The Chicago Syndicate: RIP Sandy Smith 1919-2005
The Mission Impossible Backpack

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

RIP Sandy Smith 1919-2005

Friends or ours: Murph the Surf and Anthony Accardo
As a longtime Chicago investigative reporter, Sandy Smith used to drop in on mob weddings and peek at the names on the gift cards to figure out family connections. At one event, Smith was in the lobby checking out the wise guys when a couple of toughs started roughing up his photographer.

"He grabbed the camera away from the thug and walked out of the building," said his wife, Lynda. "And he threw it in the back seat of a car driven by two FBI agent friends of his. Then he walked back in the building and got the photographer, who was shaking in his boots. Never would work with Sandy again."

Mr. Smith, 85, died of pneumonia Tuesday, Nov. 22, in Missoula, Mont. He had had Alzheimer's disease for years.

His 58-year career included stints at the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times and at Time, Life and other magazines, along with television journalism. He wrote fearlessly about murderers, racketeering and men with monikers such as "Murph the Surf" and Anthony "Big Tuna" Accardo.

In a 1971 editor's note, Time stated that the "towering, jovial Smith has exposed much of organized crime's invisible empire, and in the process has become one of the best-known crime reporters in the nation." Mr. Smith had an uncanny ability to discern the threads that tied disparate data together, said Seymour Hersh, a New Yorker writer and former New York Times reporter.

In May 1973, Hersh wrote a story that the Times played as a major scoop: The Nixon White House had been wiretapping journalists and administration officials. But then someone clipped and sent him a paragraph from Time that Mr. Smith had written months earlier on the same topic. Hersh and others at the Times had missed the short piece.
"Time ran it as a, `We don't want to hurt the Nixon administration but we gotta keep this ... reporter happy,'" Hersh said. "They just buried the story. But he had it first. He was an amazing reporter. Everybody said he was too close to the FBI. He was close to the FBI, but he was not a patsy."

Mr. Smith was born in Columbus, Ohio, and his family moved to Chicago when he was an infant. He attended Todd School in Woodstock at the same time as Orson Welles. There Mr. Smith met his first wife, Bette, whom he later divorced. Mr. Smith attended Northwestern University, and a Sandy Smith is recorded as having received his bachelor's degree in 1941. He worked at the Tribune from 1942 to 1962, apart from two years when he tried raising dogs professionally.

While at the Sun-Times, he met his second wife, Lynda. They got married in 1965. After he left for New York in 1967 to work for Life magazine, his pregnant wife returned to Chicago because she wanted her longtime obstetrician to deliver the baby. Two weeks after the birth, Mr. Smith phoned her from New York, telling her to run to her parents' place down the street--now! Two gangsters had moved into the hotel, apparently intending to menace her. "I stuck a .38 in my waistband in front and put another .38 in my back waistband," his wife said. "I picked up my infant daughter, and I ran down the street. Had my mother change all the locks on the door."

In the late 1960s, Smith wrote a story for Fortune listing the top 50 mobsters in the country, said George Lardner, a retired Washington Post reporter. "Afterward, they kept getting letters from the gangsters: `How come I'm No. 11? How come this guy got ahead of me?'" Lardner said. Historical and I have no doubt true.

The Smiths moved to Montana in 1992.Other survivors include three daughters, Pamela Conklin, Candace Andersen and Priscilla; three sons, Roderick, Roger and Casey; and three grandchildren. Services have been held.

Thanks to Russell Working

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