Hoffa in 1965
James Riddle Hoffa
February 14, 1913
Brazil, Indiana, U.S.
|Disappeared||July 30, 1975 (aged 62)|
Bloomfield, Michigan, U.S.
|Status||Missing for 44 years, 4 months and 6 days; declared dead in absentia on July 30, 1982 (aged 69)|
Josephine Hoffa (née Poszywak) (m. 1936)
|Criminal penalty||13 years' imprisonment concurrently (eight years for bribery, five years for fraud; 1967)|
James Riddle Hoffa (born February 14, 1913; disappeared July 30, 1975, later declared dead July 30, 1982) was an American labor union leader who served as the President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) union from 1957 until 1971.
From an early age, Hoffa was a union activist and became an important regional figure with the IBT by his mid-20s. By 1952, he was national vice-president of the IBT and was its general president between 1957 and 1971. He secured the first national agreement for teamsters' rates in 1964 with the National Master Freight Agreement. He played a major role in the growth and development of the union, which eventually became the largest (by membership) in the United States with over 2.3 million members at its peak, during his terms as its leader.
Hoffa became involved with organized crime from the early years of his Teamsters work, and this connection continued until his disappearance in 1975. He was convicted of jury tampering, attempted bribery, and fraud in 1964 in two separate trials. He was imprisoned in 1967 and sentenced to 13 years. In mid-1971, he resigned as president of the union as part of a pardon agreement with President Richard Nixon, and he was released later that year, although he was barred from union activities until 1980. Hoffa, hoping to regain support and to return to IBT leadership, unsuccessfully attempted to overturn the order.
Hoffa was born in Brazil, Indiana, on February 14, 1913, to John and Viola (née Riddle) Hoffa. His father, who was of German descent now referred to as Pennsylvania Dutch ancestry, died in 1920 from lung disease when Hoffa was seven years old. Hoffa's maternal side were Irish Americans. The family moved to Detroit in 1924, where Hoffa was raised and lived the rest of his life. Hoffa left school at age 14 and began working full-time manual labor jobs such as house painting to help support his family.
Hoffa married Josephine Poszywak, an 18-year-old Detroit laundry worker of Polish heritage, in Bowling Green, Ohio, on September 24, 1936; the couple had met during a non-unionized laundry workers' strike action six months earlier. The couple had two children: a daughter, Barbara Ann Crancer, and a son, James P. Hoffa. The Hoffas paid $6,800 in 1939 for a modest home in northwest Detroit. The family later owned a simple summer lakefront cottage in Orion Township, Michigan, north of Detroit.
Barbara retired as an Associate Circuit Judge in St. Louis County, Missouri, in March 2008. One year later, she agreed to serve under Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster as Chief Counsel of the Division of Civil Disability and Workers Rights. She retired from that post in March 2011. James has served as president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT), his father's old position, since 1999.
Hoffa began union organizational work at the grassroots level through his employment as a teenager with a grocery chain, a job which paid substandard wages and offered poor working conditions with minimal job security. The workers were displeased with this situation and tried to organize a union to better their lot. Although Hoffa was young, his courage and approachability in this role impressed fellow workers, and he rose to a leadership position. By 1932, after defiantly refusing to work for an abusive shift foreman, who inspired Hoffa's long career of organizing workers, he left the grocery chain, in part because of his union activities. Hoffa was then invited to become an organizer with the Local 299 of the Teamsters in Detroit.
The Teamsters union, founded in 1903, had 75,000 members in 1933. As a result of Hoffa's work with other union leaders to consolidate local union trucker groups into regional sections, and then into a national body—work that Hoffa ultimately completed over a period of two decades—membership grew to 170,000 members by 1936. Three years later, there were 420,000. The number grew steadily during World War II and through the post-war boom to top a million members by 1951.
The Teamsters organized truck drivers and warehousemen, first throughout the Midwest, then nationwide. Hoffa played a major role in the union's skillful use of "quickie strikes", secondary boycotts, and other means of leveraging union strength at one company, to then move to organize workers, and finally to win contract demands at other companies. This process, which took several years starting in the early 1930s, eventually brought the Teamsters to a position of being one of the most powerful unions in the United States.
