Hoffa Chronicles Part 3- Searching For The Truth

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Carlos Osorio/AP/REX/Shutterstock (6225069b) People photograph the driveway in Roseville, Mich., where police plan to take soil samples f Friday after a tipster said it could be the final resting place of missing Teamsters leader Jimmy Hoffa. Roseville Police Chief James Berlin says a man claims to have seen a body buried there approximately 35 years ago. Berlin says the man believes it could be Hoffa. Hoffa disappeared in suburban Detroit in 1975, and his remains haven’t been found Hoffa Search, Roseville, USA

In the years since Jimmy Hoffa’s disappearance a lot of criminals have been popping up out of the woodwork and claiming they know what happened to him. But it’s proved to be more hype than substance.

It seems everyone wants to be a part of the Jimmy Hoffa myth. Conspiracy theorists and organized crime experts have put forth different ideas about what happened to him, but Hoffa’s former confederates in the mob have made the most noise. Every year or so a new criminal comes forward with information about where Hoffa’s body is or what really happened to him, but none of the claims have provided any evidence strong enough to finally close the case. A mishmash of tales, mixing fact with fiction, and outright speculation have emerged. Further clouding the reality of what happened and leaving law enforcement scratching their heads over four decades later. 

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Carlos Osorio/AP/REX/Shutterstock (5936638e) Members of the FBI Evidence Response Team survey an area in Oakland Township, Mich., where officials search for the remains of Teamsters union president Jimmy Hoffa who disappeared from a Detroit-area restaurant in 1975. The search follows claims made in February by reputed Mafia captain Tony Zerilli, who told Detroit TV station WDIV that he knew where Hoffa was buried Hoffa Search, Oakland Township, USA


The Conundrum of Hoffa’s Disappearance

When Hoffa first disappeared no one really knew what happened. There were some different theories and leads developed by law enforcement, but nothing ever really came of it and the case has never been solved. Despite literally tens of thousands of man hours, tips, and police work spent on the investigation and dozens of news worthy searches, the facts of what really happened have never emerged. 

With no body ever found and no one ever arrested or charged for the crime, the case remains open. Lingering to this day as a mystery to the world and one of the most iconic and unsolved crimes in history. Dominating news headlines as Hoffa’s name keeps coming up. Either from a prosecutor or ambitious law enforcement official who’s looking to solve the case and make a name for themselves or from different criminals and mobsters that have come forward, claiming they know the truth and are finally willing to set the record straight.  

“Of all the theories I’ve personally heard over the years, the cremation version outplays the others in my opinion.” Organized crime expert and Mafia historian Christian Cipollini, the author of Lucky Luciano: Mysterious Tales of a Gangland Legend, tells Real Crime. “Besides how logical and accessible the cremation method was for those guys, I found it ironic and interesting that victims were disposed via the funeral home. Jump to the cremation story of Hoffa and immediately I started think absolutely this was a plausible disposal method. It’s just uncanny how these gangsters had interests in funeral home and crematoriums.”

In the first couple of years after the disappearance every time a wise guy was picked up they would be asked about Hoffa’s murder and all them had the same answer. They didn’t know anything. But as time has passed all types of stories have come out as former mobsters and writers have claimed to have discovered the truth. Even though solving the crime has seemed improbable, law enforcement has followed every lead. Seeking to be the one that finally solved the unsolvable case.

The Hoffa case is the only criminal investigation that has been looked at in so many different ways. Capturing the public’s imagination like none before and spawning numerous books, documentaries, articles, and even Hollywood movies as some of the first theories put forward by law enforcement have been discounted.

“From the moment Hoffa vanished there have been an infinite number of theories,” Cipollini tells Real Crime. “And as time went on there were more and more connected guys offering to reveal what happened. Like any major unsolved crime though, a lot tips and tales end up inconclusive. The story of shipping a 55-gallon drum with a body in it across the country would seem entirely too risky and arduous a task for the mob to take on. But that didn’t stop the feds from investigating.”

If anyone ever finds out what happened to Hoffa’s body- whether he was cremated, buried, chewed up in a meat grinder, or shipped across country in a 55-gallon drum and buried under Giants Stadium- it could shed some light on who really murdered the former Teamster boss. But with all the media hoopla and public scrutiny generating tons of interest it seems the Hoffa case will never die. 

“The Hoffa story, like any major unsolved crime, strikes a chord with pop culture and will always generate a level of interest.” Cipollini tells Real Crime. “If some new detail, clue or even an outlandish confession arises, the media is all over it because we the public are still enthralled.” 

