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In the first round of the 1987 draft, the Dolphins used the 16th pick to select John Bosa, a defensive end from Boston College. Miami again drafted 16th the following year, choosing Eric Kumerow, a linebacker from Ohio State whose father and uncle had been NFL offensive linemen. In ’93, Bosa married Kumerow’s sister, Cheryl, and they had two sons, Nick and Joey. Joey, of course, is a Pro Bowl edge rusher for the Chargers. Meanwhile, Jake Kumerow, son of Eric, is a receiver who went undrafted in 2015 but caught on with the Packers, starting two games last season.
So it is that when Ohio State defensive end Nick Bosa was taken last week in the 2019 draft, second overall by the 49ers, he become the seventh player in the family, over three generations, to join the NFL. Yet none of them could ever hope to be considered the most feared and fearsome member of the clan. Not by a long shot.
Tony Accardo didn’t get the mob handle Joey Batters for his proficiency at baking muffins. And the same ruthlessness that earned Accardo his nickname and a place on Al Capone’s org chart was on full display a half-century later. In early 1978, Accardo was in California to escape the Midwest’s biting cold when robbers broke into his suburban Chicago home. The 71-year-old Accardo seethed, less for rage over property lost than over the breach of respect.
At the time, he passed his days playing with his grandkids, including his daughter Marie’s thick-shouldered son, Eric, then 12. Still, Accardo wasn’t beyond demonstrating who was boss. Using his connections to identify the thieves, he betrayed no mercy. Within the year, 10 men were dead. According to the Chicago Tribune, “Each was found with his throat cut; one was castrated and disemboweled, his face removed with a blow torch, a punishment imposed, presumably, because he was Italian and should have known better.” As another account in The Guardian put it, Accardo “avenged insult with interest.”
This was business as usual. Accardo was born in Chicago in 1906, the year after his parents emigrated from Sicily. Though he was later believed to have a photographic memory, Tony dropped out of school at 14, in 1920, not coincidentally the first year that the sale, manufacture and transportation of alcohol was made illegal by the Eighteenth Amendment. Short on formal education but long on street smarts, he went to work for local crime syndicates and neighborhood bootleggers, executing muggings and serving as a lookout, before graduating to armed robbery.
In the mid-’20s he caught the eye of the real Scarface. In John Kobler’s definitive biography Capone, the author writes that Accardo became a bodyguard “and was sometimes seen in the lobby of the Hotel Lexington with a tommy gun across his knee.” He was having lunch with his boss in 1926 when members of Chicago’s North Side Gang opened fire. According to mob lore, Accardo splayed his body over Capone to thwart the hit.
Accardo would not only take bullets for Capone, but also deliver deadly blows. By some accounts he helped plan the 1929 St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, when Capone’s soldiers, dressed as police, killed seven members of Bugs Moran’s rival bootlegging gang. Days later Accardo figured prominently at a dinner that had been arranged both to celebrate Capone’s consolidation of power and to deal with two troublesome capos. In a scene later bastardized in the 1987 film The Untouchables, Accardo took the men out back before the main course was served and bashed their skulls in with a baseball bat. “Boy, this kid is a real Joey Batters,” Capone allegedly enthused about his protégé. The nickname stuck.
Despite these acts of violence, Accardo was, really, more brain than muscle. His specialties: understanding legal loopholes, expanding the mob’s reach and prospecting for new revenue streams. He was particularly involved in the gambling racket around Chicago, at one point overseeing an estimated 7,500 mob-controlled businesses that offered games of chance.
While Capone was a model of public flamboyance, Accardo cut the opposite figure, never granting interviews and living by the credo “keep your head down.” On the rare occasion when he appeared in public, he typically wore a hat pulled low and sunglasses shrouding his face.
After Capone’s conviction for tax evasion in 1931, Accardo became a leader in the Chicago operation, gaining power when Frank (the Enforcer) Nitti committed suicide in ’43 and Paul (the Waiter) Ricca was convicted on extortion charges nine months later. By the late 1940s, Accardo was in full control of the Chicago mafia. (Not that he ever admitted it. For decades he was invariably described as an alleged or reputed mob boss.)