Trucking unions in that era were heavily influenced by, and in many cases controlled by elements of, organized crime. For Hoffa to unify and expand trucking unions, he had to make accommodations and arrangements with many gangsters, beginning in the Detroit area. Organized crime influence on the IBT would expand as the union itself grew.
Hoffa worked to defend the Teamsters unions from raids by other unions, including the CIO, and extended the Teamsters' influence in the Midwestern states from the late 1930s to the late 1940s. Although he never actually worked as a truck driver, he became president of Local 299 in December 1946. He then rose to lead the combined group of Detroit-area locals shortly afterwards, and advanced to become head of the Michigan Teamsters groups sometime later. During this time, Hoffa obtained a deferment from military service in World War II by successfully making a case for his union leadership skills being of more value to the nation, by keeping freight running smoothly to assist the war effort.
At the 1952 IBT convention in Los Angeles, Hoffa was selected as national vice-president by incoming president Dave Beck, successor to Daniel J. Tobin, who had been president since 1907. Hoffa had quelled an internal revolt against Tobin by securing Central States regional support for Beck at the convention. In exchange, Beck made Hoffa a vice-president.
The IBT moved its headquarters from Indianapolis to Washington, D.C., taking over a large office building in the capital in 1955. IBT staff was also enlarged during this period, with many lawyers hired to assist with contract negotiations. Following his 1952 election as vice-president, Hoffa began spending more of his time away from Detroit, either in Washington or traveling around the country for his expanded responsibilities. Hoffa's personal lawyer was Bill Bufalino.
Hoffa took over the presidency of the Teamsters in 1957, at the convention in Miami Beach, Florida. His predecessor, Beck, had appeared before the John L. McClellan-led U.S. Senate Select Committee on Improper Activities in Labor or Management Field in March 1957, and took the Fifth Amendment 140 times in response to questions. Beck was under indictment when the IBT convention took place, and was convicted and imprisoned in a trial for fraud held in Seattle.
The 1957 AFL–CIO convention, held in Atlantic City, New Jersey, voted by a ratio of nearly five to one to expel the IBT from the larger union group. President George Meany gave an emotional speech, advocating the removal of the IBT and stating that he could agree to further affiliation of the Teamsters only if they would dismiss Hoffa as their president. Meany demanded a response from Hoffa, who replied through the press, "We'll see." At the time, IBT was bringing in over $750,000 annually to the AFL-CIO.
Following his re-election as president in 1961, Hoffa worked to expand the union. In 1964, he succeeded in bringing virtually all over-the-road truck drivers in North America under a single National Master Freight Agreement, in what may have been his biggest achievement in a lifetime of union activity. Hoffa then tried to bring the airline workers and other transport employees into the union, with limited success. During this period, he was facing immense personal strain as he was under investigation, on trial, launching appeals of convictions, or imprisoned for virtually all of the 1960s.
Hoffa was re-elected, without opposition, to a third five-year term as president of the IBT, despite having been convicted of jury tampering and mail fraud in court verdicts that were stayed pending review on appeal. Delegates in Miami Beach also elected Frank Fitzsimmons as first vice-president, to become president "if Hoffa has to serve a jail term".
Hoffa had first faced major criminal investigations in 1957, as a result of the McClellan Senate hearings. He avoided conviction for several years. However, when John F. Kennedy was elected president in 1960, he appointed his younger brother Robert F. Kennedy as Attorney General. Robert Kennedy had been frustrated in earlier attempts to convict Hoffa, while working as counsel to the McClellan subcommittee. As Attorney General from 1961, Kennedy pursued the strongest attack on organized crime the country had ever seen, and he carried on with a so-called "Get Hoffa" squad of prosecutors and investigators.
In 1964, Hoffa was convicted in Chattanooga, Tennessee of attempted bribery of a grand juror, and was sentenced to eight years. This case resulted from an earlier matter, the Test Fleet case, the trial for which had been held in Nashville. Hoffa was implicated by one of his close associates, Louisiana teamster Edward Grady Partin, who went to the FBI with the information that led to Hoffa's conviction. Hoffa was also convicted of fraud later that same year for improper use of the Teamsters' pension fund, in a trial held in Chicago. Hoffa had illegally arranged several large pension fund loans to leading organized crime figures. He received a five-year sentence to run consecutively to his bribery sentence. Kennedy, who had pursued Hoffa for several years, stepped down as Attorney General after the second Hoffa conviction, and was elected to the U.S. Senate in the 1964 election.
