This year marks the 45th anniversary of the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa, which has become perhaps the most prominent unsolved mystery in Michigan and the nation.
“Hoffa’s disappearance has become something approaching legend in this country. It’s part of our culture,” said Detroit native and New York Times best-selling novelist Steve Hamilton, of upstate New York, author of the Hoffa-themed “Riddle Island: An Alex McKnight Short Story.”
Hoffa, 62, the former president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, was last seen around 2 p.m. on July 30, 1975, at the now-closed Machus Red Fox, a restaurant in Bloomfield Township. Hoffa – who had Mafia connections and spent time in prison for jury tampering, conspiracy and fraud (President Richard Nixon commuted his sentence) – was jockeying to return to power.
Allegedly, he was supposed to meet with two mob bosses, Anthony “Tony Pro” Provenzano and Anthony “Tony Jack” Giacalone. Both men – now dead – denied they were meeting Hoffa and were nowhere near the restaurant that fateful day, having provided authorities with solid alibis.
Hoffa called his wife Josephine (who died in 1980) at their Lake Orion home from a payphone around 2:15 p.m., telling her nobody showed. Eyewitnesses later told investigators they saw him in the Red Fox parking lot that afternoon, appearing to be waiting for someone. Others stated they saw Hoffa willingly leaving the Red Fox in a burgundy-colored Mercury Marquis (owned by Giacalone’s son, Joseph) with three other men, while his car remained in the parking lot.
Hoffa hasn’t been seen since.
His family declared him dead in 1982.
So what happened to Hoffa?
And his disappearance has inspired countless theories rivaling Jack the Ripper’s true identity and the Kennedy assassination, spawning numerous books (fiction and nonfiction), movies (most notably, last year’s “The Irishman”), and websites.
In “Riddle Island,” private eye Alex McKnight – Hamilton’s protagonist of 11 novels over 22 years – learns Hoffa’s fate. The longest short story Hamilton’s written, “Riddle Island” is currently available in ebook or audio format. It will be in print at some point, probably included in the next McKnight novel, said Hamilton.
“The first and most important thing, and this is even noted by Alex McKnight himself in the story, is that Jimmy Hoffa was a real human being who left behind a wife and two children (Barbara and James),” he said. “I can’t even imagine what they went through in the summer of 1975 – and in the case of the adult children – in the 45 years since their father disappeared. If there’s ever any resolution to this case, I can only hope it brings them some measure of peace and closure.”
The only hard forensic evidence in Hoffa’s disappearance was a small amount of blood and hair found in Giacalone’s car discovered to be Hoffa’s, per a DNA analysis in 2001. Also, search dogs detected Hoffa’s scent in the backseat and trunk.
According to Hamilton, “The Irishman” – based on Charles Brandt’s 2004 book, “I Heard You Paint Houses: Frank ‘The Irishman’ Sheeran and Closing the Case on Jimmy Hoffa” – returned Hoffa’s disappearance to the fore of the public consciousness. Directed by Oscar winner Martin Scorsese (“The Departed”), “The Irishman” starred Oscar winner Al Pacino (“The Godfather”) as Hoffa and Oscar winner Robert DeNiro (“Raging Bull”) as hitman Frank Sheeran, Hoffa’s friend. All three were nominated for Oscars for “The Irishman.”
“The Irishman” presents the scenario that Hoffa left the Red Fox with Sheeran (who died in 2003), mobster Sal “Sally Bugs” Briguglio (murdered in 1978), and Chuckie O’Brien, Hoffa’s foster son who died Feb. 13. They drove Hoffa to a house in Metro Detroit for this supposed meeting. O’Brien and Briguglio dropped off Hoffa and Sheeran. Inside, Sheeran betrayed his friend and murdered him.
“To whatever degree you believe what Sheeran had to say in that book – and I understand that there are good reasons to doubt him – the facts remain: Hoffa was waiting at the Red Fox, expecting to meet with two reputed mobsters. He left that location in someone else’s car, something that he most likely would not have done if he didn’t feel like he could trust at least one person in that other car. Sheeran was in town from Philadelphia that weekend for a wedding, so it’s possible that he was the trusted friend in that car,” explained Hamilton.
What happened next?
By his own admission, Sheeran didn’t know. He dropped the gun and left the house.
“In the movie, we see a brief scene in which Hoffa’s body is cremated at a funeral home,” said Hamilton. “That’s an ultimate result that does make sense on paper. But for some reason, this idea has persisted – for 45 years now – that Hoffa’s body ended up somewhere else.”
Many have disputed Sheeran’s account of events, stated Michigan native Steve Drummond (which is an alias), co-producer of the podcast, “Finding Hoffa” (which will air an anniversary podcast Thursday).