“Accardo may not have had Capone’s mystique, but he was extraordinarily powerful,” says Rich Lindberg, a Chicago author and historian. “Remember, you’re talking about a time when the Chicago Outfit”—as Illinois’s multiethnic crime syndicate was known—“was so powerful that the newspapers had reporters whose only beat was covering the mob.”
In 1934, Accardo married Clarice Pordzany, a chorus girl. They adopted two sons, Joseph and Anthony; had two biological daughters, Marie and Linda; and moved into a sprawling home in River Forest, Ill., replete with an indoor pool and bowling alley. Tony would hold lavish Fourth of July parties that drew the most prominent mob figures throughout the country. In a scene cribbed for The Godfather, the FBI would come and survey the cars, matching license plates with names. Reportedly, Frank Sinatra showed up at the house to sing for Accardo on one of his birthdays.
Under Accardo the Chicago Outfit moved from bootlegging and assorted acts of violence to more sophisticated ventures. (As Ricca once put it, “Accardo had more brains for breakfast than Al Capone had in a lifetime.”) By penetrating labor unions, expanding gambling ties and establishing a beachhead in a newly minted city of sin, Las Vegas (with an equity stake in the Stardust Hotel), the Chicago Outfit came to resemble a conventional business. And Joey Batters was the unquestioned CEO. When mob historians refer to him as perhaps the most powerful American underworld figure of the 20th century, it is not hyperbole. New York City may have had a bigger organized crime scene, but that was split among five families. In Chicago, for all intents, there was just one boss.
Despite 30-plus arrests, Accardo never spent a night in jail. Not that there weren’t close calls. In 1946, Irish gangster James Ragen tried to inform on Accardo to the FBI—until Ragen died suspiciously of mercury poisoning. In ’51, Accardo was called to testify before Congress about organized crime. Wearing sunglasses, he invoked the Fifth Amendment 172 times. And in ’59 he was indicted for tax violations after he listed his occupation as “beer salesman” and tried to write off his Mercedes-Benz as a business expense. A jury overturned his conviction after a protracted appeal.
Accardo spent most of the 1960s and ’70s in what the Tribune called “semiretirement and serving as a counselor to underworld figures.” Marie, meanwhile, married Palmer Pyle, a guard with the Colts, Vikings and Raiders. (His brother Mike played nine seasons at center for the Bears and won a championship alongside Mike Ditka.) Palmer and Marie divorced, and she wed Ernest Kumerow, a former Chicago union boss, who adopted Eric and his sister, Cheryl, raising them both as his own. At Oak Park–River Forest High, Eric was a three-sport star, a 6' 6" 228-pound mauler whose grandfather often watched him play, inconspicuously, from the bleachers.
During pre-draft interviews after Eric’s junior year in Columbus, NFL teams asked about Accardo, concerned that he might influence games. (According to the Tribune, William Roemer, a former senior agent on the FBI’s Organized Crime Squad in Chicago, told teams Accardo would never put his grandson in that position.) After Eric ended up a Dolphin, a Miami Herald reporter told him that Joey Batters had been named No. 2 on Fortune magazine’s ranking of American gangsters, to which Kumerow replied, “To me, he’s just my grandfather, and I love him. He’s a great man, a caring man. I remember him coming to ball games and being with us. I never had an opinion when I would see articles in the paper. I don’t believe them. Half of what you read in the paper isn’t true.”
Eric was a pallbearer in 1992 when Accardo died at age 86, an event that occasioned a front-page obituary in the Chicago Sun-Times. In the ultimate testament to Accardo’s savvy, he died of natural causes. “If you’re a mobster and you don’t die with your shoes on, you must have been doing something right,” says Lindberg. “Just consider his span. He was in power for six decades. Capone was in power for six years.”
Joey Bosa was born three years after Accardo died; Nick, two years after that. Both tend to smile when their great-grandfather’s name comes up, but neither is inclined to talk about him. (Both Eric and Cheryl Kumerow declined to comment for this story.)
Today, the Chicago Outfit is essentially defunct, organized crime in the city having been replaced by street gangs. Inasmuch as the Outfit exists at all, there are believed to be fewer than 30 members remaining. Tony Accardo is a figure frozen in lore, a star in a game that, at least locally, is no longer played. Still, you suspect he’d be pleased that, in a more public and permissible line of work, his family has risen to the top.
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