Jimmy Hoffa is a Cultural Punchline, But Exactly What Happened?
When you need to describe something as hard to find, an easy way to do it is to joke about it being found next to Jimmy Hoffa’s body. Plenty of people go missing every year, but Hoffa is probably the most famous person who just vanished without a trace despite decades of searching and tons of leads that continue to pour in.
He Had a Lot Of Enemies
Despite the ostensibly upstanding occupation of workers’ rights organizing, Hoffa was tangled up in the mob to varying degrees, depending on who you ask, and had done time for bribery and fraud after catching the attention of no less an authority than Robert Kennedy. At the time of his disappearance, he was trying to reclaim his power with the Teamsters union and may have been cooperating with authorities in their investigations into the mob. They really hate it when you do that.
The Disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa
On July 30, 1975, Hoffa had a meeting with mobsters Anthony Provenzano and Anthony Giacalone (not a lot of naming diversity in the mob) at a restaurant outside Detroit. They failed to show up, by all accounts, but at some point, Hoffa abandoned his car at the restaurant and left. One witness reported seeing him leaving the restaurant in a red Mercury with what looked like a shotgun between him and the other passenger. He was never seen again.
We Pretty Much Know What Happened
Shortly after Hoffa disappeared, an unnamed witness identified three mafia foot soldiers as the men Hoffa left with, who probably killed him at the nearby home of another mobster. Police dogs even traced Hoffa’s scent to the trunk of a red Mercury owned by a mafia member, but somehow, this wasn’t enough evidence to charge anyone. One FBI agent said he was “comfortable I know who did it, but it's never going to be prosecuted because ... we would have to divulge informants, confidential sources,” so that’s pretty much that.
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The most famous version of the story, which tends to be the Scorsese version, is that portrayed in The Irishman, based on a book about Hoffa’s mafia bodyguard, Frank Sheeran, who claimed to have killed him. That’s very unlikely, as Sheeran constantly changed his story over the years and forged letters from Hoffa to sell a book, but it makes a good backdrop for Fats Domino songs.
It Might Have Been an Accident
One former lead investigator, Vincent Piersante, thinks Hoffa’s death may have been an accident, that a group of “insultingly low-level messengers” had been sent to the restaurant just to tell Hoffa to give up, they fought, and he died. A restaurant parking lot manslaughter would typically draw a lot more witnesses, though, and it doesn’t answer the story’s biggest question.
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Where’s the Body?
The only real piece of the puzzle missing from the story of Hoffa’s almost certain murder is Hoffa himself. One of the reasons Piersante believes his death was an accident was because no one talked about it, which was “absolutely extraordinary” for a mob hit. Of course, that’s also why one journalist believes it was carried out by “very few, high level people.” Whatever the case, nobody was about to reveal where this particular body was buried -- for a while, anyway.
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The most popular rumor was that Hoffa was buried in the foundation of Giants Stadium, but that’s an awful long drive with the country’s most wanted corpse, and when the stadium was demolished in 2010, no bodies of note were found. Even the Mythbusters did their busty thing with ground penetrating radar.
Thrown in the Great Lakes by the Government
One of Hoffa’s mob associates, Joseph Franco, wrote in a 1987 book that Hoffa had actually been abducted by federal agents and thrown from a plane into the Great Lakes, which goes against literally all of the evidence we have about the incident. He was also trying to secure a deal with prosecutors by “revealing” this information, so there’s that.
Another mobster claimed Hoffa’s body was crunched up in the trunk of a car that was sold as scrap metal to become “part of a car somewhere in Japan right now” as “the ultimate insult -- a nonunion market.” This has the same problems as Giants Stadium re: driving a famous body across several state lines, and that car would be very obviously haunted.
Another former bodyguard claimed in 1985 that Hoffa’s body was shipped even farther -- all the way to the Florida Everglades -- and fed to the gators. This one can’t be disproven without digging up a bunch of long dead reptiles and it has a Peter Pan hook, so it’s clearly the best.
Under a Swimming Pool
In 2003, police actually dug up a Michigan swimming pool after a convicted murderer with no apparent ties to Hoffa claimed he was buried at his former home. They did find a body, so that’s weird, but it wasn’t Hoffa.
Digging Up Dirt
Almost 10 years later, a guy claimed to have witnessed someone being buried in a Michigan backyard around the time of Hoffa’s disappearance and didn’t report it for 40 years for some reason. This time, the police only took soil samples and determined that not only was Hoffa not there, no body had ever been there, so maybe that guy just wanted to mess with the homeowners.
Hidden in Plain Sight
The next year, a mobster claimed Hoffa was buried in a shallow grave in a field near the restaurant with intentions of moving him later that were abandoned. After 40 officers searched for three days, though, they found no sign of remains, even as the mobster kept insisting “I’m not wrong,” mistaking a local news reporter for a Twitter bot.
A Deathbed Confession
Most recently, in 2021, a man on his deathbed claimed to have personally buried Hoffa in a New Jersey landfill. The police, who were surely getting sick of this shit but weren’t about to discount a dying man’s confession, dedicated nine months to the search but found “nothing of evidentiary value.”
There May Not Be a Body
All trolling aside, the most likely story is probably the first one, which means there may no longer be a body to find. Just a few months after his disappearance, the police got a tip that Hoffa’s body was disposed of via trash compactor and incinerator at another nearby restaurant. They didn’t find any evidence there, but they wouldn’t, would they?
Top image: Library of Congress/Wikimedia Commons