Charismatic Teamster boss Jimmy Hoffa began working with the labor movement in 1932, when, as a teenager, he led a successful strike against the grocery store he worked for. He first joined the Teamsters union in 1933, becoming president of the Detroit chapter in 1937. By 1957, Hoffa was the general president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
Apart from his popularity with the working man, Hoffa’s associations with the Mafia helped his rise. “He became iconic as a metaphor for all that was right and wrong with organized labor—the fight for workers’ rights and prosperity on one hand and the embrace of corruption and unsavory alliances on the other,” according to Adrian Humphreys, an organized crime journalist and the author of three books on the Mafia, including The Weasel: A Double Life in the Mob.
Hoffa was eventually convicted of fraud, conspiracy and jury tampering, and sentenced to 13 years in prison in 1967. But President Richard Nixon pardoned him in 1971 and commuted his sentence, under the condition that Hoffa not work in the union movement or with the Teamsters until 1980. However, upon his release, Hoffa began working in Teamster leadership again, and also started working on his autobiography.
On July 30, 1975, Hoffa, then 62, seemingly vanished from a parking lot by the Machus Red Fox restaurant in a Detroit strip mall. He was reportedly there to meet with Detroit mobster Anthony “Tony Jack” Giacalone and New Jersey mobster Anthony Provenzano, who was also a Teamsters official. The two men didn’t show, and reportedly denied having had the appointment.
Despite the fact that his body has never been found, Hoffa was declared legally dead in 1982. The case is still officially open.
There are countless theories about how Jimmy Hoffa died and where his body might be, some more likely than others. Here’s a look at the three most plausible.
Richard “The Iceman” Kuklinski
Author Philip Carlo, who spent hundreds of hours interviewing Richard Kuklinski, a notorious and prolific hitman, claims Kuklinski confessed to killing Hoffa—and around 100 others. In his book The Iceman: Confessions of a Mafia Contract Killer, Carlo writes that Kuklinski attested that he stabbed Hoffa in the head with a hunting knife after picking him up at a restaurant in suburban Detroit, and was paid $40,000 to do so.
He then reportedly drove to New Jersey with Hoffa’s body in his trunk. The vehicle was compacted with the body inside and sold as scrap metal. “He’s part of a car somewhere in Japan right now,” Kuklinski claimed.
A police officer involved in The Iceman’s arrest, Patrick Kane, reportedly said, “I believe it … who is a more likely candidate to do this than him?”
Another well-known theory was publicized by former Hoffa associate Joe Franco. Franco co-wrote a book entitled Hoffa’s Man with New York Times reporter Richard Hammer. In the book, Franco claims that Hoffa was abducted by two “federal marshals or federal agents.” He alleged that two men showed Hoffa their IDs, and the kingpin voluntarily got into the back of their black Ford LTD, which drove off in the direction of a small nearby airport. The federal agents allegedly forced Hoffa onto a small plane with them, and then pushed him out as they flew over the Great Lakes.
It’s almost certain that Hoffa’s death had something to do with organized crime. But experts can’t agree on who is responsible.
Humphreys wrote about Marvin “The Weasel” Elkind, who was a Teamster, a driver for Hoffa, and an associate of Giacalone. Elkind told Humphreys about being in Giacalone’s posse at a Teamster’s conference at Detroit’s Omni International Hotel, which was connected to the Renaissance Center by a glass-covered walkway. Humphreys told A&E Real Crime, “He and his small posse of friends walked across the bridge and when Tony Jack passed the middle … facing the Renaissance Center, he nodded toward the tower’s foundation and said, ‘Say good morning to Jimmy Hoffa, boys.”
Humphreys said Elkind claimed, “After Hoffa was snatched and killed, union carpenters … were called in to rush the construction of wooden forms needed for pouring concrete at the Renaissance project. When the forms were in place, tons of concrete flowed into them and at some point someone slipped Hoffa’s body into the wet cement, where it was encased beneath what is now Detroit’s most visible landmark.”
Anthony Destefano, journalist and true crime author, whose most recent book is Gotti’s Boys: The Mafia Crew That Killed for John Gotti, believes Hoffa was killed due to his campaign for general presidency of the Teamsters. “Because of that, the Mob and his opponents wanted him killed. When the Mob knows you and who you are, they can simply call you to a ‘meeting’ and you are never seen again,” Destefano told A&E Real Crime.
As for who was responsible, Destefano said, “To my knowledge, the FBI has informant … intelligence in which sources related how Hoffa was killed, allegedly by associates of mobster Anthony ‘Tony Pro’ Provenzano.”
Provenzano was also implicated by Donald “Tony the Greek” Frankos, a mafia hit man turned informant. Frankos reportedly insisted that Provenzano ordered the hit on Hoffa, and that it was carried out by New York boss Jimmy Coonan and John Sullivan, another New York enforcer. He also alleges that Hoffa’s foster son, Chuckie O’Brien, was along to ensure Hoffa’s trust.
However, Frankos is also reportedly the source of the urban legend of Hoffa’s dismemberment with a meat cleaver and burial beneath the end zone of Giants Stadium, which Destefano refers to as “the most bizarre theory” regarding the location of Hoffa’s body.
The FBI believes, according to their 1976 “Hoffex Memo,” that Pennsylvania’s Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran, a self-professed hitman, executed Hoffa in a Detroit house under orders from the Mafia so that Hoffa would not be able to resume as president of the Teamsters union.
Blood evidence was discovered in the foyer of the house in question that matched the story, but DNA matching to Hoffa was inconclusive.
Destefano stated, “When he disappeared … Hoffa became part of Mafia lore in a way I am sure he didn’t want to be … tied to the Mob, either by direct contacts or innuendo. Hoffa has been wedded to the mob for eternity.”
The Most Bizarre Theories About How Jimmy Hoffa Died
When even the most plausible theories are unproven, it leaves room for the outlandish. A retired cold-case detective, John Cameron, attributes Hoffa’s murder to serial killer Edward Wayne Edwards. Edwards was convicted of killing five victims and suspected in other unsolved cases, so it’s not the craziest notion. Except he also attests that Edwards was responsible for a litany of unsolved high-profile cases. A list of Edwards’ alleged victims, in addition to Hoffa, according to Cameron, includes Teresa Halbach; JonBenét Ramsey; the three little boys of the West Memphis Three case; the Black Dahlia, and Laci Peterson. He also believes Edwards was the Zodiac Killer.
Author Humphreys, though, says the most outrageous Hoffa theory he’s heard, and the only one which gives Hoffa a happy ending, is that he’s actually still “alive and well, living the high life in Mexico.”