There are some mysteries that have become woven into our cultural fabric – events that captured the imagination of so many people, so quickly, that they are literally unforgettable.
The disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa definitely makes that list. In the summer of 1975, the crooked union activist vanished after telling friends that he was meeting a pair of Mafia kingpins to negotiate a political truce.
He has never been seen since, and no trace of him has ever been found.
Jimmy Hoffa, Union Activist
James Riddle “Jimmy” Hoffa was born in Brazil, Indiana on February 14, 1913. He became a union activist at a very early age and was an important figure with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) union by the time he was in his mid-20s.
He eventually rose to the position of union president in 1957. In 1964, he successfully negotiated the first national agreement for teamsters’ rates in the form of the National Master Freight agreement. The union grew considerably under his leadership, peaking at 2.3 million members during his terms.
Unfortunately, Hoffa was also crooked, and had gotten involved with organized crime very early into his involvement with the IBT. One of his many dealings included accommodating and making arrangements with gangsters that controlled most of the era’s trucking unions in order to unify and expand them under the IBT’s direction.
He continued to make crooked dealings with various organized crime syndicates throughout his years with the IBT. He eventually faced convictions of jury tampering, and mail fraud as a result of major criminal investigations coming from the McClellan Senate hearings.
Crooked Dealings And Just Desserts
Robert F. Kennedy, the younger brother of President John F. Kennedy, was appointed to the position of Attorney General in 1961 and immediately pursued the strongest crackdown on organized crime that had ever occurred in the US. This included the formation of his so-called “Get Hoffa” squad that consisted of prosecutors and investigators devoted to bringing him down.
In 1964, they finally succeeded, convicting Hoffa of attempted bribery of a grand juror in Chattanooga, Tennessee after he was implicated by a close associate named Edward Grady Partin. He was sentenced to eight years in prison.
The same year, Hoffa was convicted of fraud after it was discovered that he had illegally arranged loans to multiple prominent organized crime figures using the Teamsters’ pension fund. He received a five-year sentence that was set to run consecutively to his bribery sentence.
He spent three years unsuccessfully appealing these sentences before being sent to prison in 1967 at the Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary in Pennsylvania. During this time, he published his first book, The Trials of Jimmy Hoffa in 1970.
On December 23, 1971, Hoffa was released when President Richard Nixon commuted his sentence to time served. Rumors flew that Hoffa had made a deal with Nixon – in exchange for his release, the IBT endorsed Nixon’s re-election bid in 1972, despite having supported mostly Democratic nominees before that point. It was also alleged that Nixon had been paid a very large sum of money, perhaps even one million dollars.
Despite these allegations, Nixon also prevented Hoffa from engaging in any union activities until 1980. Hoffa fought ferociously against this, even suing to try and invalidate the order, but he never managed to get it overturned before his disappearance.
Jimmy Hoffa disappeared on July 30, 1975 from a Red Fox restaurant in Bloomfield Township, a suburb of Detroit, Michigan. He had told multiple other people that he was meeting with a pair of Mafia leaders named Anthony Giacalone and Anthony Provenzano to negotiate some sort of political truce.
Provenzano was another Teamster leader from New Jersey and had been close to Hoffa earlier in his career. He was the national vice-president with IBT from 1961, during Hoffa’s second term as president. Despite these very close ties, Provenzano was now a vocal enemy of Hoffa, even going so far as to threaten to kidnap Hoffa’s granddaughter.
Despite this, Hoffa had approached him in 1973 and 74 to ask for support while he tried to regain his power. Provenzano refused and threatened Hoffa even more, saying that he would “pull out his guts” as well as hurt other members of the Hoffa family. These threats were not to be taken lightly – people who had spoken against Provenzano in the past had been assaulted, and two political opponents were believed to have been murdered by him or his associates.
In the days before the disappearance, Anthony Giacalone and his brother Vito had made three visits to Hoffa’s home in Lake Orion, and one to the Guardian Building law offices. According to them, they wanted to arrange a “peace meeting” between Provenzano and Hoffa. Hoffa’s son, James, believes that this was only a pretext to lure Hoffa so that they could “set Hoffa up for a hit.”
Even Hoffa himself was becoming uneasy with their visits, but he still agreed to the meeting. They set the meeting for 2pm at the Red Fox restaurant, which Hoffa knew well – it had been the venue for his son’s wedding reception.
