DETROIT – Forty five years ago this week, Jimmy Hoffa disappeared from a Bloomfield Hills restaurant.
Since that day, hundreds of thousands of man hours and millions of dollars have gone into sorting through countless tips while trying to crack the case of Hoffa’s disappearance.
There is no evidence that Hoffa was ever killed. Officially, this remains a missing person’s case. The investigation remains open, still active. New tips come in every month or two at Detroit’s FBI field office.
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However, most investigators, writers, and true crime experts speculate that Hoffa was murdered in a mafia hit.
“They decided to take care of the problem the best way they knew how, which was to execute him and wipe the problem off the map,” said Scott Burnstein, a crime historian.
Burnstein is an expert on the Hoffa investigation. He says Hoffa, who wanted back into power with the Teamsters, was to meet with two powerful alleged mafia members who could help make it happen on July 30, 1975.
“Hoffa was lured out into the open on July 30, 1975 by the promise of a sit down with a New Jersey-based mobster named Anthony ‘Tony Pro’ Provenzano,” said Burnstein.
Provenzano was an alleged Genovese Family lieutenant and New Jersey Teamster official. The other person Hoffa believed he was going to meet was alleged Detroit mobster Tony Giacalone.
“Giacalone, who was the Detroit mafia street boss and Hoffa’s contact into the Detroit mob, reached out to Hoffa and said we can get everything settled, meet at 2 o’clock at the Machus Red Fox on Telegraph and 15 Mile in Bloomfield Hills.”
Neither Giacalone nor Provenzano ever went to the Red Fox. They had airtight alibis. Hoffa called his wife saying they were no shows, then witnesses claim they saw him get into another car.
“Hoffa is seen getting into a burgundy Mercury Marquis occupied by three men,” Burnstein said. “They turn onto Telegraph Road and [Hoffa] is never seen again.”
The car may have been the same burgundy Mercury that Hoffa’s friend Chuckie O’Brien had borrowed that day from Joey Giacalone—Tony Giacalone’s son. A strand of Hoffa’s hair was found in the car, but it was not enough proof to bring charges against anyone.
For years stories have circulated about where Hoffa’s body ended up—from the endzone at Giants Station to the base of the Renaissance Center to a salvage lot car crusher, but his remains have never been found.
“Saying that you know where Jimmy Hoffa was buried or who killed him is a cottage industry and can be an easy ticket out of jail if you want to use it as leverage,” Burnstein said. “It’s really added to the urban mythology of this case.”
Local police agencies approved many failed searches in backyard, under swimming pools, and beneath driveways. The Feds have been more cautious, only approving searches when information came from people who could have had reason to know Hoffa’s fate. There was a high-profile dig in 2006 under the barn at a Milford farm belonging to former Teamsters official, and one-time Hoffa ally, Rolland McMaster.
“The FBI had a lot of faith in this theory,” said Burnstein. “I talked to a number of agents who told me they really believed they were going to unearth Hoffa’s body.”
This search, like all the others, proved to be a bust.
In January 2013, the FBI received what could have been the most high-profile tip ever. Tony Zerilli, who was alleged to have been Detroit’s mafia boss, said in an interview that Hoffa was buried in Oakland County not far from the Red Fox.
Zerilli had been in jail when Hoffa disappeared but said he heard what happened from a mafia higher-up.
But that search also turned up nothing. Zerilli died in March.
“The fact that Zerelli was duped tells you what a well-guarded secret this was,” said Bernstein. “The execution of the perfect crime.”
Today Hoffa would be 105 years old. Most of the possible suspects and witnesses in the case have died. Investigators say the handful of people still alive who may know anything of value are in their mid-to-late 70s.
Those close to the investigation doubt a criminal case will ever be made. They say it is highly unlikely the few remaining people who are alive and know what happened will ever talk. However, the FBI says all tips are still professionally vetted and the case will remain open until it is solved.