Hoffa spent the next three years unsuccessfully appealing his 1964 convictions. Appeals filed by his chief counsel, St. Louis defense attorney Morris Shenker, reached the U.S. Supreme Court. He began serving his sentences in March 1967 at the Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary in Pennsylvania.
Just before he entered prison, Hoffa appointed Frank Fitzsimmons as acting Teamsters president. Fitzsimmons was a Hoffa loyalist, fellow Detroit resident, and a longtime member of Teamsters Local 299, who owed his own high position in large part to Hoffa's influence. Despite this, Fitzsimmons soon distanced himself from Hoffa's influence and control after 1967, to Hoffa's displeasure. Fitzsimmons also decentralized power somewhat within the IBT's administration structure, foregoing much of the control Hoffa took advantage of as union president.
On December 23, 1971, less than five years into his 13-year sentence, Hoffa was released from prison when President Richard Nixon commuted his sentence to time served. Following his release, Hoffa was awarded a Teamsters' pension of $1.7 million, delivered in a one-time lump sum payment. This type of pension settlement had not occurred before with the Teamsters.
The IBT then endorsed President Nixon, a Republican, in his presidential re-election bid in 1972; in prior elections, the union had supported Democratic nominees but had also endorsed Nixon in 1960.
While glad to regain his freedom, Hoffa was very disappointed with the condition imposed on his release by President Nixon, which prevented Hoffa from engaging in union activities until March 1980. He accused senior Nixon Administration figures, including Attorney General John N. Mitchell and White House Special Counsel Charles Colson, of depriving him of his rights by imposing this condition; Mitchell and Colson both denied this. It was probably imposed upon Hoffa as the result of requests from the Teamsters' leadership, although Fitzsimmons also denied this.
Hoffa sued to invalidate the non-participation restriction in order to reassert his power over the Teamsters. John Dean, former White House counsel to President Nixon, was among those called upon for depositions in 1974 court proceedings. Dean, who had become famous as a government witness in prosecutions arising from the Watergate scandal by mid-1973, had drafted the non-participation clause in 1971 at Nixon's request. Hoffa ultimately lost his court battle, since the court ruled that Nixon had acted within his powers by imposing the restriction, as it was based on Hoffa's misconduct while serving as a Teamsters' official.
Hoffa faced immense resistance to his re-establishment of power from many corners and had lost much of his earlier support, even in the Detroit area. As a result, he intended to begin his comeback at the local level with Local 299 in Detroit, where he retained some influence. In 1975, Hoffa was working on an autobiography titled Hoffa: The Real Story, which was published a few months after his disappearance. He had earlier published a book titled The Trials of Jimmy Hoffa (1970).
Hoffa's plans to regain the leadership of the union were met with opposition from some members of the Mafia, including some who were connected to his disappearance in 1975. One was Anthony Provenzano, who had been a Teamster local leader in New Jersey and a national vice-president of the union during Hoffa's second term as its president. Provenzano had once been a friend of Hoffa but had since become an enemy; Hoffa had called Provenzano "crazy". In 1973 and 1974, Hoffa talked to him to ask for help in supporting him for his return to power. Provenzano refused to listen and threatened Hoffa by saying he would pull out his guts and kidnap his granddaughters. Hoffa could not afford to take these threats lightly; at least two of Provenzano's political opponents were believed to have been murdered. Others who had spoken out against him had been assaulted. According to Dan Moldea, Hoffa had retaliated against his Mafia opponents by cooperating with investigations against them.
Other Mafia figures who became involved were Anthony Giacalone, an alleged kingpin in the Detroit Mafia, and his younger brother, Vito. The brothers had made three visits to Hoffa's home at Lake Orion and one to the Guardian Building law offices. Their avowed purpose in meeting Hoffa was to set up a "peace meeting" between Provenzano and Hoffa. According to Hoffa's son, "Dad was pushing so hard to get back in office, I was increasingly afraid that the mob would do something about it". Hoffa's son viewed the "peace meeting" overture as a pretext and was convinced that Giacalone was "setting Dad up" for a hit. Hoffa himself was becoming increasingly uneasy each time the Giacalone brothers arrived.
