Antonino Joseph Accardo (born Antonino Leonardo Accardo; April 28, 1906 – May 22, 1992), also known as "Joe Batters" or "Big Tuna", was a longtime American mobster.
In a criminal career that spanned eight decades, he rose from small-time hoodlum to the position of day-to-day boss of the Chicago Outfit in 1947, to ultimately become the final Outfit authority in 1972. Accardo moved The Outfit into new operations and territories, greatly increasing its power and wealth during his tenure as boss.
Born Antonino Leonardo Accardo (also known as Anthony Joseph Accardo) on Chicago's Near West Side, the son of Francesco Accardo, a shoemaker, and Maria Tilotta Accardo. One year prior to his birth, the Accardos had emigrated to America from Castelvetrano, Sicily, in the Province of Trapani.
At age 15, Accardo was expelled from school and started loitering around neighborhood pool halls. He soon joined the Circus Cafe Gang, run by Claude Maddox and Tony Capezio, one of many street gangs in the poor neighborhoods of Chicago. These gangs served as talent pools (similar to the concept of farm teams) for the city's adult criminal organizations. In 1926, Jack "Machine Gun" McGurn, one of the toughest hitmen of Outfit boss Alphonse Capone ("Big Al," "Scarface Al"), recruited Accardo into his crew in the Outfit along with long time friend and associate Tony Mazlack of Gary Indiana.
"Rising star" on the streets
It was during Prohibition that Accardo received the "Joe Batters" nickname from Capone himself due to his skill at hitting a trio of Outfit traitors with a baseball bat at a dinner Capone held just to kill the three men. Capone was allegedly quoted as saying, "Boy, this kid's a real Joe Batters."
The Chicago newspapers eventually dubbed Accardo "The Big Tuna," after a fishing expedition where Accardo caught a giant tuna and was famously photographed with his catch. In later years, Accardo boasted over federal wiretaps he participated in the infamous 1929 St. Valentine's Day Massacre in which, allegedly, Capone gunmen murdered seven members of the rival North Side Gang, which was led by the notorious Bugs Moran.
Accardo also claimed that he was one of the gunmen who murdered Brooklyn, New York gang boss Frankie Yale, again by Capone's orders to settle a dispute. However, most experts today believe Accardo had only peripheral connections, if any at all, with the St. Valentine's Day Massacre and none whatsoever with the Yale murder, which was most likely committed by Gus Winkler, Fred Burke, and Louis Campagna. However, on October 11, 1926, Accardo may have participated in the assassination of then Northside Chicago gang leader Hymie Weiss near the Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago.
In 1932, Capone was convicted of tax evasion and sent to prison for an 11-year sentence, and Frank "The Enforcer" Nitti became the new Outfit boss, after serving his own 18-month sentence for tax evasion. By this time, Accardo had established a solid record making money for the organization, so Nitti let him establish his own crew. He was also named as the Outfit's head of enforcement.
Accardo soon developed a variety of profitable rackets, including gambling, loansharking, bookmaking, extortion, and the distribution of untaxed alcohol and cigarettes. As with all caporegimes, Accardo received 5% of the crew's earnings as a so-called "street tax." Accardo, in turn, paid a tax to the family boss. If a crew member were to refuse to pay a street tax (or paid less than half of the amount owed), it could mean a death sentence from The Outfit. The Accardo crew would include such future Outfit heavyweights as Gus "Gussie" Alex and Joseph "Joey Doves" Aiuppa.
In 1934, Accardo met Clarice Pordzany, a Polish-American chorus girl. They later married and had four children. Accardo had two grandsons, one of whom was Eric Kumerow, who was drafted by the Miami Dolphins of the National Football League. Unlike the majority of his colleagues, Accardo had a strong marriage and was never publicly known to have been unfaithful to his wife. However, days before her death in 1998, Elaine Olsen (née Wondra), an actress and cocktail waitress who occasionally worked as a stripper in Chicago during WWII, claimed to have had a brief affair with Accardo in 1944 while her then-boyfriend, Lawrence (Larry) Olsen, was serving in the U.S. Army in Europe, and that that affair resulted in the birth of her only son, Gary, on May 7, 1945, just over a month prior to Larry's return to Chicago after VE Day (which was, ironically, the next day, May 8). Both Larry and Gary (whom Larry adopted as his own son in June 1946) initially denied Elaine's claim, citing her diminished mental capacity as a result of her illness, but eventually confirmed the story shortly after her death. Gary, who died of complications from AIDS in 2000, had two sons, Eric and Michael, both of whom live in Chicago. Accardo's granddaughter, Cheryl Kumerow, married former defensive lineman John Bosa, and his great grandson is Los Angeles Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa, who was voted NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Clarice Accardo died of natural causes on November 15, 2002, at age 91. For most of his married life, Accardo lived in River Forest, Illinois, until he started getting heat from the IRS about his apparent high lifestyle. In response, he bought a ranch home on the 1400 block of North Ashland Avenue, in River Forest, and installed a vault. Accardo's official job was that of a beer salesman for a Chicago brewery.