Mandatory Credit: Photo by AP/REX/Shutterstock (7347468a) HOFFA SEARCH Michigan State police and local authorities watch as a backhoe digs, searching for the body of missing ex-Teamster President James. R. Hoffa Sept. 28,1975. Authorities intensified their search in a 29-acre field and wooded area that day, excavating about half a dozen locations before halting at noon HOFFA SEARCH

False Leads and Cooperating Witnesses

In 2001, DNA testing found samples of Hoffa’s hair in Tony Jack Giacalone’s sons car, indicating that Hoffa was in that car and supporting the law enforcement theory that Hoffa was abducted from the Red Fox restaurant in the Mercury Marquis for his supposed meeting with Tony Pro to end their feud. It’s an accepted fact that Hoffa got in that car, but what happened afterward is the big mystery. 

“I haven’t ruled out the role the Giacalone’s had in the Hoffa disappearance.” Cipollini says. “There’s absolutely some credence to the story of Giacalone’s son’s car having been used in the crime at some point. Was the son in the car when Hoffa disappeared? Doubtful. The car however certainly produced the hair though.”

And as the tales of former mobsters-turned-cooperating witnesses have emerged the story has taken on a life of its own. But how much credibility do these former mafiaso have? Most of them are just trying to save their own ass and will tell the feds whatever it is they want to hear. Attempting to cement their place in history by attaching themselves to the Hoffa mythology.                                

“Same reason everyday people swap Hoffa tales over a beer,” Cipollini says. “Everyone wants to know or share what they think they know. The Hoffa case has become one of the greatest pop culture American mysteries of all time, ranking up there with the mystery of D.B. Cooper and who killed the Black Dahlia.”

Cipollini thinks any rumor or theory might be viable, even the allegation that Hoffa’s body was destroyed in a meat rendering plant, ground up and disposed of like bad meat. “In the underworld, anything is possible it seems,” he says. “But ultimately I personally lean hard towards the recent version of cremation.” A viable conclusion if Hoffa was stuffed in a barrel and shipped back East. But with law enforcement reaching to make a case and prosecutors trying to get their names in the headlines they keep jumping at anything offered, no matter how absurd it might seem. 

“I don’t know if law enforcement loves, hates or is indifferent to the headlines when it comes to the Hoffa sensationalism.” Cipollini tells Real Crime. “I’m sure if some agents legitimately and concretely discovered the true and full story then that would likely be a big public relations boost.  As for the authorities reaching too far to find the answers, they are probably to some degree, but then again this is one of those cold cases that keeps churning up new so-called revelations, confessions and tips, which of course would certainly keep law enforcement busy.”

One of the biggest leads came in 2006 when the FBI got a tip from former underworld figure Don Wells, who was tight with the leader of the Teamsters so-called “Goon Squad,” Rolland “Big Mac” McMasters. A tough guy and leg breaker from way back who busted up and put his hands on those who opposed the union in any way. Wells told police that Hoffa was buried on McMasters farm in Commerce Township, Michigan after a drug bust. Trying to obtain a get-out-of-jail free card by giving up the info that law enforcement had been seeking for 30 yeas. 

“The FBI showed up at Rolland McMasters farm after 30 years and started digging,” Cipollini says. “McMasters had connections to Hoffa, but once the FBI starting digging on the property Wells claimed held the remains of Hoffa, they found nothing.” McMasters died a year later and any secrets he might have had went to the grave with him. As time has moved on a lot of people that may or may not have been involved in the Hoffa abduction have been killed, gone to prison, or died of old age. In reality it seems like the case might never be solved.  

False Leads and Cooperating Witnesses

In 2001, DNA testing found samples of Hoffa’s hair in Tony Jack Giacalone’s sons car, indicating that Hoffa was in that car and supporting the law enforcement theory that Hoffa was abducted from the Red Fox restaurant in the Mercury Marquis for his supposed meeting with Tony Pro to end their feud. It’s an accepted fact that Hoffa got in that car, but what happened afterward is the big mystery. 

“I haven’t ruled out the role the Giacalone’s had in the Hoffa disappearance.” Cipollini says. “There’s absolutely some credence to the story of Giacalone’s son’s car having been used in the crime at some point. Was the son in the car when Hoffa disappeared? Doubtful. The car however certainly produced the hair though.”

And as the tales of former mobsters-turned-cooperating witnesses have emerged the story has taken on a life of its own. But how much credibility do these former mafiaso have? Most of them are just trying to save their own ass and will tell the feds whatever it is they want to hear. Attempting to cement their place in history by attaching themselves to the Hoffa mythology.                                

“Same reason everyday people swap Hoffa tales over a beer,” Cipollini says. “Everyone wants to know or share what they think they know. The Hoffa case has become one of the greatest pop culture American mysteries of all time, ranking up there with the mystery of D.B. Cooper and who killed the Black Dahlia.”

