Photo of former Teamsters president Jimmy Hoffa taken days before his mysterious disappearance by photographer Tony Spina, July 24,1975.
(Photo: Gannett/Detroit Free Press)
by Tammy Stables Battaglia and John Wisely, Detroit Free Press
- Hoffa disappeared in 1975 from a restaurant parking lot
- Searches over the years have yielded no clues
- Latest tip comes from son of a former Detroit mob boss
DETROIT -- Calling Jimmy Hoffa's disappearance "an open wound" for Detroit, officials say they're hopeful a dig in northern Oakland County, Mich., will turn up the body of the former Teamsters boss.
"It's my fondest hope that we can give ... closure not just to the Hoffa family, but also to the community and stop tearing that scab off with every new lead and bring some conclusion," Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard said just after 11 a.m. today, the first official word about what's happening at the dig in Oakland Township that began this morning. "It's long overdue."
FBI Special Agent in Charge Robert Foley III of the Detroit office, speaking with Bouchard, said the FBI is executing a search warrant in a grassy field in the search for Hoffa.
"Because this investigation is an open investigation and the search warrant is sealed, I will not be able to provide any additional details regarding our activity here," Foley said, as a truck carrying a backhoe pulled down a road to the site behind him. "However if information does become available to the extent that we can share it, we certainly will."
Neither of the men, accompanied by a Bloomfield Township police official, talked about what led them to the site or how long the search may take.
"This has been one of those open wounds for a long time," Bouchard said. "Especially yesterday, I was thinking about what Father's Day means to the family that doesn't have closure on this case, and families like them all across the country that have a missing loved one and didn't know what happened."
An incident command center is set up in Oakland Township, about 45 miles north of Detroit. Officers ran yellow police tape along the outer edge of the multi-acre site this morning.
Hoffa was kidnapped on the afternoon of July 30, 1975, from the parking lot of what was then the Machus Red Fox restaurant in Bloomfield Township. Hoffa's body never has been found, and the case is one of the 20th century's most vexing mysteries.
Sources at the scene said investigators are searching a concentrated area at the site. Tents are set up in the middle of the property, at least 500 feet off the dirt road.
The Oakland Township property came under scrutiny in January after Tony Zerilli, 85, the son of reputed former Detroit mob boss Joseph Zerilli, told broadcast media that Hoffa, 62, was buried there.
John Anthony, who worked the case as an FBI agent and later served as an FBI spokesman, said then that Zerilli was in a position to know secrets, including the fate of the former president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
Dan Moldea, author of the book "The Hoffa Wars," who has studied the case closely for decades, agreed.
"This isn't some screwball," Moldea said. "He's the right man at the right time. His father would have had to sign off on this. The question is: Would his father or his father's associates have confided in him? I find it very possible that they did."
The FBI has theorized that Hoffa disappeared after going to the restaurant for a reconciliation meeting with Anthony (Tony Pro) Provenzano, a mob-connected New Jersey Teamster official, and Anthony (Tony Jack) Giacalone, a Detroit Mafia captain.
The FBI thought Provenzano and Giacalone had Hoffa killed to prevent him from regaining the Teamsters presidency, ending the mob's influence over the union and its easy access to Teamster pension funds. Hoffa ran the union from 1957 to 1971.
Various theories - and numerous books and interviews - surmise that Hoffa's body was either incinerated or buried.
In September, Roseville, Mich., police and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality used sonar equipment seeking human remains under a driveway after a tip claimed a body, possibly Hoffa's, could be buried there.
Despite discrepancies in the time line, Roseville Police Chief James Berlin said he'd take the same steps under identical circumstances - despite the media frenzy that chronicled the fruitless search.
"You just can't blow it off," he said. "You have to gauge the credibility of those involved and go from there."
In 2006, the FBI spent 14 days digging at a horse farm near Milford, Mich., looking for Hoffa's remains.