Jimmy Hoffa, His Life and Disappearance
In his prime Jimmy Hoffa was one of the most influential men in the United States. From his very beginning, his existence was threatened. His adult life was even more difficult than was his childhood (Friedman 124). When he disappeared July 30, 1975, the country was stunned. How could such a wanted man just vanish with out a trace? His disappearance has remained a mystery to everyone for years. What happened to James R. Hoffa, and why did it happen? These are only a few of the many questions that must be answered in order to solve this puzzling mystery.
Before expanding on the disappearance itself, one should know about the person that disappeared. “Jimmy Hoffa was the son of an unsuccessful coal prospector in the small town of Brazil, Indiana, who died when Hoffa was only four” (Friedman 124). “Hoffa hauled laundry home in a wagon for his mother to wash, chopped and sold wood and scraped mussel shells of the bottom of the Wabash River to sell by the ton to button makers. When his mother moved the family to Detroit, six years after her husband’s death, Jimmy hauled ashes and passed out leaflets for patent medicines at factory gates. He quit school at fourteen in the middle of his seventh grade year, to work full time” (Friedman 133). During Hoffa’s childhood he was asked to give up his boyish ways and become the man of the house by finding work. At the youthful age of seventeen, Hoffa was unloading boxcars at the Kroger grocery chain warehouse in Detroit for thirty-two cents an hour. It was there that he organized his first labor strike (Franco 150). It was moves like that that led Hoffa to become such a powerful figure in America.
While Hoffa was always a hard worker, he wasn’t always the type of man that you would like to call your friend. He wasn’t always on the right side of the law, “It is true that Hoffa used the thugs to climb to the top” (Brill 84). He made thousands of dollars in extortion schemes that bled innocent businessmen of all they had. One such scheme included setting his wife up, under her maiden name, in a truck leasing company. This business was eager to get Hoffa to go easy on them so they had to pay their Teamsters drivers to bribe members of Congress with five or more hundred dollar bills stuffed into a hand delivered copies of the Teamsters monthly magazine. Eventually, he was caught and convicted of mail fraud for conspiring to take money from the Central States Pension Fund.
On March 7th, 1967, his last attempt for appeal was denied in a Tennessee jury tampering conviction. He had, according to one lawyer involved in the case, succeeded in "tunneling his way into jail". He had converted a relatively minor misdemeanor charge of “taking money from his employer” and turned it into a felony conviction for tampering with the jury in the case. Consequently, Hoffa was never convicted of the misdemeanor charge.
On his journey to the top, Hoffa also made many enemies. One such enemy was the famed politician Robert Kennedy. One particularly intriguing encounter between these two men occurred in March of 1957. Hoffa was arrested for attempting to bribe a lawyer, John Cheasty, to become a member of the McClellan Committee staff and obtain confidential committee memorandums for him (Brill 201). The McClellan Committee was investigating the corruption and inept administration in the handling of employee benefit plans in America’s labor Unions (Internet). When Cheasty went to Robert Kennedy and told him of the offer, Kennedy arranged for the FBI to take pictures of Cheasty at street-corner meetings as he passed government documents to Hoffa in return for cash (Brill 202). Coming as it did on the eve of Hoffa’s planned ascension to the Teamsters presidency; it was to have been Kennedy’s knock out blow against Hoffa (Brill 204). But the ensuing trial was full of oddities and surprises.
Hoffa hired Edward Bennett Williams, a talented, yet slimy, lawyer. The trial took place in a predominately black Washington D.C. area, where the jury of twelve peers included eight blacks. Williams attempted to portray the prosecution’s key witness, Mr. Cheasty, as an anti-black, accusing him of having investigated the NAACP and of trying to break up the famed Alabama Bus Boycott. Not only were these allegations irrelevant to the trial, they were also totally groundless.
Another controversial defense tactic involved a surprise appearance in the courtroom by the former heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis. Louis told onlookers that Hoffa was an old friend. Louis then greeted Hoffa and wished him well in full view of the jury. It was later discovered that Louis and Hoffa were mere acquaintances and that all of Louis’s travel expenses had been covered by Hoffa himself. While there is no solid evidence to prove it, these actions must have a great impact on the jury. They somehow found a way to look past the damning pictures and returned a not guilty verdict after only a few hours of deliberation on July 19, 1957 (Brill 206).