Cipollini thinks any rumor or theory might be viable, even the allegation that Hoffa’s body was destroyed in a meat rendering plant, ground up and disposed of like bad meat. “In the underworld, anything is possible it seems,” he says. “But ultimately I personally lean hard towards the recent version of cremation.” A viable conclusion if Hoffa was stuffed in a barrel and shipped back East. But with law enforcement reaching to make a case and prosecutors trying to get their names in the headlines they keep jumping at anything offered, no matter how absurd it might seem. 

“I don’t know if law enforcement loves, hates or is indifferent to the headlines when it comes to the Hoffa sensationalism.” Cipollini tells Real Crime. “I’m sure if some agents legitimately and concretely discovered the true and full story then that would likely be a big public relations boost.  As for the authorities reaching too far to find the answers, they are probably to some degree, but then again this is one of those cold cases that keeps churning up new so-called revelations, confessions and tips, which of course would certainly keep law enforcement busy.”

One of the biggest leads came in 2006 when the FBI got a tip from former underworld figure Don Wells, who was tight with the leader of the Teamsters so-called “Goon Squad,” Rolland “Big Mac” McMasters. A tough guy and leg breaker from way back who busted up and put his hands on those who opposed the union in any way. Wells told police that Hoffa was buried on McMasters farm in Commerce Township, Michigan after a drug bust. Trying to obtain a get-out-of-jail free card by giving up the info that law enforcement had been seeking for 30 yeas. 

“The FBI showed up at Rolland McMasters farm after 30 years and started digging,” Cipollini says. “McMasters had connections to Hoffa, but once the FBI starting digging on the property Wells claimed held the remains of Hoffa, they found nothing.” McMasters died a year later and any secrets he might have had went to the grave with him. As time has moved on a lot of people that may or may not have been involved in the Hoffa abduction have been killed, gone to prison, or died of old age. In reality it seems like the case might never be solved.  

Frank Sheeran’s Confession

Anyone familiar with Netflix’s these days has heard the hype of the new Martin Scorsese film, The Irishman, that is coming to the network in the near future. With a star studded cast including Robert Dinero, Joe Pesci, and Al Pacino the film will recount the Hoffa killing from the point of view of former mob hitman, union heavy, and former Hoffa friend, Frank Sheehan. Known as the “Irishman” Sheehan admitted to killing Hoffa on his death bed. A confession that seemingly ended the mystery, but not so fast. 

Scorsese adopted the film from a 2004 book, I Heard You Paint Houses, by former prosecutor Charles Brandt, who interviewed Sheehan before his death in 2003. “I heard you paint houses,” is allegedly the first words that Hoffa ever said to Sheeran. Its a metaphor in mob circles that killers and hitmen use. Slang for the blood that paints the wall when someone is shot and murdered. 

“Of all the hearsay, confessions so far, Sheeran’s story seems to have the most logic and evidence backing it up.” Cipollini says, but a lot of experts dispute this theory. Dan Moldea, who wrote The Hoffa Wars in 1978, and considers himself the go-to expert on the subject has been very vocal on his website and in print that the Sheeran confession holds no weight. But with the movie coming out this version might eventually been construed as the truth, despite the liberties that Hollywood takes when making a film for the screen. 

Sheeran claimed that he shot Hoffa in a West side Detroit house on the orders of Pennsylvania mobster Russell Bufalino. According to the Detroit Free Press, Oakland Country Detectives discovered floor boards coated with blood residue in the house, but an FBI crime lab report stated that the blood wasn’t Hoffa’s. As the mystery has become part of popular culture and Hoffa has remained an iconic figure 42 years after his disappearance, countless law enforcement types have admitted that the case will never be closed or solved.

“Almost everybody who is involved has gone to meet their maker,” Keith Corbett, a US Attorney for Detroit’s Organized Crime Strike, told the Detroit Free Press in 2015. “The list of people who have reliable information is really short. You could probably count them on one hand with a couple fingers left over. I think it’s extremely unlikely that there will be any new developments in the case.” But in the Hoffa case, experts have learned to never say never. The person who finally solves the case will be celebrated forever. 

Newest Theory On Hoffa’s Disappearance                              Just recently, on the 42-year anniversary of Hoffa’s disappearance, true crime expert Dan Moldea put forth a new name that might have had something to do with Hoffa’s demise. Moldea said that a source told him that New Jersey mobster Vinnie Ravo, who was associated with the Genovese Crime Family and was also associates with several New York Giant football players in the 1980s, played a part in the Hoffa disappearance. Moldea retreads the “Sally Bugs” Briguglio theory. One that law enforcement investigated thoroughly and gives more credence to the 55-gallon drum theory. 

Moldea wrote that Sally Bugs killed Hoffa and other Detroit mob associates stuffed the slain union leader into a 55-gallon drum and shipped the body to the East Coast on Gateway Transportation, a mob controlled trucking company. Where Hoffa was laid to rest in a Hackensack River landfill in Jersey City. The New Jersey land was owned and operated by Genovese solider Ralph Moscato, who for years fended off rumors that he had something to do with Hoffa’s death. 

