Guide to the life and mystery of Jimmy Hoffa

DETROIT — The FBI has spent this week digging up a field in suburban Detroit for the remains of former Teamsters union leader Jimmy Hoffa, who disappeared 38 years ago. He was last seen outside a restaurant about 20 miles from the digging site where he was to meet with a New Jersey Teamsters boss and a Detroit Mafia captain.

The excavation of the field failed to turn up the remains of Hoffa, the FBI announced Wednesday, adding another unsuccessful chapter to the mystery.

Here's a look at Hoffa, his legacy and the enduring mystery of his disappearance.

Q: Who was Jimmy Hoffa, and why was he such a big deal in labor?

A: Though a grade-school dropout, James Riddle Hoffa was a tough negotiator who formed his own union and merged it with the Teamsters when he was 19. In 1957, at age 44, Hoffa was elected the Teamsters president, a union he built to become the nation's largest in the country by 1968 with 2 million members, according to the Teamsters website. He continued as Teamsters president even in prison, until he officially resigned in 1971 when his jury tampering sentence was commuted by President Richard Nixon.

Q: Did he become a household name after he was reported missing, or was he widely known before that?

A: As Teamsters president, Hoffa was the face of the union. He earned the loyalty of his members with contracts that improved their standard of living dramatically. It was under Hoffa that the Teamsters won their first national trucking contract. He was an acquaintance of mobsters and was last seen July 30, 1975, outside the Machus Red Fox restaurant in Oakland County, north of Detroit. Hoffa was supposed to meet that day with Anthony "Tony Jack" Giacalone, a figure in the Detroit mob. Anthony "Tony Pro" Provenzano, a New Jersey Teamsters leader, also was believed to be in on the meeting.

Q: What was Hoffa's most famous or infamous accomplishment before 1975 when he was reported missing?

A: Hoffa found an enemy in Robert F. Kennedy, who had been counsel to a congressional committee investigating the unions and later became U.S. attorney general. Kennedy had accused Hoffa of corruption and connections to the mob. Hoffa was put on trial in 1962, accused by Kennedy of taking payoffs from trucking companies. That ended in a hung jury, but two years later in Nashville Hoffa was convicted of jury tampering. In 1967, Hoffa went to jail, sentenced to 13 years for jury tampering and fraud. He refused to give up the Teamsters presidency. He quit the position in 1971, and President Richard Nixon pardoned him.

Q: What does the FBI think happened to him?

A: The FBI believes Hoffa was killed. He was declared legally dead in 1982. Donald "Tony The Greek" Frankos told Playboy magazine in 1989 that mob leaders tried to dissuade Hoffa from retaking control of the Teamsters after his release from prison. But Hoffa refused and allegedly threatened to tell authorities about mob infiltration of the unions. Frankos claimed Hoffa was killed by members of the Westies, a New York Irish gang, on the orders of Genovese crime family boss Anthony "Fat Tony" Salerno. His body was cut up in Michigan, then driven to New Jersey several months later and buried in the concrete foundation of the sprouting Giants Stadium, Frankos said. He even claimed to know what area of the stadium: a section near the corner of the west end zone. Retired FBI agent Jim Kossler has said Frankos was not reliable.

Q: It seems like the FBI conducts a search for his body every year. How much taxpayer money is spent on the effort?

A: To give you an idea of how much has been spent trying to solve the mystery, from the time of Hoffa's disappearance in 1975 through 1985, more than 200 FBI agents were assigned to the case in New Jersey, Detroit and at least four other cities. During the period, more than 70 volumes of files were compiled, containing more than 16,000 pages. A failed two-week search for Hoffa's body in 2006 on a Michigan horse farm alone cost about $250,000.

But Keith Corbett, a former federal prosecutor in Detroit who was active in Mafia prosecutions touching on the Hoffa case, said it was appropriate for the FBI to act on what they deem credible tips despite the dead ends they repeatedly hit.

"Anytime you look for somebody and don't find the body it is embarrassing," Corbett said. "The thing the public isn't aware of, but police know, is there are a lot of dead ends in an investigation."

Q: What's become of the Teamsters?

A: The union now has about 1.4 million working members and 500,000 retirees in the U.S. and Canada, and is led by Hoffa's son, James P. Hoffa. He had challenged and lost to Ron Carey in 1996 during Carey's re-election run for Teamsters president. Carey was forced from office a year later after his campaigned was charged with illegally using about $885,000 in funds. Hoffa won the seat in 1998.