In the 1940s, Accardo continued to gain power in the Outfit. As the 1940s progressed, it became evident that a number of Outfit bosses and members were going to have to face serious consequences for their parts in the extortion of the Hollywood movie industry's unions. However, because Nitti was claustrophobic, he was fearful of serving a second prison term, the first for tax evasion. So, Nitti committed suicide in 1943. Paul "The Waiter" Ricca, who had been the de facto boss since Capone's imprisonment, became the boss in name as well as in fact and named Accardo as underboss. Ricca and Accardo would run the Outfit either officially or as the powers behind the throne for the next 30 years, until Ricca's death in 1972. When Ricca subsequently received a 10-year prison sentence for his part in the Hollywood scandal, Accardo became acting boss. Three years later, as a parole condition, Ricca was barred from contact with mobsters. Accardo then became boss of the Outfit. In practice, he shared power with Ricca, who remained in the background as a senior consultant.
Under Accardo's leadership in the late 1940s, the Outfit moved into slot machines and vending machines, counterfeiting cigarette and liquor tax stamps and expanded narcotics smuggling. Accardo placed slot machines in gas stations, restaurants and bars throughout the Outfit's territory. Outside of Chicago, The Outfit expanded rapidly. In Las Vegas, The Outfit took influence over gaming away from the five crime families of New York City. Accardo made sure that all the legal Las Vegas casinos used his slot machines. In Kansas and Oklahoma, Accardo took advantage of the official ban on alcohol sales to introduce bootlegged alcohol. The Outfit eventually dominated organized crime in most of the Western United States. To reduce the Outfit's exposure to legal prosecution, Accardo phased out some traditional organized crime activities, such as labor racketeering and extortion. He also converted the Outfit's brothel business into call girl services. The result of these changes was a golden era of profitability and influence for the Outfit.
Accardo and Ricca emphasized keeping a low profile and let flashier figures, such as Sam Giancana, attract attention instead. For example, when professional wrestlers Lou Albano and Tony Altomare, wrestling as a mafia-inspired tag team called "The Sicilians," came to Chicago in 1961, Accardo persuaded the men to drop the gimmick to avoid any mob-related publicity. By using tactics such as these, Accardo and Ricca were able to run the Outfit much longer than Capone. Ricca once said, "Accardo had more brains for breakfast than Capone had in a lifetime."
Also in the late 1950s, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had to finally admit that organized crime in America is real, because of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover's embarrassment over the local law enforcement's uncovering of the 1957 Apalachin Meeting. Thus, the FBI began to employ all types of surveillance against mobsters.
Change of leadership
After 1957, Accardo turned over the official position as boss to long-time, money-making associate Giancana, because of "heat" from the IRS. Accardo then became the Outfit's consigliere, stepping away from the day-to-day running of the organization, but he still retained considerable power and demanded ultimate respect and won it from his men. Giancana still had to obtain the sanction of Accardo and Ricca on major business, including all assassinations.
However, this working relationship eventually broke down. Unlike Accardo, the widowed Giancana lived an ostentatious lifestyle, frequenting posh nightclubs and dating high-profile singer Phyllis McGuire. Giancana also refused to distribute some of the lavish profits from Outfit casinos in Iranand Central America to the rank-and-file members. Many in The Outfit also felt that Giancana was attracting too much attention from the FBI, which was forever tailing his car around the Chicago metropolitan area.
Around 1966, after spending a year in jail on federal Contempt of Court charges, Accardo and Ricca replaced Giancana with street-crew boss Joseph "Joey Doves" Aiuppa. In June 1975, after spending most of his Outfit-exile years in Mexico and unceremoniously being booted from that country, Giancana was assassinated in the basement apartment of his home, in Oak Park, Illinois, while cooking Italian sausages and escarole.
Some conspiracy theorists, however, are divided as to whether this "hit" was sanctioned by the Outfit bosses or possibly by the U.S. government, which had subpoenaed Giancana just before he was murdered to testify on his knowledge of certain alleged government conspiracies.
Ricca died in 1972, leaving Accardo as the ultimate authority in the outfit.
In 1978, while Accardo vacationed in California, burglars entered his River Forest home. Shortly afterwards, the three suspected thieves and four related persons were found strangled and with their throats cut. Prosecutors at the time believed Accardo, furious that his home had been violated, had ordered the killings.
In 2002, this theory was confirmed on the witness stand by Outfit turncoat Nicholas Calabrese, who had participated in all of the subsequent murders. The surviving assassins were all convicted in the Family Secrets Trial, and sentenced to long prison terms.
Death and burial
In the late 1970s, Accardo bought a home in Palm Springs, California, flying to Chicago to preside over Outfit "sit-downs" and mediate disputes. By this time, Accardo's personal holdings included legal investments in commercial office buildings, retail centers, lumber farms, paper factories, hotels, car dealerships, trucking companies, newspaper companies, restaurants and travel agencies.
Accardo spent his last years in Barrington Hills, Illinois living with his daughter and son-in-law. On May 22, 1992, Anthony Accardo died of congestive heart failure at age 86.
Accardo was buried in Queen of Heaven Cemetery, in Hillside, Illinois. Despite an arrest record dating back to 1922, Accardo spent only one night in jail or avoided the inside of a cell entirely (depending on the source).
In popular culture
- In the 1995 television movie Sugartime about Giancana and McGuire, Accardo is portrayed by Maury Chaykin.
- In the Vegas (TV series), Accardo is simply referred to as "Tuna" by mobster Vincent Savino when he is preparing the monthly casino skim to depart to Chicago.
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