And who else better to tell his story than the one man who tried for years – yet never succeeded – to bring Tony Accardo to justice than former FBI Agent William F. Roemer, Jr. Whilst the likes of Capone and John Gotti will inevitably go down in American folklore as the two most well-known gangsters of the 20th Century, it was men like Accardo who achieved the highest status within their criminal underworld circles as one of the most powerful Mafia bosses in the history of the American Mafia.
For seven decades Accardo, a.k.a. Big Tuna, was embroiled in a life of crime, from his teenage years in street gangs to being recruited as a member of the Chicago Outfit in 1926. Roemer maps out Accardo’s life as a career criminal from his participation in the infamous St Valentine’s Day Massacre to seizing control of The Outfit in the 1940s.
Throughout the book Roemer speaks in a tone of grudging respect for Joe Batters (being a good family man, his foresight to expand the former Capone regime into new territories that greatly increased their power and wealth). but at the same time keeps the reader focused on the fact that this was a ruthless and merciless man, who had murdered his way to the top with some incredibly vicious and torturous methods.
Roemer uses his many experiences with Accardo and The Outfit to try and paint us a picture of how this criminal organization used the great wealth made from the prohibition era to sustain a period of dominance that would see the American Mafia wield power the like they have never seen again. Men like Accardo made that happen, rather than the ‘celebrity’ gangsters that are referenced in popular culture. Mobster Paul “The Waiter” Ricca summed Joe Batters up by saying, "Accardo had more brains for breakfast than Capone had in a lifetime."
This story is not simply portrayed as a ‘Good vs Evil’ story which would have been easy coming from a law enforcement officer who was never able to put one of his biggest nemesis’ behind bars. Instead Roemer takes a more human approach to the murderous men he is writing about; such as detailing their wishes for their sons to never follow them into this life.
In the end Roemer can only reflect on the ground work that the FBI laid in those days to help bring the mob of today to its knees. Men like Accardo will remain infamous through the annals of time, but that part of history that should not be neglected. After all, we are talking about a street thug who was expelled from school at 14 and went on to become leader of one of the most powerful – if not the most powerful – factions of the American underworld, before dying at the age of 86 a free man. Lessons can only be learned from men who rule with an iron fist just like Joe Batters did.
Perhaps not my favourite book about the American Mafia, but certainly worth a read if this is a genre that interests you.