NFL players Lawrence Taylor, Brian Kelly, and Brad Van Pelt, all with the New York Giants, were good friends with Ravo, a little known Mafiaso, who ran a bar near Giants Stadium in the 1980s. And with rumors always persisting that Hoffa was entombed in the concrete of Giants Stadium, Moldea’s new theory has gained immediate relevance due to the proximity of Ravo’s bar to the stadium.  

Experts have always claimed that Hoffa being buried in the foundation of Giants Stadium was a pipe dream, but with this new evidence unearthed by Moldea it seems the rumor could be true. But since the stadium was demolished no one will ever know the truth. This new evidence might finally help law enforcement officials tie everything together. The truth has always been there, but authorities have just never been able to put it all together. Ravo and Moscato are both dead now, but Moldea claims his source was in tight with both mobsters. 

Moscato’s landfill in Jersey City, under the Pulaski Skyway Expressway, was searched by the FBI in the 1970s after Hoffa’s disappearance, but they didn’t find anything. Moldea claimed that Moscato alluded to disposing of Hoffa’s body in the toxic-waste dump with Sally Bugs in an interview the historian conducted before Moscato’s death in 2013. Tony “Pro” Provenzano’s driver and confident, Ralph “Little Ralphie” Picardo, cooperated with the FBI and posted them to the landfill, claiming that they would find Hoffa’s body there. But no body was found.

Allegedly Tony Pro found out about his drivers cooperation and moved the body before the FBI came to dig, giving relevance to the Giants Stadium theory. Little Ralphie told that FBi that Tommy Andretta, his brother Steve, and Sally Bugs grabbed Hoffa from the Red Fox and killed him, before getting him shipped back East for burial in the landfill. But is this what really happened? So many layers of truth and untruth have been accumulated in this case its hard to see what really transpired. Almost like it was by design.

Did Hoffa Disappear On Purpose

“Could Hoffa have just made himself disappear?” Cipollini asks Real Crime. “As history had demonstrated time and time again, anything is possible, especially in the underworld culture.  That said, I still doubt Hoffa ran off and changed his identity.”

It was a much different world in 1975 and who’s to say if Jimmy Hoffa didn’t disappear on purpose. He could have been on some island all these years, growing into old age, and enjoying his senior years. It was much easier to make yourself vanish back in the 1970s then it would be today with the internet and digital footprints that people leave nowadays. And with law enforcement being stymied in every attempt to solve this case, what became Hoffa has become an enduring mystery.

“The police, the public, private investigators, researchers, the world at large has examined this case seven ways to Sunday and back again.” Cipollini tells Real Crime. “In my view, I think a lot of this has been perhaps overthought whereas the actual truth probably resides in a very simple, forthright, non-complicated scenario, which is why I now lean toward the cremation story.”

Even with Cipollini’s beliefs about Hoffa’s outcome and Moldea’s opinion on the subject the overwhelming and all consuming question has remained- What happened to Hoffa? This mystery has grown in criminal lore becoming a touchstone of popular culture. Books, movies, magazine, and even video games, Hoffa has lived on in the form of consumable media. A headline grabbing figure in life and in death. Leaving experts musing on possible scenarios and trying to uncover the truth.  

“Hoffa, being a very public and polarizing figure, made the situation all the more difficult for mob in terms of eliminating him.” Cipollini says. “With that in mind, and regardless of whoever the actual perpetrators were, there had to be long thought out and debated ideas of how to remove Hoffa without any trace being left to connect the plot to the decision makers.”

The perpetrators were either extremely lucky or had a full-proof plan. A plan that involved multiple layers and levels. Numerous individuals working together to make one of the most noteworthy people in the history of the United States just disappear, without a trace. A complete obliteration of the man, but the legend remains. And who is to say if the perpetrators foresaw the enduring legacy of the mystery surrounding Hoffa’s disappearance.  

“If any underworld rubout in history ranks as the most mysterious,” Cipollini tells Real Crime. “This one is it, because in 2017, and even with the most plausible accounts coming to light, it’s still unsolved because the mob – if they indeed whacked Hoffa – made damn sure it would be the most untraceable hit in underworld history.”

A fact that remains intact unless one of these experts can solve the case through research or a criminal pens a tell-all book or a snitch spills the beans to law enforcement, but wait, all of these things have already happened. Numerous times and law enforcement is still at the same point they were 42 years ago. 

Digging holes for bodies, trying to solve the case, and be the one who finally answered the age-old question and discovered what really happened to Hoffa. Despite the trail being cold experts like Cipollini believe an answer will eventually be found. “I actually do believe the truth of the who, what, where and how of Jimmy Hoffa’s disappearance/death will someday no longer be a mystery.” Cipollini tells Real Crime. “The elements of the true story are already there. They just have to be put together in the right way.”



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