Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

June 20, 2013

Whodunit, and how? Hoffa’s disappearance remains an enduring mystery

— — We were having our daily budget meeting Tuesday — the meeting where we decided what and to put in the next day’s edition and where — when Editor Samantha Perry reminded us to keep an eye on the search for Jimmy Hoffa. A former mobster had pointed out a particular field to the FBI, and he sounded credible. For instance, he said Hoffa had been “whacked on the head” with a shovel.

For the very few Americans who have never heard the name, Jimmy Hoffa was a former president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. He had alleged ties to the Mafia thanks to the millions of dollars generated by union dues and investments. He was imprisoned in 1967 after being convicted on racketeering charges, but was later released on the condition that he not seek the Teamsters presidency until 1980. From what articles I’ve read in the past, Hoffa fought this prohibition and stood a fair chance of getting it overturned.

On July 30, 1975, Hoffa went to a meeting; to this day, we’re not exactly sure who he was supposed to meet. He was last seen at the Machus Red Fox, a restaurant in suburban Detroit. As far as anyone knows, that was the last time he was ever seen. He joined pilot Amelia Earhart in the ranks of American legend by disappearing without a trace.

This is why Samantha and the rest of us in the newsroom were so interested. If Hoffa was found, it would be a huge story.

I was about 14 years old when Hoffa’s disappearance was the big news story of the day. A big search was conducted, but it failed to yield any trace of the former union boss. Private citizens joined the search and attacked any suspicious patch of dirt with their shovels. I still remember this one news photo of two elderly ladies digging away. Some commentators wondered what would happen if an individual found Hoffa. Would the finder want his or her picture taken next to the grave?

Naturally, the conspiracy theories started immediately. Some people thought the CIA had eliminated Hoffa because he knew about mob plans to assassinate Cuban dictator Fidel Castro on behalf of the federal government. Others wondered if the FBI was involved. The most common, and credible, theory is a Mafia hit. The mob was satisfied with the new Teamsters president and didn’t like the idea of Hoffa rising to power again.

Of course, the next mystery is how Hoffa has remained missing all these years. Conspiracy theorists have “found” his remains under home plates at baseball diamonds, in football fields, and many lonely meadows. When I was attending Marshall University in Huntington, I heard Hoffa was under a hotel’s swimming pool. A friend of mine heard the tale of how construction workers suddenly poured the pool’s concrete at midnight, and only a few days after Hoffa disappeared.

If the authorities had found Hoffa quickly, he would be half-forgotten today and not a major figure in American mythology. His disappearance is a favorite topic among conspiracy buffs and fans of mob movies alike. When the Telegraph news staff started talking about Hoffa, the subject of mob movies came up.

Personally, my favorite mob movie is “The Godfather.” It’s a classic American film, and I like the novel just as much. The tragedy and violence it depicted should convince anybody that the Mafia is not a good organization. Samantha recommended the mob movie “The Departed” with Jack Nicholson; I’ll have to rent that one night.

My Dad has always liked movies about 1920s gangsters and criminals like John Dillinger, and I’ll admit how this rubbed off on me. Dillinger was a bank robber who was a celebrity in his time: people suffering from the Great Depression often blamed banks for their plight, and Dillinger was seen as a Robin Hood striking a blow for the common man. Personally, I think he was a sociopath. He was a serial bank robber who enjoyed committing crimes. I doubt he would have lasted long in today’s world. Anyone who idolized Dillinger hopefully got a wake-up call when he was shot and killed.

I think some people don’t want Hoffa to be found because it would mean an end to the mystery. Mysteries are fun, but I like to have a solution when I read a whodunit. I’m sure Hoffa’s family would like closure after all these years. It’s easy to forget Hoffa was a man with a wife, children and real friends who were not business associations or mobsters,  and they want to know what happened to him. Whoever was responsible for his disappearance are elderly and even dead, but there still might be a chance for justice.

This won’t keep me from seeing any mobster movies featuring somebody’s take on how Hoffa disappeared and why he was made to disappear. I want to know exactly how whoever did it managed to keep the secret all these years. The mystery continues, and I want some answers.

Greg Jordan is senior reporter at the Daily Telegraph. Contact him at gjordan@bdtonline.com.

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