Bad Career Move
The Accardo Burglar Murders
“Desperation is like stealing from the Mafia: You stand a good chance of attracting the wrong attention.” — Douglas Horton
INTRO: In early 1978, suicidal thieves burglarized the suburban home of legendary Outfit kingpin Tony Accardo. The break-in touched off a series of murders, claiming the lives of nine men. An intensive local and federal investigation was launched to probe the relentless slaughter with the aim of prosecuting Accardo and other leading Outfit bosses. It all began a week before Christmas with a Hollywoodesque burglary on Chicago’s Near North Side — a million-dollar-plus “score,” which made it a national news story.
1. The Score
On the night of Saturday, December 17, 1977, professional burglars looking for a nice Christmas score hit Levinson’s Jewelers Inc., a combination jewelry store, pawn shop, and loan company at 739 North Clark Street. It was on the same block as an adult book store and owned by a distinguished octogenarian jeweler named Harry A. Levinson.
The burglary crew used a sophisticated electronic device known as a “black box” to bypass the expensive alarm system, which was plugged into a monitoring security service. After that daring feat, they climbed up onto the roof and cut through the security bars of a second-story rear bathroom window with torches.
Inside Levinson’s, they lugged in all their equipment through the back door, which opened up into the alley behind the store. Now came the real hard work. They slowly cut through four wall safes with an acetylene torch. The burglary continued throughout Sunday and into the early morning hours on Monday.
“The whole operation would take quite a bit of time,” said a police lieutenant who headed the local burglary-investigation unit.
They ran out of time cutting through the largest safe. It contained a monster 70.20 carat diamond known as “Idol’s Eye,” which was the store’s illustrious showpiece. Levinson’s was billed as “Home of the Famous ‘Idol’s Eye’ 70.20 Carat Diamond.” Mr. Levinson bought the sky-blue diamond — a pear-shaped gem the size of a pigeon’s egg — for his wife, Marilyn, at a New York City auction in 1962 for $375,000. It was, as Levinson described it, “the finest quality diamond in the world.” The diamond was described as having a “cloak-and-dagger history” shrouded in mystery as to its actual origin and dated back to the 1600s.
Harry Levinson’s acquisition of Idol’s Eye made him a jeweler of worldwide prominence overnight. “Buying the Idol’s Eye did more for my business than anything I could have ever done,” Levinson said in a 1973 interview. “It put us on the map, gave us access to great collections, and attracted great collectors to Chicago.”
Now, four years later, Harry Levinson was just thankful he didn’t lose Idol’s Eye. “They had a truck out there and they took both showcases and took out all the trays we didn’t take in at night,” he told reporters later that morning at the scene of the sensational caper. “Thank God they didn’t get into the big safe.”
Levinson was no stranger to getting robbed. He’d been robbed at least three times in the past.
In 1935, his jewelry store was robbed for over $1,000 in merchandise. While he and his wife were vacationing in Florida in 1949, a burglar was caught breaking into his 18-room mansion at 4230 Marine Drive on the city’s North Side. In 1958, a pawnshop he owned at 204 North Clark Street was robbed at gunpoint of $200.
Now, here was the worst robbery yet.
Even without getting their hands on Idol’s Eye (the grand prize of the night), the crew made off with approximately $1 million worth of jewelry, some furs, and a little icing on the cake: $30,000 in cash.
It all happened just around the corner from the Chicago Avenue Police Station located at 113 West Chicago Avenue. A routine patrol from that precinct spotted the back door of the store ajar at about quarter after six in the morning on Monday, December 19. The policemen got out of their patrol car to investigate, but the burglars were long gone. They were somewhere in Chicagoland taking an inventory of the loot.
December 1977 was a good month for this crew. They were suspected of pulling off a similar burglary at another jewelry firm just ten days earlier on January 9. That score netted $500,000 in jewels.
Obviously, the value of the score wasn’t what the value of the stolen items sold for in a store. The typical fence pays about 20 to 25 percent of the face value. Still, that meant the crew would be able cut up hundreds of thousands of dollars among themselves. Not bad. Not a bad way to end the year. It would make for a merry Christmas and a happy New Year.
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