That day, July 30, Hoffa left home at 1:15 pm, and stopped in Pontiac to talk to Louis Linteau, a former local Teamsters president and close friend. It was known in both above and underground circles that Linteau acted as a buffer for Hoffa, and that if anyone wanted to see him face to face, they had to talk to Louis Linteau first. The meeting that day was no different, and Hoffa tried to check in with him before the meeting. Unfortunately, Linteau was out to lunch, and Hoffa had to leave a message before departing.
At 2:15, Hoffa called his wife from a payphone to complain that the gangsters had stood him up and told her that he would be home at 4pm. Several witnesses testified to seeing Hoffa near his car in the restaurant parking lot, pacing. At 3:27pm, Hoffa used the same payphone to call Linteau, again to complain that Giacalone had not shown up. “That dirty son of a bitch Tony Jocks set this meeting up, and he’s an hour and a half late,” he said.
Linteau told him to calm down and stop by his office on the way home. Hoffa said that he would, and then hung up. That was the last contact anyone ever had with Jimmy Hoffa.
At 7am the next morning, Hoffa’s wife, Josephine, called their children, James and Barbara, to say that their father had not come home that night before. On her way to the family home, Barbara claimed that she had a vision of her father, slumped over dead, wearing a dark colored polo shirt.
At 7:20am, Louis Linteau went to the Red Fox and found Hoffa’s car in the parking lot, unlocked, but no sign of Hoffa or what could have happened to him. He called the police, who would later enlist the help of the Illinois State Police and the FBI. That evening, a missing persons report was also filed by Hoffa’s son, James.
Despite years of investigation, no definitive conclusions have ever been made about the fate of Jimmy Hoffa. When questioned, Giacalone and Provenzano denied ever scheduling a meeting with Hoffa that day, and their alibis placed them nowhere near the Red Fox that day. Hoffa was declared legally dead on July 30, 1982, but his body has never been found.
In 1989, the head of the FBI’s Detroit office, Kenneth Walton, stated to The Detroit News that he was confident that he knew what had happened to Hoffa. “I’m comfortable I know who did it, but it’s never going to be prosecuted because… we would have to divulge informants, confidential sources.”
In 2001, the FBI matched DNA from a strand of hair taken from Hoffa’s brush with a hair found in a 1975 Mercury Marquis Brougham that had belonged to one of Hoffa’s friends, Charles “Chuckie” O’Brien on the day that Hoffa disappeared. Police and Hoffa’s family both believe that O’Brien played a role in the disappearance, but he has denied that he was ever involved or that Hoffa had ever been in his car.
One of the most popular theories as to the location of Hoffa’s body is that he was buried at various points underneath the field of Giants Stadium. In Season 2, Episode 5 of the Discovery Channel’s Mythbusters show, the team scanned these locations with ground-penetrating radar to see if there was any evidence that a body was buried there. There was no trace of human remains found, and no remains were recovered when Giants Stadium was eventually demolished in 2010.
On June 16, 2006, the Detroit Free Press released, in its entirety, a document known as the “Hoffex Memo”, a 56-page report that the FBI had prepared for a briefing in January 1976 on the case. The memo records an unsubstantiated belief that Hoffa was murdered at the request of organized crime bosses who felt threatened by Hoffa’s efforts to regain control of the Teamsters.
Richard Kuklinski, also known as “The Iceman”, claimed to know what had happened to Jimmy Hoffa in the 1991 documentary The Iceman: Confessions of a Mafia Contract Killer. He claimed that the body was placed into a 50-gallon drum and burned, before the drum was welded shut and buried in an unnamed junkyard.
Later, he claimed that an accomplice was starting to talk to authorities, so they dug up the drum and placed it into the trunk of a car, which was then compacted into a 4×2 block and shipped to Japan as scrap. These claims have never been fully verified.
Josephine Hoffa died on September 12, 1980. According to her children, the grief of her husband’s disappearance had caused her health to decline steadily, and she was buried in Michigan.
Multiple books have been written on the case, as well as documentaries and fictionalized accounts in film. The case also makes an appearance in the 2003 comedy Bruce Almighty, where the discovery of his body is a miracle that Bruce manifests to regain footing in the news industry.
The latest media portrayal will be a Netflix original film called The Irishman, where Hoffa will be played by Al Pacino. The film is set to be released later this year.