Real Name: Antonio Leonardo Accardo
Nicknames: Joe Batters; Big Tuna
One of the four men that ran the Chicago arm of the Italian mafia, colloquially known as the Outfit, and was the sole leader of that organization from 1968 until his death in 1992.
Antonio Leonardo Accardo was born in Chicago on April 28, 1906, the son of a Sicilian immigrant shoemaker. Little is known about Accardo’s youth. As a young boy he held various jobs, among them grocery clerk, delivery boy, and truck driver. At night he ascended up the ladder of crime, starting at pickpocket and eventually moving his way up to burglar and car thief. He was arrested several times, but never spent a night in jail, a record he kept intact throughout his life.
With the passage of the Volstead Act establishing Prohibition, Tony’s parents joined the cottage industry of home alcohol cooking. The alcohol they made would be sold to Al Capone’s organization, which would then distribute it to the local bars and speakeasies. The teenaged Accardo became an enforcer for the Capone syndicate, he wielded a baseball bat so well that he gained the nickname “Joe Batters.” After shielding Capone’s body with his own during an assassination attempt, the twenty-year old Accardo was made Capone’s driver and personal bodyguard. He was also one of the gunmen Capone used to carry out the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.
In 1931, Al Capone was sent to prison and Tony took over the Chicago mafia along with three other Capone underlings: Paul Ricca, Curly Humphreys, and Johnny Rosselli. Accardo’s main job was keeping watch over the Outfit’s gaming rackets. Illegal gambling in the city was well-established by the time Capone’s heirs took over, so all Accardo had to do was make sure the dealers and bookies paid their cut to the bosses and that payoffs were delivered on time to the police and to the city’s corrupt mayor, Ed Kelly. In 1935, Ed Kelly sponsored a state bill to legalize off-track horse betting in Illinois. Not only would Accardo benefit from legislation that would legitimize one of the games he controlled, but Kelly would also grow rich off of the inevitable graft that would come with the licensing process. While the bill was being debated, two state representatives who vocally opposed it were shot to death. The bill passed (surprise!), but the governor of Illinois vetoed it. No matter. By this time there were more than seventy-five gambling establishments in the city alone, all of them paying protection money to Accardo and Ed Kelly.
As the head of gambling for the Outfit, Accardo was also in charge of overseeing their interests in Las Vegas and Cuba. In December of 1946, he attended an organized crime meeting in Havana that was also attended by Meyer Lansky and the exiled Lucky Luciano. Accardo and the other delegates agreed to increase their funding of casinos in Cuba and to help the friendly Batista government. After the death of Bugsy Siegel, Accardo led the charge of the building of new casinos in Las Vegas, including the Sands (featuring the mob-friendly Frank Sinatra) and the Sahara. These were built using loans from the Teamsters Union pension fund, which was run by mafia tool Allen Dorfman. He and the rest of the Outfit also secretly financed the building of the Rivera Hotel, using a group of Miami investors as a front.
Although the Chicago mob was mostly run by the committee of Accardo, Curly Humphreys and Paul Ricca, it was Accardo that ran the day-to-day operations. In 1958, word was put out on the streets that Accardo’s former driver Sam Giancana had been appointed boss. Giancana was a flamboyant playboy known for his quick temper and he was the boss in name only. His true usage was to attract media and police attention away from the real bosses, much in the way Frank Nitti had done for Al Capone years before. Giancana was also the one who brought the rest of the committee the plan to fix the 1960 presidential election in favor of Joseph Kennedy’s son John, which Accardo backed. Eventually, Ginacana grew too high-profile thanks to his very public friendship with Frank Sinatra and his affair with Marilyn Monroe. Accardo eventually exiled him to Mexico and placed Joey Aiuppa in charge as head flak-catcher.
Curly Humphries and Paul Ricca died in 1968, leaving Accardo all alone in controlling the mob’s interests. He spent most of the 1970s dodging the IRS and trying to keep his crumbling crime empire together. In 1984, a frail seventy-seven year old Accardo was finally hauled in front of a Congressional subcommittee investigating organized crime. Suprisingly, he chose to answer the questions posed to him. “I have no knowledge of a crime family in Chicago. “I only know about organized crime from what I read in the papers,” he responded to one question. Although he was obviously lying, the committee chose to let him go without being charged due to his weakened condition.
On May 27, 1992, Tony Accardo, the last great mob boss in the history of Chicago, died in his sleep of heart failure at St. Mary’s Hospital. A very uncommon cause of death for someone in his chosen profession. Although constantly under federal investigation for the last thirty years of his life, he was never convicted of a crime and never spent a night in jail.