Jimmy Hoffa: Famous Union Boss’s Strange Vanishing Act

Last week, we met the “Son of Sam,” serial killer David Berkowitz. This week, we look at a different kind of case, the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa. The case was probably a murder, but nobody could ever prove that.

Jimmy Hoffa

Jimmy Hoffa was born James Riddle Hoffa in Brazil, Indiana in 1913. His father died when Hoffa was only seven and his mother moved the family to Detroit in 1924. He lived in Detroit for the rest of his life. Young Jimmy quit school at 14, working manual labor jobs to help support his family.

James riddle Hoffa (NY Daily News)
James riddle Hoffa (NY Daily News)

As a teenager, Hoffa worked for a grocery store chain. The job paid poorly, working conditions were terrible, and there was virtually no job security. This inspired him to begin working as a union organizer. In 1932, he left the grocery chain, partly because of his union activities. He then became an organizer for Local 299 in Detroit of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

Mandatory Credit: Photo by AP/REX/Shutterstock (7347466a) HOFFA James R. Hoffa and his wife Josephine pose in this Jan. 29, 1961 photo, location unknown. Nearly 28 years after ex-Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa disappeared, law enforcement officials dug into the ground outside a home in Hampton Township, Mich., to search for evidence, a prosecutor said. Hoffa, father of current Teamsters President James P. Hoffa, disappeared from the parking lot of the Machus Red Fox restaurant in Oakland County's Bloomfield Township in July 1975 HOFFA INVESTIGATION
James R. Hoffa and his wife Josephine pose in January 29, 1961 (AP)

Hoffa and the Teamsters

Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, Hoffa was instrumental in the growth of the Teamsters in membership and power. But another factor in the Teamsters’ growth was organized crime. Organized crime often influenced or controlled the trucking unions brought into the Teamsters to grow the union. Hoffa had to accommodate and plan with many gangsters, beginning in the Detroit area.

In 1952, Jimmy Hoffa became a Teamsters vice president after helping Dave Beck win the union’s presidency. By 1957, Beck was under indictment for fraud. Hoffa won the presidency at the Teamsters’ convention in Miami Beach, Florida.

Hoffa in front of Teamsters Headquarters
Hoffa in front of Teamsters Headquarters

Jimmy Hoffa on Trial and In Prison

Hoffa’s first major brush with the law occurred in 1957. He allegedly tried to bribe an aide to the McClellan Committee, which was investigating organized crime. Hoffa denied the charge (and eventually won an acquittal) but the incident sparked a closer look at him. More arrests and indictments followed over the next few weeks.

On March 4, 1964, a Tennessee jury convicted Jimmy Hoffa of jury tampering related to a 1962 conspiracy charge. He received an eight-year sentence and a $10,000 fine. While on bail appealing that conviction, a Chicago court convicted him of conspiracy and three counts of mail fraud. This conviction resulted in an additional sentence of five years.

Hoffa spent the next three years appealing his convictions but was unsuccessful. On March 7, 1967, he entered the Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary in Pennsylvania. While in prison, Frank Fitzsimmons became acting president of the Teamsters. Hoffa submitted his resignation as president on June 19, 1971; Fitzsimmons formally won the presidency a month later.

Frank Fitzsimmons testifies before Senate Investigations Subcommittee in 1977
Frank Fitzsimmons testifies before Senate Investigations Subcommittee in 1977

Jimmy Hoffa Vanishes

Less than five years into his 13-year sentence, President Richard Nixon commuted Hoffa’s sentence to time served. He walked out of Lewisburg on December 23, 1971. But the commutation came with a joker. Hoffa couldn’t engage in any union activity until 1980. Nevertheless, he made plans to regain control of the union.

Not everyone wanted Hoffa back. Fitzsimmons, for one, liked being in control of the union. Some of Hoffa’s former Mafia supporters now opposed his return to power. With tensions rising, a “peace meeting” was set up.

The peace meeting was to be at 2:00 p.m. on July 30, 1975. The venue was the Machus Red Fox restaurant in the Detroit suburb of Bloomfield Township. Hoffa was to meet Anthony “Tony Pro” Provenzano and brothers Anthony “Tony Jack” and Vito “Billy Jack” Giacalone. Hoffa left for the Red Fox at 1:15 p.m. Between 2:15 and 2:30, he called his wife, Josephine, to complain that he’d been “stood up.” She never saw or heard from him again.

The Machus Red Fox restaurant in Bloomfield Township, Michigan. Today another restaurant occupies the building.
The Machus Red Fox restaurant in Bloomfield Township, Michigan. Today another restaurant occupies the building.

When Hoffa didn’t come home that night, his family raised the alarm the next morning. Hoffa associate Louis Linteau found his unlocked car in the Red Fox parking lot. There was no sign of the car’s owner. Jimmy Hoffa had disappeared.

Epilogue

Intensive investigations by law enforcement, including the FBI, failed to turn up any trace of Jimmy Hoffa. The presumption is he was murdered shortly after the supposed “peace meeting.” But who killed him and where are open to speculation. Several claims and theories have emerged and been debunked.

Perhaps the most bizarre claim was that Hoffa’s body rested in Giants Stadium in New Jersey’s Meadowlands. But the Discovery Channel’s Mythbusters used ground-penetrating radar to examine the stadium. They found no anomalies in scans of section 107 of the stands, the end zone or on the 10-yard line. No human remains turned up when the stadium was demolished in 2010.

The Machus Red Fox is no more, but the building is still an operating restaurant.

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