Hoffa Still Gone Without a Trace

First of all, if you believe Jimmy Hoffa is buried under the end zone of Giants Stadium, you’re probably wrong.

“He ain’t here,” insists John Samerjan, vice president of public affairs for the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, which runs the stadium.

“We have never been contacted, in the history of the authority, by any law-enforcement agency or investigative authority about the possibility of this being true,” Samerjan says.

Maybe not. But since Hoffa vanished 25 years ago today from a parking lot in suburban Detroit, scores of folk legends, rumors and legitimate leads have led to few public conclusions on the disappearance of one of American history’s most prominent labor leaders.

Accounts of varying reliability place Hoffa’s murdered body at the bottom of Michigan lakes or rivers. Others say he was dumped in Florida, or encased in concrete in a Los Angeles nightclub. Still others say his remains were incinerated. Nearly all say the mob was involved.

Open Investigation

Although Hoffa disappeared in 1975 and was declared legally dead in 1982, the FBI’s official investigation remains open, and it continues to appeal to the public for help.

“The objective is to attempt to locate Jimmy Hoffa, and then engage in an investigation based upon the facts once he’s located, “ says Hank Glaspie, a special agent in the FBI’s Detroit field office.

Past FBI statements and leaked reports on early stages of the investigation indicate the agency believes the mob was behind Hoffa’s disappearance, perhaps because it was concerned about his efforts to reclaim leadership of the Teamsters.

Lately, agents on the case “don’t have anything new to provide that would warrant a statement,” Glaspie says.

The Teamsters and the Hoffa family will not comment on the 25th anniversary of James R. Hoffa’s disappearance, according to a Teamsters spokesman. Hoffa’s son, James P. Hoffa, currently holds his father’s old position as head of the union.

‘Touched … Millions of Workers’

Five years ago, on the 20th anniversary of his disappearance, about 300 people close to Hoffa attended a memorial service at the Most Holy Trinity Church in Detroit, according to The Associated Press.

“There’s an emptiness that we have and we’re never going to resolve it,” James P. Hoffa said at the time. “This is a closure today. We’ve lost a loved one, but we’ve got to go on. Today is a healing day.”

The elder Hoffa “literally touched millions and millions of workers in this country … who know a quality of life that was not possible before Jimmy Hoffa,” said Ed Scribner, who was the Metropolitan Detroit AFL-CIO president.

Hoffa started out as a rank-and-file worker, but rose to the top of Detroit Teamsters Local 299, which he transformed into a regional powerhouse with 15,000 members.

Many teamsters revere Hoffa as a legend who made their union one of the most influential America has ever seen. As president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters in 1964, he negotiated the first industry-wide contract, the National Master Freight Agreement.

Legal troubles in the mid-1960s loosened Hoffa’s grip on the union. Eventually, he served four years in jail for jury tampering and defrauding a Teamsters pension fund. President Nixon commuted his sentence in 1971, but conditions of his release barred him from union activity until 1980.

On the afternoon of July 30, 1975, Hoffa was last seen waiting in front of the Machus Red Fox restaurant in Bloomfield Township, Mich. It is uncertain whether anybody saw him leave.

Investigators believe he joined other men inside a maroon Mercury. The car pulled off, and the 62-year-old Hoffa was never seen again.

At the time of his disappearance, Hoffa was attempting to overturn the conditions of his prison release and once again lead the Teamsters. There was speculation in the media that in 1976 he would be allowed to challenge his hand-picked successor, Frank Fitzsimmons, to head the union.

FBI: Mob Saw Hoffa as Threat

According to previously secret FBI case files excerpted in 1997 by the Detroit Sunday Journal, members of the mafia — referred to as “La Cosa Nostra” in the files — saw Hoffa as a threat.

“Informed sources of the Detroit Division [of the FBI] are generally of the opinion that Hoffa was abducted and ‘hit’ with the knowledge, consent and possible participation of the Detroit LCN [La Cosa Nostra] family,” read an Oct. 31, 1975 FBI report, according to an Internet archive of the Sunday Journal’s two-part series on the FBI files.

“All sources believe that Hoffa’s disappearance is directly connected with his attempts to regain power within the Teamsters Union, which would possibly have an effect on the LCN’s control and manipulation of Teamster Pension Funds,” the newspaper’s excerpt said.

It continued: “The sources indicate further that even though Hoffa cooperated with them on Teamster loans, Fitzsimmons is also cooperating and, as such, the LCN would want to maintain conditions as they are. It has been rumored among sources that Hoffa, while attempting to gain control of the Teamsters, may have provided information to the Government in exchange for a favorable decision concerning the lifting of his Union restrictions.”

The FBI investigated the authenticity of the 1975 documents cited in the Sunday Journal’s report.

“It appears that the [newspaper’s] copies were legitimate,” Glaspie said. “Beyond that we really don’t have any comment.”

Where’s Hoffa?

Since Hoffa’s disappearance, several other theories and countless rumors have arisen on what became of him. The FBI apparently investigated many of them.

The Sunday Journal’s files show the FBI even looked into claims implying Hoffa remained alive in the weeks after his disappearance. For instance, one man, a teamster, claimed someone who appeared to be Hoffa disguised in fake glasses had checked into his wife’s hotel after 1 a.m. on Aug. 2 under the name “Jewell.”

But the FBI apparently deemed other rumors less likely.

Such seems to be the case with the story told by Donald Frankos, a former prison inmate. In 1989, he told Playboy magazine that he was involved in a plot to kill Hoffa, and that Hoffa’s remains were mixed with concrete used to build Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.

“Clearly, nobody who has ever been involved in the case ever thought it was true,” Samerjan says. “There has never been any indication to us from any legitimate [law-enforcement] source to go digging on the 750 or so acres here.”

Last November, Boating magazine, acting on information from a tipster, failed to discover Hoffa’s body in the Au Sable River, 175 miles from Detroit. But the magazine has posted a $10,000 reward to anyone who points investigators to Hoffa’s remains in the river by the end of this year.

It is not a joke, says Nancy Nisselbaum, the magazine’s editor.

“We seriously think that’s where he is,” Nisselbaum says. “This could be the one.”

But as time goes by, like other observers, she is getting less and less optimistic about finding Hoffa.