The anticipated release of the newest Martin Scorsese film “The Irishman” has reignited interest in the decades-old mystery of what happened to James “Jimmy” Hoffa.
Let it be known that Hoffa’s middle name was literally Riddle, and that’s basically what has become of him.
“The Irishman," which hits limited theaters Friday and then Netflix on Nov. 21, stars Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci in true Scorsese mob movie fashion. It depicts, albeit with a certain amount of creative license, the story behind organized crime and its ties to labor unions. De Niro plays Frank Sheeran, a labor union leader believed to have worked for years as a hitman for the Bufalino crime family. His nickname was “The Irishman” and, despite not being Italian, he'd attained a lofty position within the mob.
Pacino portrays Jimmy Hoffa, the well known leader of the Teamsters union whose 1975 disappearance was never solved. While his body was never found, officials and the Teamsters alike have made it clear they think he’s dead. Kenneth Walton, former agent-in-charge of the FBI's Detroit office told the Detroit News in 1989, “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,” according to an archived 1989 UPI article.
Hoffa became president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, one of the world’s largest labor unions, in 1957. It didn't take long for his ties to organized crime to earn the scrutiny of the federal government, most notably Bobby Kennedy, who served as attorney general for his brother, President John F. Kennedy, in the early 1960s. In fact, Bobby Kennedy created a 20-prosecutor team in the Justice Department to get Hoffa on corruption. This ultimately resulted in Hoffa being convicted of fraud for funneling union pension money to mafia-backed projects. He was also convicted of jury tampering. He'd only served four years of his 13-year sentence when then-President Richard Nixon commuted his term. While he was granted his freedom, he was banned from engaging in any union activities until 1980.
After he got out of prison, his once-tight relationship with the mafia fell apart.
Hoffa disappeared on July 30, 1975, not long after getting into a maroon Mercury at the Machus Red Fox restaurant in Bloomfield Township, Michigan. An FBI report, as reported on by the Chicago Tribune in 1985, claims the meeting was actually a hit cooked up in New Jersey by Teamsters with ties to the mob. They planned to kill him in Detroit out of fear that he would regain power over the Teamsters, according to that memo. Mob associates Anthony Provenzano, Anthony Giacalone, Russell Bufalino, Salvatore Briguglio and Charles O`Brien (who was also Hoffa's adopted son) were all listed as the key suspects in Hoffa`s mysterious vanishing.
While his body was never found, here are some of the many bizarre theories on what happened to Hoffa.
1. Burned in an incinerator
One popular theory is that Hoffa’s body was put into an incinerator in Hamtramck, Michigan. This theory gained steam after Sheeran apparently wrote a nursing home confession before he died in 2004, claiming that he flew in a small plane to Michigan the day Hoffa was killed. There he claimed he met with Hoffa's killers, retrieved his body and brought it to an incinerator, according to a 2004 Orlando Sentinel report. Sheeran's daughter, however, said she thought that the confession was a hoax created by Sheeran biographer John Zeitts. It's not clear if Zeitts ever published that bio.
The theory put forth in "The Irishman" is slightly different than the nursing home confession but the end result is the same. In the film, Sheeran, some mob associates and Hoffa's adopted son lured Hoffa into a car and then Sheeran shot him inside a Michigan house. Then, two mob associates brought Hoffa's body to an incinerator at a funeral home to be burned.
2. Buried under Giants Stadium
Convicted hitman Donald Frankos claimed that Irish mob boss Jimmy Coonan shot Hoffa in Michigan before dismembering his body with a power saw and meat cleaver, according to a 1989 Detroit Free press story. Then, after some time in a freezer, Hoffa's body was buried under under what would become Section 107 of Giants Stadium in New Jersey's Meadowlands sports complex, he claimed.The stadium was under construction at the time of Hoffa's presumed death and opened in 1976. The stadium was demolished in 2010 and the site covered with 13 feet of concrete. Despite the Giants Stadium theory, the F.B.I. said they wouldn’t be searching for Hoffa there, NJ.com reported at the time.
3. Buried under a driveway
It was rumored that Hoffa was buried under a driveway in Roseville, Michigan. Police found this credible enough that they took action. They even took core samples to see if there was any body decomposition on the property, National Public Radio reported. However, nothing was found.
4. Buried under a horse barn
Officials thought there was enough weight to a theory that Hoffa was buried in or under a large horse barn in Michigan that they actually tore down the structure. The FBI ripped apart a large barn in Hidden Dreams Farm in Milford Township, Michigan back in 2006, CNN reported. Like the driveway, nothing was found but plenty of money was spent on the effort.
5. Buried under General Motors’ headquarters
Another rumor is that Hoffa’s body was buried in the foundation of the General Motors' headquarters, known as the the Renaissance Center, in Detroit. This was a claim put forth by Teamsters member-turned-informant Marvin Elkind in a book called “The Weasel: A Double Life in the Mob,” written by journalist Adrian Humphreys. The building was under construction when Hoffa vanished and Elkin said he believed that Hoffa's body was slipped into the building's foundation. Elkin claims that while driving mob capo Anthony Giacalone, he heard him tell others in the car, “Say good morning to Jimmy Hoffa, boys,” according to a New York Post report.
6. Became part of a Japanese car
Serial killer and hitman Richard Kuklinski apparently claimed before his 2006 death that he was the one who killed Hoffa. He made the confession to author Philip Carlo, who visited Kuklinski in his New Jersey prison cell while writing a book on him called “The Iceman: Confessions of a Mafia Contract Killer.” The murderer claimed he stabbed the former union leader in the head with a hunting knife, before driving the body back to New Jersey and crushing up the car (with Hoffa's body in the trunk) to be sold as scrap metal to Japan, the Guardian reported.
'He's part of a car somewhere in Japan right now,' Kuklinski told Carlo.
7. Buried under a swimming pool
After rumors swirled that an above-ground swimming pool in a Michigan backyard sat atop Hoffa’s corpse, the area was dug up. The tip came In 2003, after convicted murderer named Richard Powell claimed Hoffa was buried there, at his former Hampton Township property, according to the New York Post. The search, like so many other searches for Hoffa's body, came up empty.
Get all your true crime news from Oxygen. Coverage of the latest true crime stories and famous cases explained, as well as the best TV shows, movies and podcasts in the genre. And don't miss our own podcast, Martinis & Murder!