A chronology of events in the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa, former president of the Teamsters union:

July 30, 1975: Hoffa leaves his Lake Orion home about 1 p.m. and makes a stop to visit a friend in Pontiac. He arrives around 2 p.m. at the Machus Red Fox restaurant in Oakland County's Bloomfield Township to meet reputed Detroit mob enforcer Anthony "Tony Jack" Giacalone and alleged New Jersey mob figure Anthony "Tony Pro" Provenzano. Hoffa calls his wife, Josephine, about 2:15 p.m. from a pay phone and tells her no one showed up for his meeting. The 62-year-old Hoffa never is seen or heard from again.

July 31, 1975: Hoffa's green Pontiac Grand Ville is found, unlocked, in the restaurant parking lot. The Hoffa family files a missing person report with the Bloomfield Township police.

Aug. 2, 1975: The FBI takes over the investigation.

Aug. 8, 1975: The FBI gets a search warrant for the car. They find fingerprints of family friend Charles "Chuckie" O'Brien on a 7-Up bottle under the right front seat and a piece of paper in the glove compartment.

Aug. 21, 1975: Police dogs sniff the shorts Hoffa wore the day before his disappearance and indicate Hoffa's scent was in the rear of a car O'Brien borrowed from his friend Joe Giacalone, son of Anthony Giacalone.

Sept. 2, 1975: A grand jury convenes in Detroit to investigate the Hoffa disappearance.

1975-85: More than 200 FBI agents are assigned to the case in New Jersey, Detroit and at least four other cities. During the period, more than 70 volumes of files are compiled, containing more than 16,000 pages. Six suspects in the disappearance, including Provenzano and Anthony Giacalone, are convicted on unrelated charges.

1982: Self-described mafia murderer Charles Allen, who served prison time with Hoffa and participated in the federal witness-protection program, tells a U.S. Senate committee that Hoffa was killed at Provenzano's orders. Hoffa's body was "ground up in little pieces, shipped to Florida and thrown into a swamp," Allen said.

1982: Hoffa is declared legally dead.

1989: Kenneth Walton, who headed the Detroit FBI from 1985 to 1988, tells The Detroit News that he knows what 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."

1989: Hoffa's daughter, Barbara Ann Crancer, files a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the FBI, demanding the agency's reports on her father's disappearance.

1989: Self-described hit man Donald "Tony the Greek" Frankos claims Hoffa is buried under Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. The FBI finds no evidence to support the claim.

1993: The U.S. Court of Appeals reverses a ruling ordering the FBI to turn over files on the Hoffa investigation to Crancer.

November 2000: Current and former FBI agents and federal prosecutors meet in Detroit to discuss prosecutorial strategy and the current state of the Hoffa investigation.

March 2001: A second meeting is held after DNA tests find a match between a hair found in the back of the car driven by O'Brien and a hair in Hoffa's hairbrush.

June 2001: The head of the FBI's organized-crime unit says in a court document that he believes a decision whether to prosecute anyone could be made in the next two years.

March 2002: The FBI says it will refer the case to the Oakland County prosecutor's office for possible state charges. John Bell, special agent in charge of the FBI's Detroit bureau, says the federal case was stymied because of the length of time since Hoffa disappeared.

Aug. 29, 2002: Oakland County prosecutor says new DNA evidence in Hoffa's disappearance is insufficient to bring criminal charges.

July 16, 2003: Authorities dig beneath an underground pool at a home in Michigan's Thumb area for a briefcase an informant says contained a syringe and possible evidence that Hoffa might have been injected with drugs or poison. No briefcase is found.

May 2004: Bloomfield Township police rip up the floorboards from a Detroit house where one-time Hoffa ally Frank Sheeran claims to have killed him. The FBI crime lab would ultimately conclude that the blood found on the floorboards was not Hoffa's.

April 2006: New Jersey mob hit man Richard "The Iceman" Kuklinski, who died in March, claims that he killed Hoffa and put his body in a car that was sold as scrap metal. Kuklinski's book, "The Ice Man: Confessions of a Mafia Contract Killer," contends he received $40,000 for the slaying.

May 17, 2006: The FBI begins searching a horse farm in Oakland County's Milford Township, northwest of Detroit for Hoffa's remains.

May 30, 2006: The FBI says it has ended the search at the horse farm, having found nothing. However, an agent says she believes that Hoffa was buried there at one point.

September 2012: Authorities drill for soil samples in the floor of a shed in the Detroit suburb of Roseville after police are told by a source that Hoffa was buried beneath the driveway. Tests showed nothing.

June 17, 2013: The FBI sees enough merit in a reputed Mafia captain's tip to once again break out the digging equipment to search for Hoffa's remains in an Oakland Township field, about 25 miles north of Detroit. The search ends unsuccessfully

Guide to the life and mystery of Jimmy Hoffa 06/19/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 19, 2013 1:05pm]

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