What Happened to Union Leader Jimmy Hoffa?

One of the most famous American figures to inexplicably disappear was Jimmy Hoffa, the famed president of the Teamsters Union from 1957 until he went to prison in 1967. There was no question that Hoffa had a lot of enemies in his day and perhaps none so powerful as Robert F. Kennedy, the president’s brother and the attorney general from 1961 to 1964. Hoffa’s ties to organized crime landed him in prison but it would not be until those same gangsters turned against him would those ties lead to his disappearance and likely murder. And while Hoffa’s body has never been found, there is little question about whether or not he is dead. One way or another, Hoffa is not coming back...

For many years, Hoffa was the controversial leader of the Teamsters Union, which boasted strong connections to organized crime. Despite his underworld dealings though, Hoffa was immune to prosecution through the 1950’s. In the early 1960’s, he became the chief target of Bobby Kennedy, chief counsel to the Senate Select Committee on Improper Activities in the Labor or Management Field (popularly called the McClellan Committee), and later, the attorney general. In 1961, Kennedy made Hoffa the top priority of his administration and his efforts resulted in the labor leader’s 1962 trial for extorting illegal payments from a firm that employed Teamsters. The proceedings ended in a hung jury but then Hoffa was arrested for attempting to bribe one of the jurors. He was sentenced to eight years in prison.

Hoffa (Right) at labor rally with his wife (Corbis)

In 1964, Hoffa was convicted of misappropriating $1.7 million in union pension funds but managed to stay out of prison until 1967. He ended up serving 58 months and has his sentence commuted by President Nixon with the condition that he stayed out of union politics until 1980, which would have been the full term of his prison sentence. Hoffa didn’t take this condition seriously and he started legal action to get it set aside. In addition, he went ahead with efforts to regain control of the union from his former “right-hand man”, Frank Fitzsimmons. This maneuver did not sit well with mob leaders, as Fitzsimmons was much easier to manipulate than the stubborn Hoffa and could always be counted on to look the other way. He was also welcome at the White House, which Hoffa was not, and was infinitely more desirable as the head of the union. Hoffa was warned several times by mobsters to stop interfering and trying to regain his position but, not surprisingly, he refused to listen.

The Red Fox Restaurant, where Hoffa was last seen (Corbis)

On July 30, 1975, Hoffa went to the Red Fox Restaurant outside of Detroit to allegedly meet three men, a Detroit labor leader, an important local mobster and a powerful figure in New Jersey Teamster politics. Hoffa arrived first, around 2:00 in the afternoon, but after waiting nearly 30 minutes, none of the others had arrived. Annoyed, he called his wife and told her that he was going to wait for a few more minutes before giving up. This was the last time that she ever spoke with her husband.

At 2:45, Hoffa was seen getting into a car in the restaurant parking lot with several other men. Investigators are pretty sure that he never got out of the car alive. According to FBI investigators, Hoffa had been brought to a peace conference with mobster Anthony “Tony Pro” Provenzano and then had been killed. Provenzano was just one of the long list of suspects in Hoffa’s disappearance, although he had a good alibi at the time of the union leader vanished. In fact, some would say that it was too good. Tony was apparently touring a number of union officials around Hoboken, New Jersey on July 30. He made not have actually “done the deed” but that did not mean that he wasn’t involved.

Provenzano was far from alone on the suspect list. The number of possible killers grew as investigators probed their underworld connections and spoke with convicts who were looking for reductions in their sentences. The main suspects were Provenzano, Russell Bufaliano and two Hoffa cronies, Thomas Andretta and Gabriel Briguglio. Another suspect, Briguglio’s brother, Salvatore, was believed to be informing to the FBI when he was shot to death in March 1978.

As the investigation continued on, loose ends began to unravel everywhere. One of the most obvious mysteries was why Provenzano would have linked himself to a meeting with Hoffa if he planned to kill him? This seemed almost as odd as why the men who were supposed to kill Hoffa showed up 45 minutes late! This was not the usual for mob hitmen, who find punctuality certainly makes the job easier. These questions notwithstanding, the authorities were able to track down the auto that Hoffa got into and they did find traces of blood and hair inside. They were convinced that Hoffa got into the car and then was garroted from behind.

But was he really killed? Some insisted that he was not. One union official, after long bouts of questioning by the FBI, swore that Hoffa had skipped off to Brazil with a “black go-go dancer”. Supposedly, this was the inside story among union members!

In all reality though, it is unlikely to be the truth. In the years since 1975, Hoffa has been declared legally dead and most of the suspects in the case are dead themselves or have gone to prison on other charges. Any convictions for the murder of the vanished union leader would depend on testimony from an inside source - and don’t look for that anytime soon! As one unidentified union official stated: “We all know who did it. It was Tony and those guys of his from New Jersey. It’s common knowledge. But the cops need a corroborating witness, and it doesn’t look like they’re about to get one, does it?”

There have been many stories and theories about what happened to Hoffa that day. Here are a few of them:

- According to Ralph Picardo, the convict who gave up the main suspects in the case, Hoffa’s body was put in a 55-gallon steel drum and carted away in a  truck. Picardo said he didn’t know where it was taken but one theory had it that the drum was buried on the grounds of Brother Moscato’s garbage dump, a toxic waste site in Jersey City, New Jersey.

- According to another snitch, Hoffa’s body was taken to New Jersey where it was mixed into the concrete that was used to construct the New York Giant’s football stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. He was also said to have been  encased in the foundation of a public works garage in Cadillac, Michigan and buried under the helipad at the Sheraton Savannah Resort Hotel, which at the time of his disappearance was owned by the Teamsters.

- Hoffa was said to have been buried in a gravel pit in Highland, Michigan, which was owned by his brother William; crushed in an automobile compactor at Central Sanitation Services in Hamtramck, Michigan or buried in a field in  Waterford Township, Michigan.

- He was also alleged to have been ground up at a meat processing plant and then dumped in a Florida swamp or disintegrated at a fat-rendering plant.

Hoffa was declared legally dead in 1982, but his case remains open. A special agent at the FBI’s Detroit field office is still assigned to it. The investigation has generated over 16,000 pages of documents gathered from interviews, wiretaps, and surveillance, but despite the government’s best efforts to get to the bottom of Jimmy Hoffa’s disappearance, what really happens to him remains a mystery.

And so, officially, Jimmy Hoffa walked away from a Detroit restaurant one day and vanished into the ether. He was never seen or heard from again. Whether or not his body is hidden away in a landfill or beneath the concrete of a football stadium is anyone’s guess, but one things is for sure --  we’ll certainly never see him again.

Return to Dead Men Do Tell Tales

© Copyright 2004 by Troy Taylor. All Rights Reserved.