Jimmy Hoffa: no visible sign of remains, but forensics lab to weigh in

Jimmy Hoffa may be buried under a work shed in Roseville, Mich., a tipster said. The investigation hasn’t found any remains yet, but the search for Jimmy Hoffa continues.

By MARK GUARINO | Staff Writer, The Christian Science Monitor

posted September 28, 2012 at 4:04 pm EDT

The latest attempt to end the 37-year mystery involving the disappearance of former Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa started Friday at a suburban work shed outside Detroit.

Following a tip suggesting that a body might have been buried there decades ago, local investigators drilled 10 feet below the surface Friday morning to retrieve core soil samples. There were no visible signs of remains, but the soil samples will be analyzed by a forensics lab at Michigan State University in East Lansing. If test results show human remains, excavation would start next week.

Not that local police actually expect to find Mr. Hoffa’s remains beneath the concrete-floored shed in Roseville, Mich. “We aren’t saying it’s not Jimmy Hoffa. We’re just saying the odds are very remote,” James Berlin, police chief of Roseville told the Detroit News.

Hoffa disappeared on July 30, 1975, and was last seen outside a restaurant in suburban Oakland, Mich. A key figure during the heyday of the labor movement,  Hoffa was convicted in of jury tampering and fraud before being pardoned by President Nixon. The many unknowns surrounding his disappearance have added to his legend, with the National Museum of Organized Crime & Law Enforcement in Las Vegas featuring a section on Hoffa conspiracy theories, for instance.

The case has become larger than life because of the public’s “fascination with unsolved crimes, particularly murder cases where the body has never been found,” says Adam Gershowitz, a professor at William & Mary Law School in in Williamsburg, Va. “And the statute of limitations usually does not run out on murder cases, so there’s always the prospect that finding the body could lead to a new whodunit and a trial.”

The mystery also proved a glimpse of underground crime organizations from a different era, says Tod Burke, a criminal justice professor at Radford University in Virginia

“Nowadays, organized-crime people are more likely to speak [to authorities] – to turn against their own,” says Professor Burke. The Hoffa era was a time “when you didn’t do that. You kept your mouth quiet and it stayed within the family.”

“Now it’s more difficult to do that because we have gangs and the same rules don’t necessarily apply,” he adds

What is known is that, on the day of his disappearance, Hoffa intended to meet with Anthony Giacalone, an organized crime figure in Detroit, and Anthony Provenzano, a New Jersey Teamsters local. The FBI has said Hoffa went there thinking Mr. Giacalone would help settle a feud between Hoffa and Mr. Provenzano. Both men later denied meeting Hoffa and have since died. According to the ongoing investigation, Hoffa was likely killed as part of a power struggle over the union’s pension fund.

The current tipster is a former gambler who contacted Dan Moldea, a Washington-based investigative journalist who is the author of “The Hoffa Wars,” a thorough investigation into the case. Mr. Moldea would not reveal details about the tipster, but says he is not a mob associate but was someone who was at “the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Moldea directed the tipster to the FBI and later to the Roseville Police Department, which took up the case in late August. The tipster says he saw a body being carried from the home’s garage and buried within a nine square foot area. At the time of Hoffa’s disappearance, the home was owned by a bookie employed by Giacalone.

“I always treat these tipsters with respect because you never know,” Moldea says. “In the past 37 years, I’ve come to conclude that, if this thing is going to be solved, the FBI will solve it because they have the resources to solve it.”

The Hoffa investigation has led to many dead ends, but in recent years, because of advances in DNA technology, the FBI has accelerated the search. In 2001, the agency linked Hoffa’s DNA to a car long suspected to have been used by him the day he disappeared. In 2004, it failed to match his DNA to blood extracted from the floorboards of a Detroit home. In 2006, the FBI demolished a horse barn in suburban Milford Township after a tip sent investigators there.

The difficulty of the Hoffa case is that investigators believe the body was moved, not just once, but perhaps several times.

“We know who the killers are, we know how it came down, we just don’t know how they disposed the body,” says Moldea, who does not believe the search in Roseville will produce Hoffa’s remains. He says the site is too visible, and that the bookmaker who owned the home was not important enough to be entrusted with such an important secret.

The Hoffa family has yet to comment on the investigation. Hoffa’s son, James Hoffa, is the current general president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which is headquartered in Washington. The FBI released a statement Thursday saying the family “will have no comment until there is a reason to comment.”

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