His many illegal acts and the plethora of enemies he made contributed to the complexity of Hoffa’s disappearance. Numerous people had reason enough to want Hoffa out of the way, but few had the resources or the means to carry out such a feat. But on a hot July night in 1975, someone achieved this monumental deed. On the morning of July 31st, 1975, Jimmy Hoffa Jr. received a phone call from his mother. His father had not come home the night before. He had been due back at four o'clock the previous day for a barbecue.
Hoffa Sr. has been described as a teetotaler, a boy-scout type husband who came home every night. He was meticulous, he called home if he was a going to be even a few minutes late. Hoping it was a kidnapping, the family gathered in their Lake Orion Michigan home and waited for a ransom demand. It didn’t take long for the story to break into the media. Jimmy Jr. answered the reporter’s questions in the sweltering heat outside the Lake Orion cottage. The family received numerous crank calls; all claiming they had Hoffa Sr... The family offered a $200,000 reward, but that only encouraged more tormenting phone calls (Brill 33-36).
Without any real leads to go by, eventually the family had to admit to themselves that Hoffa was dead. For the family, the absence of the body was nearly as bad as the murder itself. The killers had inflicted a special kind of torture on the survivors. It allowed family members to think up a new form of death every day. There would be no ending, no funeral, no rush of sorrow, followed by acceptance and rebuilding.
Hoffa’s disappearance has left many unanswered questions. The most obvious question is what happened the night of July 30th? Much is known about the evening of July 30th, but not enough to convict a man for murder. It is known that Hoffa went to the Machus Red Fox Restaurant at 2 p.m. He was there to meet fellow Teamsters members Tony Giacalone and Tony Provenzano. There is no doubt that during this meeting the men would be discussing subjects of an illegal nature. Hoffa expected to be picked up by his associates and taken to somewhere else so they could talk in private. Neither man was ever seen at the restaurant. Both men had strong alibis when investigated by the police. Witnesses did provide the police with enough information to surmise that a mutual friend of all three men, Chuckie O’Brien, and at least two other men did pick up Hoffa in Giacalone’s car (Brill 36-40).
Everyone who investigated the case seems to agree that O’Brien was driving the car in which Hoffa was abducted. The only real question left is whether he was an unwitting dupe in the murder, used to lure Hoffa into the car without knowing what was going to happen, or if he was involved in the planning. Whatever the case, he would still know and be able to testify about, what happened after Hoffa got in the car and who was there (Franco 158).
Eye witness accounts were substantiated by a police investigation that proved Hoffa was in the back seat of the car. He was picked up at approximately 2:45pm and, at this point, Hoffa still thought that he was going to meet Giacalone and Provenzano. From this point on all information is at best a logical assumption. The police surmised that Hoffa was knocked out with some sort of object. This is believed because of the very small traces of blood and hair found in the back seat of the car. These blood and hair samples have been proven to be Hoffa’s. It was not possible to shoot or stab him while in the car because this would leave to much blood and/or bullet holes. It is also hypothesized that Hoffa was next driven to the location of his murder. It is not known how he was murdered, and without the body we will never know for sure. The most popular theory surmises that his body was that it was taken to the Central Sanitation Services incinerator. Disintegrating the body would be the perfect way to ensure that it would never be found. It seems that whoever did this horrible act has literally “gotten away with murder“(Brill 40-45).
Taking into account all of Hoffa’s illegal and immoral doings during his life, it is not hard to develop a motive for the murder. That is not to say that he deserved to die, but one can understand why he was wanted dead. Since Hoffa was on the brink of becoming the Teamsters president when he was murdered, the killers picked the worst possible time. For Hoffa surely would have been elected president and brought about changes in the way labor unions worked forever. He was a great man with great intentions. But now all we are left with is unanswered questions about a man who still remains much of a mystery.
Brill, Steven. The Teamsters. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1978.
Pgs. (15,24,31-76, 84, 95, 201-206, 280, 320, 364, 375)
Franco, Joseph. Hoffa's Man: The Rise and Fall of Jimmy Hoffa. New York: Prentice Hall 1987. Pgs.(150, 158)
Friedman, Allen. Power and Greed: Inside the Teamsters Empire of Corruption. New York: Watts Publishing,
1989. Pgs.(124, 133, 135-138)