At around quarter to three in the afternoon, on July 30, 1975, a man was seen pacing the parking lot outside the Machus Red Fox Restaurant in Bloomfield Township, just outside Detroit.
According to the official FBI report, a maroon Mercury Marquis then drove into the lot and he was seen arguing with the two men in the front. Finally, he jumped in and the car sped away.
The man was Jimmy Hoffa. He was never seen again.
Martin Scorcese has released a new blockbuster movie about those events called The Irishman. It stars Al Pacino, Robert de Niro, Joe Pesci and Harvey Keitel.
Such a line-up seems fitting; Hoffa’s own life certainly featured its own array of celebrities, including Bobby Kennedy, President Richard Nixon and the Detroit Mafia.
But who was Hoffa? And what is the truth behind the most enduring and tantalising mystery in US criminal history?
And is it true that his middle name really was – Riddle?
Yes, it is.
James Riddle Hoffa was born on Valentine’s Day in 1913. He rose from humble beginnings in Indiana to become head of the Teamsters Union in 1957, a position which made him one of the most powerful men in the country. But trucking unions were mostly controlled by organized crime; to rise that high you had to get into bed with the Mob.
His dealings naturally made him a target for the FBI, and particularly the President’s brother, Attorney General Bobby Kennedy, who organized his own version of The Untouchables – the ‘Get Hoffa’ squad.
And he did get him. Hoffa was jailed for bribery and jury tampering in 1967.
But four years into his sentence, Hoffa was pardoned by then President Richard Nixon. A condition of his release was that Hoffa would refrain from all union-related activity until 1980.
The deal was brokered by acting Teamsters boss Frank Fitzsimmons – “Fitz”. It wasn’t a favour. Having Hoffa banned from holding any top union post played right into his hands. He was now able to consolidate his own power within the Teamsters without his former boss’s interference.
Fitz and the Teamsters Union went on to endorse Richard Nixon’s successful re-election campaign in 1972, and the Mafia kept their unfettered access to the Teamsters pension fund, which even back then was worth a staggering one billion dollars.
Everyone was happy.
He didn’t like being cut out of his own union and he wasn’t ready to retire. He reneged on the deal and threatened to name names if he didn’t get his way. It was rumoured that he had started to write a book about how the East Coast Mafia had killed JFK.
But in that world, autobiographies and autopsies go hand in hand.
The Mob didn’t want Hoffa cruelling their deal with the Teamsters or attracting heat with his book. They gave him a Hoffa he couldn’t refuse.
Unfortunately for Jimmy, he refused it.
So, what happened to Hoffa? He was declared dead by the courts in absentia in 1982, but his body has never been found. Where is it?
So-called tips from aging mobsters and anonymous sources have created all sorts of urban legends.
He was shot, dismembered, frozen and buried in cement at the old NY Giants stadium in New Jersey.
He was thrown alive out of an airplane over the Great Lakes by a couple of federal agents.
He was shot with a stun gun, ground up at an ironworks, placed into a steel drum, and shipped to the Everglades where he was fed to the alligators.
His remains were shredded at a Mob-run New Jersey chicken farm and then dumped in the ocean miles from shore.
He was stabbed in the head with a hunting knife, placed in a steel drum, set on fire, buried, then dug up and compacted inside a car and shipped to Japan as recycled scrap metal for use in new cars.
He is still hiding out as R2D2 in Star Wars.
As entertaining as some of these theories are, the most likely explanation actually is that he was taken to a local mobster’s house, summarily executed and his body cremated in an incinerator at a local Mafia-owned funeral home. Just like in the movie.
Footnote: who had he arranged to meet that afternoon at the Red Fox? A local Mob boss called Tony ‘Tony Pro’ Provenzano. Ten weeks after Hoffa’s disappearance, President Nixon made his first public appearance since his resignation, during which he golfed with … Frank Fitzsimmons and Provenzano.
I’ll let you do the math.
As one of the most famous missing people in history, Jimmy Hoffa has written himself into legend. His disappearance means that for many people, he hasn’t really died. Like the urban myths still surrounding Hitler and Elvis and TuPac, people wonder … could he still be out there?
And so the Riddle goes on.
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