the committee
members resulted in a contempt of Congress citation which was handed down in February
1984. Ill health prevented him from further testimony, as the committee concluded its
hearings with this finding "the committee finds that the mobster dominated locals of
the Hotel & Restaurant Employees Union in the Chicago Area served only the purpose of
giving a cloak of legitimacy to what was nothing more than a pure extortion racket."
Accardo emerged from his Senate ordeal unscathed. as you might expect. But before another
year had passed, Tony's niece Sheila Simonelli was busted for allegedly trying to sell
$23.5 million in stolen securities. The woman's mother Marie Simonelli, is Accardo's
Then in August 1991, a federal appeals court in Chicago ruled that Accardo could not
deduct $60.000 in back taxes and penalties, stemming from his courtroom victory in Miami
nine years earlier. While the sum of money was trifling compared to the vast fortune
Accardo had amassed over the years, it was indicative of the heat the government had been
putting on the ailing gang leader. Accardo's death closes out a significant chapter in
Chicago organized crime history. For all practical purposes he was the last link to Al
Capone and the fabled Prohibition era which has faded into the abyss of history. Tony was
without question the most powerful mob figure of his time, and his passing raises new
concerns about the renewal of a gang war in Chicago, as other less circumspect figures
seek to reap the harvest of what Anthony Accardo had sewn years ago.
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