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MYSTERIES Still no signs of Jimmy Hoffa 30 years later



Published: Tue, July 26, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Clues keep coming in, but leads are beginning to dry up as time goes on.

CHICAGO TRIBUNE

BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. -- The tips come in about once every week, sometimes from people who know things but mostly from those who are lonely, a little confused or up to no good.

After all these years -- 30 as of July 30 -- the mystery surrounding the whereabouts of Jimmy Hoffa thrives, fed by a remarkably steady stream of tips. A second generation of investigators works from a shrinking pool of evidence as most of those who know what happened to the legendary labor leader die and those who think they know call the cops.

In a year that has seen two long-running whodunits from the 1970s solved -- the February arrest of and recent confession from the BTK serial killer in Kansas and, in May, the public emergence of Watergate source "Deep Throat" -- the Hoffa mystery continues to baffle.

Investigators have been to swamps, landfills, incinerators and the football stadium home of the New York Giants. They dug up a swimming pool, took apart cars and, most recently, tore out floorboards in a northwest Detroit home in search of evidence in a case in which they have no body, no suspects and no idea what happened to Hoffa. They may know more than they did in the days immediately after Hoffa disappeared July 30, 1975, in suburban Detroit, but there is no talk of suspects, no hint of an arrest and no clue as to Hoffa's whereabouts.

Without a trace

Perhaps it is the hope of a break that keeps this mystery buzzing. Indeed, there are no signs that the Hoffa case is about to lapse into retirement status, like that of Joseph Crater, the New York judge who told friends 75 years ago that he was going to a play on Broadway and was never seen again.

James R. Hoffa -- the "R" stands for Riddle -- had been president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters since 1957 when he was convicted in 1967 of attempted bribery. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison. President Richard Nixon commuted his sentence in 1971, and Hoffa soon launched his attempt to regain control of the Teamsters. In 1988, Hoffa's son, James, who was 34 when his father disappeared, was elected Teamsters president.

The elder Hoffa was to meet that day in 1975 with reputed mob figure Anthony "Tony Jack" Giacalone and New Jersey Teamsters boss Anthony "Tony Pro" Provenzano at the Machus Red Fox restaurant in Bloomfield Township, an affluent suburb about 20 miles north of Detroit. Hoffa called his wife from the restaurant on that afternoon 30 years ago and told her no one had shown up for the meeting. That was the last anyone heard of Hoffa, who was declared legally dead in 1982.

Enduring history

Rickey and Helen Wilson had no idea that the three-story, brick-and-shingle home they bought in northwest Detroit in 1989 would be swept up in the investigation. The 2004 book about former Hoffa loyalist Frank Sheeran reported that Sheeran admitted shooting Hoffa in that house on the day of his disappearance. Sheeran died shortly after that admission.

Forensic experts ripped up three sections of bloodstained floorboards in the home last year to try to confirm claims that Hoffa had been killed there, but they failed to corroborate the claim.

L. Brooks Patterson said he is not surprised the Hoffa mystery has not been solved. Patterson was the county prosecutor 30 years ago and recalls the swarm of FBI agents and police who responded to a flurry of tips in the days after Hoffa disappeared.

"I remember there was a backhoe digging up a field because we'd gotten a tip that Hoffa was buried there," Patterson recalled. "I remember people lining up along a fence and drinking beer, watching that backhoe dig. It was a glorious moment of people watching other people chasing their tails."




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