Hoffa disappeared on July 30, 1975, after going out to a meeting with Anthony Provenzano and Anthony Giacalone. The meeting was arranged to take place at 2 p.m. at the Machus Red Fox restaurant in Bloomfield Township, a suburb of Detroit. The Machus Red Fox was known to Hoffa; it had been the site for the wedding reception of his son, James. Hoffa wrote the date in his office calendar, "TG—2 p.m.—Red Fox".
On July 30 Hoffa left home in his green Pontiac Grand Ville at 1:15 p.m. Before heading to the restaurant, he stopped in Pontiac at the office of his close friend Louis Linteau, a former president of Teamsters Local 614 who now ran a limousine service. Linteau and Hoffa had been enemies early in their careers but had since settled their differences. By the time Hoffa left prison, Linteau had also become Hoffa's unofficial appointment secretary (he had arranged the dinner meeting between Hoffa and the Giacalone brothers on July 26, where they had informed him of the July 30 sit-down). Linteau was out to lunch when Hoffa stopped by, so he talked to some of the staff present and left a message for Linteau before departing for the Machus Red Fox.
At 2:15 p.m., an annoyed Hoffa called his wife from a payphone on a post in front of Damman Hardware, directly behind the Red Fox and complained, "Where the hell is Tony Giacalone? I'm being stood up". His wife told him she had not heard from anyone. He told her he would be home at 4:00 p.m. Several witnesses saw Hoffa standing by his car and pacing the restaurant's parking lot. Two men saw Hoffa emerge from the Red Fox after a long lunch and recognized him; they stopped to chat with him briefly and to shake his hand. At 3:27 p.m., Hoffa called Linteau complaining that Giacalone was late. Hoffa said, "That dirty son of a bitch Tony Jocks set this meeting up, and he's an hour and a half late". Linteau told him to calm down and to stop by his office on the way home. Hoffa said he would and hung up; this is Hoffa's last known communication.
At 7:00 a.m. the next day, Hoffa's wife called her son and daughter by telephone, saying their father had not come home. Twenty minutes later, Linteau went to the Machus Red Fox and found Hoffa's unlocked car in the parking lot, but there was no sign of Hoffa or any indication of what had happened to him. She called the police, who later arrived at the scene. State police were brought in and the FBI was alerted. At 6:00 p.m., Hoffa's son, James P. Hoffa, filed a missing persons report.
After years of investigation, involving numerous law enforcement agencies including the FBI, officials have not reached a definitive conclusion as to Hoffa's fate and who was involved. Giacalone and Provenzano, who denied having scheduled a meeting with Hoffa, were found not to have been near the restaurant that afternoon. Hoffa was declared legally dead on July 30, 1982. The case remains the subject of rumor and speculation. Hoffa's wife, Josephine, died on September 12, 1980. She is entombed in Michigan.
In 1989, Kenneth Walton, the Agent-in-Charge of the FBI's Detroit office, told The Detroit News that he knew what had happened to Hoffa. "I'm comfortable I know who did it, but it's never going to be prosecuted because ... we would have to divulge informants, confidential sources". In 2001, the FBI matched DNA from Hoffa's hair—taken from a brush—with a strand of hair found in a 1975 Mercury Marquis Brougham driven by his friend Charles "Chuckie" O'Brien on July 30, 1975. Police and Hoffa's family had long believed that O'Brien played a role in Hoffa's disappearance. O'Brien had denied being involved in Hoffa's disappearance and that Hoffa had ever been a passenger in his car. It was not clear what date Hoffa had been in the car.
In his book, I Heard You Paint Houses: Frank "The Irishman" Sheeran and the Closing of the Case on Jimmy Hoffa (2004), author Charles Brandt claims that Frank Sheeran, an alleged professional killer for the mob and longtime friend of Hoffa's, confessed to assassinating him. According to Brandt, O'Brien drove Sheeran, Hoffa, and fellow mobster Sal Briguglio to a house in Detroit. He claimed that while O'Brien and Briguglio drove off, Sheeran and Hoffa went into the house, where Sheeran claims that he shot Hoffa twice behind the right ear, and that he was told Hoffa was cremated after the murder. Further, Sheeran also admitted later to reporters that he murdered Hoffa, yet, blood stains found in the Detroit house where Sheeran claimed the murder happened were determined not to match Hoffa's.
