BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, MI — On the afternoon of July 30, 1975, 62-year-old union kingpin James Riddle Hoffa dropped by the Red Fox restaurant, reportedly for a sit-down with Mafia strongmen Anthony “Tony Jack” Giacalone and Anthony “Tony Pro” Provenzano.
Both crime lords had been close to Hoffa during Jimmy’s 1958–1971 run as the President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT). Neither of them, however, showed up as scheduled.
At least that’s what Hoffa told his wife Josephine, when he telephoned her at around 2:30 P.M. It was the last time that Josephine — or anyone — would ever officially hear again from Jimmy Hoffa. Now, more than four decades later, the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa continues to raise more questions while providing absolutely no answers.
Hoffa himself was a rough-and-tumble character who grew up in Indiana. At age 20, he organized a labor strike in Detroit and established himself as a natural, charismatic leader. From there, he barreled forth on a path to unprecedented power as chief of the IBT.
While beloved by many truck drivers and other workers for his passion and relentless work on their behalf, Hoffa also fell in hard with the criminal underworld. He regularly “fixed” deals, paid off cops and crooks alike, tampered with legal proceedings, and engaged in mobster-backed racketeering.
In 1961, Attorney General Robert Kennedy brazenly set out to dismantle organized crime. Taking down Hoffa became one of the government’s top priorities. It worked — sort of.
A Tennessee jury convicted Hoffa of bribery in 1964. Several months after that, a Chicago trial ended with Hoffa being found guilty of fraud. Hoffa fought both cases on appeal, but finally got locked up in 1967, facing a 13-year sentence. Even then, though, Hoffa effectively ran the teamsters from behind bars, calling the shots by way of “acting president” Frank Fitzsimmons.
Just before Christmas in 1971, President Richard Nixon granted Hoffa a full pardon. Eyebrows raised high and hard over the IBT throwing its massive support behind Nixon’s upcoming re-election campaign, and (unproven) rumors persist to this day involving a $1 million cash payout to the president himself.
Regardless, Hoffa walked free. From there, even though a condition of his pardon was that he stay out of union business for 10 years, the ex-boss worked every legal loophole he could to officially retake his old position.
Alas, Hoffa’s grand plan, like the man himself, vanished from the Red Fox parking lot on that fateful summer day.
Since then, no one has conclusively proven what became of Jimmy Hoffa. A court declared Hoffa legally dead in 1982, but no evidence — let alone a body — has ever been found that could sufficiently close the case.
Where a vacuum like that exists, conspiracy theories abound. Here are five of the most prominent and, befitting their subject, the most colorful.
In a 1989 Playboy magazine interview, Donald “Tony the Greek” Francos claimed that a pair of New Jersey mob soldiers killed Hoffa, dismembered the body, and ditched the remains in what would become an end zone of Giants Stadium.
The sports complex was under construction at the time Hoffa vanished and, outside of Detroit, New Jersey seemed to be Jimmy’s go-to spot for illegal operations. In addition, Hoffa’s last appointment was with Garden State don Anthony “Tony Pro” Provenzano.
Despite the unreliability of the Francos account, the general public seemed to love this story, and it persists even though the 2010 demolition of Giants Stadium turned up no Hoffa parts. Additionally, the popular Discovery series Mythbusters busted this urban legend wide open as untrue. [Mythbusters]
After years of researching the case and talking directly to those involved, James Buccellato, a professor in the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Northern Arizona University, spoke to CBS Detroit in 2017 about what he believes became of Jimmy Hoffa, stating:
“He was lured to a location near the restaurant, most likely the house owned by Carlo Licata, who was a member of the Mafia. His house was about a mile from the restaurant … There were a couple of incinerators in Detroit that were owned by the Mafia. It would’ve been a quick drop … and possibly a sausage factory in Detroit; he was possibly ground up.”
As for what he doesn’t believe, Bucatella said:
“The craziest theory that I’ve ever heard was that he was actually still alive and that he was being kept somewhere alive by the Mafia; sort of an ‘Elvis is still alive’ kind of theory!”
That one would be cool, though. [CBS Detroit]
3. “TONY JACK” STRANGLED HOFFA; “TONY PRO” RAN THE BODY THROUGH A WOOD-CHIPPER
In 2013, a supposedly credible tip led the FBI to dig up a driveway just outside Detroit. Word was that Jimmy Hoffa’s body lay beneath it. Nothing turned up. As usual. This time, though, the search ceased following the claims of another source who was “close” to the players involved.
According to the second informer, Anthony “Tony Jack” Giacalone strangled Hoffa to death inside a Mercury Marquis Brougham belong to the mobster’s son. Afterward, Anthony “Tony Pro” Provenzano allegedly transported the body to a secluded area 16 miles away, where he dismembered it and ran each piece through a wood chipper until nothing remained of Hoffa but pulp. [Huffington Post]
While it’s largely believed that organized-crime elements did in Jimmy Hoffa, in 1987, former Hoffa enforcer Joe Franco told New York Times reporter Joseph Fortune that (possibly rogue) FBI agents executed Hoffa and disposed of the corpse via air travel. Fortune wrote:
“Rather than being kidnapped by rival union forces as law-enforcement authorities have long speculated, Franco says Hoffa was abducted by two federal agents. He thinks they drove Hoffa to a nearby airport, took off in a small plane, and pushed him out over one of the Great Lakes. Franco says he did not tell federal investigators this bizarre, and unverifiable, story because they would not grant him immunity.”
Credibility dimmed on this account after Fortune teamed with Franco to cowrite Hoffa’s Man: The Rise and Fall of Jimmy Hoffa as Witnessed by His Strongest Arm, a sordid underworld memoir. [Click on Detroit]
Charles Allen, a mob assassin who apparently doesn’t have a livelier nickname than just his own, testified in 1982 before a U.S. Senate Committee, claiming that Tony Pro had ordered Jimmy Hoffa to be murdered.
Immediately following Hoffa’s being shot to death, Allen said, his body was ground up in a Detroit sausage plant, packed into a barrel, and shipped to a swamp in the Florida Everglades. Once there, Tony Pro’s associates emptied the barrel’s contents into the eager mouths of local alligators.
Suspicions befell Allen’s story after he walked out of the testimony and immediately tried to sell all the gory details to the highest bidding news outlet. [History Lists]
Main photo: Jimmy Hoffa [WikiMedia Commons]