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Jimmy Hoffa: Still Searching. Still Waiting.

Sep 29, 2012
Originally published on October 3, 2012 4:28 pm

Police outside Detroit dug up a spot under a driveway yesterday and took some soil samples. No official findings have been announced.

An unidentified man recently told police he saw a guy bury something there in the summer of 1975 shortly after Jimmy Hoffa disappeared, and after he was supposed to have lunch with Tony Provenzano, a Teamster officer, and Tony Jack Giacalone, a Detroit mobster, at the Machus Red Fox restaurant.

"What happened to Jimmy Hoffa?" is one of the great persisting questions of the past generation. The pugnacious and corrupt former head of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters was convicted of trying to bribe a grand juror in 1964 and, separately, of stealing from his union's pension fund.

He was pardoned after serving fewer than five of his accumulated 13-year sentence, but prohibited from having anything to do with his old union.

Then, he disappeared. In the absence of evidence, rumors have abounded.

Most famous and absurd was a 1989 interview Tony "The Greek" Frankos, a former mobster, gave to Playboy saying Jimmy Hoffa had been fingered by Fat Tony Salerno, the crime boss, because he threatened to expose mob ties in the Teamsters during that time, which sounds like someone threatening to reveal that pro wrestling is staged.

He said Jimmy Hoffa had been buried under the west end zone of the football stadium then being built in New Jersey. No traces of Jimmy Hoffa were found, though most of the jokes are still made.

Other tips said he'd been buried beneath Detroit's Renaissance Center, or dumped out of a small plane into Lake Erie, both of which are—perhaps conveniently—pretty much unverifiable without digging up a skyscraper or draining a Great Lake.

Richard Zuckerman, a Detroit criminal attorney who was in the federal Detroit strike force that investigated the disappearance in the 1970s, calls this week's driveway dig "lunacy," and believes Jimmy Hoffa's remains have been incinerated.

But he cautioned us to remember that his death was not some movie crime story with gaudy nicknames and flamboyant boasts. He says it was murder.

"Jimmy Hoffa was a tough guy," he said, "who strong-armed people and stole." But he was never suspected of killing anyone. Mr. Zuckerman was in the U.S. Army in Vietnam, and says he learned a little about the pain of any family not knowing for sure what happened to someone they loved. One man's thug, after all, is another man's father.

Jimmy Hoffa's son, James P. Hoffa is current president of the Teamsters. His daughter, Barbara Ann Crancer, is a retired Circuit Court Judge in St. Louis.

"Carrying that pain for 37 years is unimaginable," says Richard Zuckerman. So he adds, "I don't make Jimmy Hoffa jokes."

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Police outside Detroit dug up a spot under a driveway yesterday, and took some soil samples. No official findings have been announced. An unidentified man recently told police he saw a guy bury something there in the summer of 1975; shortly after Jimmy Hoffa disappeared, after he was supposed to have lunch with Tony Provenzano, a Teamster officer; and "Tony Jack" Giacalone, a Detroit mobster; at the Machus Red Fox restaurant.

What happened to Jimmy Hoffa is one of the great, persisting questions of the past generation. The pugnacious, and corrupt, former head of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters was convicted of trying to bribe a grand juror, in 1964; and, separately, of stealing from his union's pension fund. He was pardoned after serving fewer than five of his accumulated 13-year sentence, but prohibited from having anything to do with his old union. Then, he disappeared. And in the absence of evidence, rumors have abounded.

Most famous - and absurd - was a 1989 interview Tony "The Greek" Frankos, a former mobster, gave to Playboy; saying Jimmy Hoffa had been fingered by "Fat Tony" Salerno, the crime boss, because he threatened to expose mob ties in the Teamsters during that time - which sounds like someone threatening to reveal that pro wrestling is staged. He said Jimmy Hoffa had been buried under the west end zone of the football stadium then being built in New Jersey. No traces of Jimmy Hoffa were found, though most of the jokes are still made.

Other tips said he'd been buried beneath Detroit's Renaissance Center, or dumped out of a small plane into Lake Erie; both of which are - perhaps conveniently - pretty much unverifiable without digging up a skyscraper, or draining a Great Lake. Richard Zuckerman, a Detroit criminal attorney who was in the federal strike force that investigated the disappearance in the 1970s, calls this week's driveway dig lunacy; and believes Jimmy Hoffa's remains have been incinerated. But he cautioned us to remember that his death was not some movie crime story, with gaudy nicknames and flamboyant boasts. He says it was a murder. Jimmy Hoffa was a tough guy, he said, who strong-armed people and stole. But he was never suspected of killing anyone.

Mr. Zuckerman was in the U.S. Army in Vietnam; and says he learned a little about the pain of any family not knowing, for sure, what happened to someone they loved. One man's thug, after all, is another man's father. Jimmy Hoffa's son, James P. Hoffa, is current president of the Teamsters. His daughter, Barbara Ann Crancer, is a retired circuit court judge in St. Louis. Carrying that pain for 37 years is unimaginable, says Richard Zuckerman. So he adds, I don't make Jimmy Hoffa jokes.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: And you're listening to NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.