New York Times Article:
Op-Ed Contributor

Digging Up Detroit


Published: May 21, 2006
<nyt_text> DetroitTHE F.B.I. is digging again. This time at the Hidden Dreams horse farm about 25 miles from where Jimmy Hoffa, the former Teamsters union boss, disappeared nearly 31 years ago. Using cadaver dogs, heavy equipment and ground-penetrating radar, they hope, finally, to find his body.As fate had it, I’d spent the last months of Hoffa’s life with him. I’d asked him to do an interview for Playboy. After some haggling, he agreed.”I only have one rule, Jimmy,” I said.

“Yeah, what’s that?” he shot back.

“That you promise to answer every question.”

He looked at me hard and said: “No problem. Just remember, you got to live with the answers.”

Back in 1975, Hoffa was angry. He wanted to serve notice to the mob and brother Teamsters who had betrayed him when he went to prison for bribery. Jimmy was coming back to run the union. It was his do-or-die mission, one he outlined as he sat across the table from me in his newly remodeled kitchen, drinking instant coffee. “Tell the rats to get off the ship because I’m coming back,” he said.

He was tough, all right — thought he was indestructible, and it was that ego that got him killed.

Hoffa disappeared on July 30, 1975, and word on the street was that he’d given me “insurance” papers in case something happened to him. He hadn’t, but no one knew that except me. For a while, I started my car by reaching in through the window, figuring it was better to lose an arm than be blown to bits.

I don’t know whether it’s that 15 minutes of fame thing or what, but people keep claiming to have killed Jimmy Hoffa.

In a forthcoming book, Richard Kuklinski, a mob assassin called the Iceman, reportedly claims credit for the crime. In 2004, Frank Sheeran, a former Teamsters official, said on his deathbed that he had killed Hoffa in a Detroit house. What was he after, a couple of lines in the history books? Blood spots found in the house proved not to be Jimmy’s. And there’s Donald Frankos, Tony the Greek, who, in 1989, told the F.B.I. that Hoffa was in the end zone at Giants Stadium.

There have been lots of digs, too. The last one was in 2003, around an aboveground swimming pool near Bay City, Mich. An inmate gave the feds a tip about a briefcase with evidence in it. Dirty hands — no case. Over the years, “credible” tips have prompted the F.B.I. to tear up fields and flower-covered meadows in the hope of finding Hoffa. They never have.

Speculation on where Jimmy is makes him the most traveled corpse in history. He’s been compressed in a hunk of metal and shipped to Japan (the ultimate insult — a nonunion market), dumped in the Florida Everglades, buried in a New Jersey dump, mixed into the concrete of a Detroit freeway and deep-sixed into Lake St. Clair.

They’re digging again in Michigan. Will this be the time?

One thing is for sure. Most of the colorful cast of characters in this bizarre drama, from Jimmy himself to Tony Provenzano (a k a Tony Pro), Salvatore Briguglio (Sally Bugs), Frank Fitzsimmons and Anthony Giacalone (Tony Jack) — just to name a few — have checked out.

And those still with us? Think they want the 15 minutes?

Whether they find the body or not, every Hoffa search brings back memories: of silver-haired gangsters slamming doors in reporters’ faces, United States marshals fighting with Teamsters outside the Hoffa grand jury room because they brought chaise longues to the federal building. Days and nights of big, tough men standing in a misting rain whispering fears that they might be hit next for being a Hoffa friend.

And every Hoffa search brings back the same questions:

Where is he?

No clue.

What happened to him?

He’s dead.

Will they ever find the body?

I really don’t know.


Jerry Stanecki, a former investigative reporter, is the author of “Life Is a Joke and God Wrote It.”


Copyright – JS