On June 16, 2006, the Detroit Free Press published in its entirety the so-called "Hoffex Memo," a 56-page report prepared by the FBI for a January 1976 briefing on the case at FBI Headquarters in Washington. Although not claiming conclusively to establish the specifics of his disappearance, the memo records a belief that Hoffa was murdered at the behest of organized crime figures, who regarded his efforts to regain power within the Teamsters as a threat to their control of the union's pension fund.
In Philip Carlo's book The Iceman: Confessions of a Mafia Contract Killer (2006), Richard Kuklinski claimed to know the fate of Hoffa: his body was placed in a 50-gallon drum and set on fire for "a half hour or so," then the drum was welded shut and buried in a junkyard. Later, according to Kuklinski, an accomplice started to talk to federal authorities. Because of fear that he would use the information to try to get out of trouble, the perpetrators had the drum dug up and placed in the trunk of a car, which was then compacted and shipped, along with hundreds of others, to Japan as scrap metal.
Hoffa's body was rumored to be buried in Giants Stadium. In an episode of the Discovery Channel show MythBusters, titled "The Hunt for Hoffa," the locations in the stadium where Hoffa was rumored to be buried were scanned with a ground penetrating radar. This was intended to reveal if any disturbances indicated a human body had been buried there. They found no trace of any human remains. In addition, no human remains were found when Giants Stadium was demolished in 2010.
In 2012, Roseville, Michigan, police took samples from the ground under a suburban Detroit driveway after a person reported having witnessed the burial of a body there around the time of Hoffa's 1975 disappearance. Tests by Michigan State University anthropologists found no evidence of human remains.
In January 2013, reputed gangster Tony Zerilli implied that Hoffa was originally buried in a shallow grave, with the plan to move his remains later to a second location. Zerilli contends that these plans were abandoned. He said Hoffa's remains lay in a field in northern Oakland County, Michigan, not far from the restaurant where he was last seen. Zerilli denied any responsibility for or association with Hoffa's disappearance. On June 17, 2013, investigation of the Zerilli information led the FBI to a property in Oakland Township in northern Oakland County owned by Detroit mob boss Jack Tocco. After three days, the FBI called off the dig. No human remains were found, and the case remains open.
James Buccellato, a professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Northern Arizona University, suggested in 2017 that Hoffa was likely murdered one mile away from the restaurant at the house of Carlo Licata, the son of mobster Nick Licata. He further suggested that Hoffa's body was taken to a crematorium in Detroit that was owned at the time by the Mafia. He was doubtful the body was transported a long distance, saying "It's just not practical."
Thomas Andretta, who died in 2019, and his brother Stephen, who reportedly died of cancer in 2000, were named by the FBI as suspects. Both were New Jersey Teamsters and reputed Genovese crime family mob associates. The FBI called Thomas Andretta a "trusted associate of Anthony Provenzano; reported to be involved in the disappearance of Hoffa." Andretta served federal prison time for racketeering. He repeatedly refused to comment on the case.
In an April 2019 interview, with DJ Vlad, Michael Franzese said he was aware of the location of Hoffa's body, as well as the shooter. Franzese said Hoffa was definitely killed in a mafia-related hit, and that the order came down from the commission in New York. When questioned about the location and the shooter, Franzese said, "I can tell you the body is very wet," and "The shooter is still alive today, but currently in prison."
Author James Ellroy features a fictional historical version of Hoffa in the Underworld USA Trilogy novels as an important secondary character, most prominently in the novels American Tabloid (1995) and The Cold Six Thousand (2001).
In the 2003 comedy/drama film Bruce Almighty, the titular character uses powers endowed by God to manifest Hoffa's body in order to procure a story interesting enough to reclaim his career in the news industry.
Hoffa's father was a coal miner and of Pennsylvania Dutch (German) lineage.
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David Daniel Beck
| President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters
Frank Edward Fitzsimmons