Tony Accardo is another one of those American Mafiosos who, despite lacking the name recognition of Al Capone or Lucky Luciano, nonetheless played an outsized role in American mafia history. From his humble beginnings in the streets of Chicago, Accardo rose to become the leader of the Chicago Outfit, one of the most infamous organized crime families in the 20th Century. He was known as a brutal enforcer for the mob, who had allegedly brutally killed gangsters with baseball bats and had ordered the execution of criminals who had the misfortune of robbing his house. However, despite his brutal acts and leadership of a major crime network, Accardo only spent one night of his life in jail and died of old age as a free man.
Humble Beginnings in the Chicago Streets
Accardo was born in Chicago in the early 1900s, the son of recently arrived immigrants. Like many gangsters of the 20th Century, Accardo drifted into crime at an early age. He dropped out of school when he was 14 years old and was soon running with a street gang called the Circus Café Gang, committing theft and other petty crimes. Crafty, he soon attracted attention of the Mafia, who saw his potential as a more serious criminal. He was soon drafted into the crew of Jack, “Machine Gun” McGurn, a notorious hitman and mobster for the Chicago Outfit. Tony Accardo would spend the rest of his life as a gangster in The Outfit.
A Brutal Enforcer and Rising Mafioso
Accardo made his mark in the Chicago Outfit as one of their most brutal enforcers. He was alleged to have killed three members of the Outfit believed to have been turncoats by beating them to death with a baseball bat. Al Capone, admiring his handiwork, is alleged to have remarked that Accardo was “a real Joe Batters,” which became his nickname in the Outfit. There are disputed accounts of Accardo having been involved in the infamous Valentine’s Day massacre, as well as the murders of gangsters Frankie Yale and Hymie Weiss. Regardless of his involvement, Accardo’s fierce reputation followed him up the ranks of the Chicago Mob.
When Capone was imprisoned over tax evasion, Accardo received a promotion, and was given his own crew in the Chicago Outfit. He proved to be as good a leader as he was an enforcer, running many lucrative rackets in the street. Tony Accardo’s rise in the ranks coincided with the more formal, business-like structure that had taken hold in most American Mafia networks. As a result, Accardo was able to earn a great deal of money imposing a tax upon the lower ranking gangsters he oversaw. His competence running a crew -and enriching his bosses in the process – allowed him to continue rising in the ranks.
Running the Outfit
After Frank Nitti committed suicide, Tony Accardo was appointed as underboss of the Chicago Outfit. With Outfit leader Paul Ricca taking a much more low-key role, many of the daily responsibilities of running the crime family fell upon Accardo, and he excelled at them. Despite the intense law enforcement scrutiny that continued even after Capone’s arrest, the Outfit continued to thrive and make money. After Ricca was arrested and then barred from associating further with known gangsters, Accardo became the de facto head of the Chicago Outfit.
Under Accardo’s leadership, the Chicago Outfit again thrived and moved into new lucrative rackets. The crime networks moneymaking schemes including control of slot machines, which became ubiquitous across the Chicago Metropolitan area, and even the casinos of Las Vegas. Narcotics smuggling became an even larger enterprise for the Outfit under Accardo’s steady hand as well. However, recognizing the scrutiny his organization was under, Accardo also worked to make many of the crime syndicate’s activities more legitimate, or at least more challenging to prosecute; brothels were transformed into escort services and other Mob activities were toned down to keep the law at bay. As a result, money poured in to the Chicago Outfit like never before.
Consigliere and Retirement
Accardo avoided prison throughout his tenure as head of the Chicago Outfit. However, sensing that scrutiny was increasing on him, he opted to depart his role as boss, turning over the reins to the flashier gangster Sam Giancana. However, for years Accardo played the role of consigliere for the Chicago Outfit, and was believed to have retained power and decision-making authority behind the scenes. However, over time this power sharing relationship broke down, and the senior gangster’s influence in the Outfit diminished.
Despite his reduced role and advancing age, Accardo remained as brutal and vicious as he had been in the days where he ran the streets of Chicago. Having purchased a home in River Forest, California, the elder gangster’s home was subsequently robbed by professional burglars. Enraged, Accardo allegedly had the thieves tracked down and then brutally murdered, with their throats cut. Years later, several gangsters would eventually be tried and convicted for carrying out the execution on Accardo’s orders.
As Accardo’s role in the Chicago Outfit diminished, he eventually turned his pursuits towards more legitimate, respectable businesses. He was a successful entrepreneur, running enterprises such as office and retail building development and leasing, and being involved in the lumber trade. He also had ownership stakes in trucking companies and restaurants as well. As he continued to age and his health declined, Accardo eventually moved in with relatives in Barrington Hills, Illinois. He died at the age of 86 of natural causes in 1992.
Parting Thoughts: A Mob Boss Who Escaped the Law
Tony Accardo spent his entire life as a criminal. He went from being a common street thug to leading one of the most powerful organized crime syndicates in the world. He was never convicted of any crime and spent the end of his days as a retiree and successful businessman. While his name may not have the recognition of other 20th Century mobsters, the life of Tony Accardo no doubt inspired many of the American gangsters who came after him.
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