On July 30, 1975, Jimmy Hoffa went to a restaurant on the outskirts of Detroit, Michigan to meet with a pair of mob bosses to win their support as he returned to the presidency of the influential truckers union in USA. Hoffa had amassed an unexpected volume of power as the leader of the Teamster Union since 1957, when unions were in their golden age and road hauliers had already emerged as a vital force in the supply chain of the world’s richest country. But problems with justice forced him to resign in 1971. Upon leaving prison, convicted of fraud, he wanted to return, but had lost the favor of his old allies in organized crime. He was last seen shortly before three in the afternoon in the parking lot of the Marcus Red Fox Restaurant.
What followed has been recreated, invented or imagined countless times. The disappearance of Hoffa, an all-powerful union leader allegedly assassinated by the mob, is one of those unsolved mysteries that are part of the American cultural imaginary. Portrayed by Jack Nicholson in Hoffa (1992, directed by Danny DeVito and written by David Mamet) or Al Pacino in The Irishman (2019, by Martin Scorsese), the story of the angular union leader has been recreated in movies, books and, of course, also a chapter of The Simpson. Hoffa was declared dead in 1982, after multiple and unsuccessful searches, and the speculations did not stop growing during the following decades.
Are Hoffa’s remains buried in section 107 of Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey? Did Anthony Provenzano’s men, aka Tony Pro, kill him and chop him up and send him to Florida and sink him in a swamp? Or did federal agents actually kidnap him and throw him from a plane into the Great Lakes of Michigan?
Researchers never found proof of the various hypotheses they have planned about this enigma, but a new clue has just reignited the search 46 years later. Last October, FBI agents showed up with a warrant on what had been an airstrip, located under the bridge of a New Jersey elevated highway called the Pulaski Skyway. Mara Schneider, the spokeswoman for the Detroit office, explained in a statement last week that, on October 25 and 26, operatives from the city and Newark Corps had carried out an inspection of the area and collected data that they were being analyzed. He did not specify if it was the search for Hoffa, revealed by The New York Times, alleging that the order had been issued under summary secrecy.
The clue comes from the confession of a man on his deathbed. Frank Cappola, a teenager in the 1970s, worked on that airstrip with his father, Paul. When he was about to go to the other world, in 2008, he told his son that in 1975 he put Jimmy Hoffa’s body in a steel barrel and buried it, under many other barrels, about 90 meters from the airstrip. In 2019, a year before his death, Frank Cappola Jr. told this revelation to journalist Dan Moldea in a Fox Nation series on the mystery of the unionist and signed a document before a notary with the story.
The runway sparks credibility because as early as 1975 the FBI had received some tip that Hoffa’s remains might be on a New Jersey airstrip, but they discarded them after unsuccessful searches. Now the location is more precise. Frank Cappola recounted details of that summer day in 1975: “I was talking to my father when a black limousine arrived,” says the letter, collected by the Times. His father and another man went to talk to the people in the vehicle and pointed to a place. According to his testimony, his father chose to bury the trade unionist at a different point. “He didn’t trust anyone and decided to dig a second hole and put Hoffa there.”
Join now EL PAÍS to follow all the news and read without limits
Former federal prosecutor Keith Corbett, who prosecuted top Michigan mob bosses between 1978 and 2007 and was in charge of the caso Hoffa, is not optimistic. “My problem with the New Jersey hypothesis is that if someone plans a murder, and that was clearly planned, would they want to drive from Michigan to New Jersey with the body in tow? It doesn’t seem very prudent, I’m not saying it can’t happen, but it seems unlikely. When they did, they didn’t know it would be until 24 hours before the authorities started looking for him. Nobody knew anything until his wife called to say that her husband had not come home the day before, ”he explains by phone.
Investigated in the Senate
Hoffa had dangerous enemies. After years of being investigated by the Senate and by the Department of Justice under Robert F. Kennedy, he entered prison in 1967 for fraud and bribery, but he did not leave the helm of the union until 1971, and he did so voluntarily, within an agreement with the Richard Nixon Administration for clemency. The requirement was that he could not run for office again until 1980, but, once on the street, he began to battle against this clause. And that was not liked by either the government or the mafia ringleaders, including Tony Pro, who were more comfortable working with his successor, Frank Fitzimmons. And this is how one summer afternoon Hoffa stopped being a problem and became a character in a novel.
That his figure survives in the collective memory is little surprising, given the irresistible spell of the stories of the Italian mafia. But Hoffa means much more than that: he remains a myth of the union struggle. Neither the jail sentence nor ties to organized crime eroded the surname. He is neither more nor less than another Jim Hoffa, his only son, who has presided over the international freight forwarders organization since 1998. Since then he has been elected five times. And the website dedicates a whole chapter to the work of his disappeared father under the title “The hero of the workers.”
Humanities professor David Witmer, author of several books on unions and corruption and now focused on one on Hoffa, explains why the leader maintained and maintains the support of the workers: “When they accused him of being related to organized crime figures, He explained that he needed to know those people to be able to organize unions in sectors where the employees were already related to those people, that if you tried to do it without knowing those mafia bosses, it would not work. But he always stressed that they did not control him. And for most people, that was true. They lived a golden stage, winning better contracts, better social benefits, better salaries. Accusations from people like [el entonces senador Bob] Kennedy simply did not believe them, it seemed to them that he was working for the entrepreneurs. The surname Hoffa means to them the power of the union ”.
The search for Hoffa’s body was also reactivated in 2013. A mob boss, Tony Zerilli, said he was buried under a concrete slab in Oakland, a city near the place of his disappearance, in north Detroit.
Solving the enigma of where his remains are seems difficult, but determining who really killed him – several have attributed it to him – is a mystery that will never be solved, in the opinion of former prosecutor Corbett. “We will never be in a position to prove anything, the people most likely to have committed the crime are dead,” he says. Frank Sheeran – central character of The Irish- He was credited with it, but investigators on the case have called it unlikely. He also claimed to have done it the hitman Richard Kuklinski, alias the Iceman, but it was discarded. This is what myths have: it is so much the spell that volunteers even come out to take on their crime. For the security forces it is a pending issue. An airstrip in New Jersey has given them hope.
Follow all the international information at Facebook and Twitter, o en our weekly newsletter.