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For more than 37 years people have surmised about what happened to Teamster boss Jimmy Hoffa when he disappeared from a suburban Detroit restaurant parking lot in 1975, becoming one of the biggest mysteries of the 20th century.
Police called in the state’s Department of Environmental Quality to use ground penetrating radar to scan the driveway and found what Berlin called an “anomaly,” prompting the soil samples to be taken.
“It’s something that pops up every couple years,” said the author of a number of books on the Mafia. “These tips, they add to the lore of the case, the mystery that 37 years later they still haven’t been able to close the case.”
The neighbourhood was a well-known mob area, he said, and was home to a “prominent” mob enforcer during Hoffa’s disappearance. Bernard Marchesani, known as “Bernie the Hammer,” had a home at the intersection of Florida St. and Kelly Rd. at the time.
Interestingly enough, the home currently being searched by police is on the southeast corner of the intersection.
“He was an imposing presence on the street in the ’60s and ’70s and one of the more feared enforcers in the area, a big hit man,” Burnstein told The Star. “I wouldn’t be shocked, if they did find a body.”
An official with the Teamsters, currently led by Hoffa’s son, said James Hoffa won’t comment on the tip.
“The FBI keeps the family informed and the family won’t have a comment,” Teamster’s spokesman Galen Munroe said.
Hoffa’s daughter, Barbara Crancer, a retired St. Louis administrative judge, told the Detroit Free Press she doesn’t hold out much hope the search will produce her father’s body or solve the mystery of his disappearance.
“I don’t put much credence into it,” she said Wednesday afternoon. “I don’t think the case will ever be solved. Too many people are dead and gone. I believe there are people out there who know what happened, but they’re not talking.”
Since 2003, federal law enforcement officials have checked three possible leads. In 2003, federal agents searched under a backyard pool in Detroit; in 2004 they searched under the floorboards of a Detroit home where Teamster leader Frank Sheeran said he shot and killed Hoffa, and in 2006, the FBI searched a horse farm northwest of Detroit frequented by the mob during the time of Hoffa’s disappearance.
All three searches were dead ends.
“I remember speaking to agents who searched that home (in 2004) and they thought for sure they’d find his body there,” Burnstein said.
When contacted by The Star, Roseville homeowner Patricia Szpunar didn’t want to talk about what was happening on her property.
“I have a three-ring circus going on on my property,” she said of the police presence and dozens of media outlets camped out on the street. “I don’t have a comment to make.”
“When I heard that, I couldn’t believe it,” said Sue Fero-Hutton, 66. “After all these years.”
Fero-Hutton said her father knew Hoffa personally because her father was a union representative.
“When I heard the rumour about Jimmy Hoffa, I said I wish my dad was alive so I could talk to him about it,” she told the city paper.
Hoffa was 62 years old when he was last seen on July 30, 1975, in the parking lot of what was then a Machus Red Fox restaurant in Bloomfield Township, a suburb of Detroit. He was there for a reconciliation meeting with Anthony (Tony Pro) Provenzano, a mob-connected Teamster official from New Jersey, and Anthony (Tony Jack) Giacalone, a Detroit mafia captain.
Hoffa led the union from 1957 to 1971.
At the time of his disappearance, Hoffa had served nearly five years of an eight- to 13-year prison sentence for fraud, conspiracy and jury tampering. Then President Richard Nixon had commuted Hoffa’s sentence in late 1971 on condition that he stay out of union activities until 1980. Hoffa was in the process of challenging the condition.
The FBI theorized that Hoffa climbed into a car driven by Hoffa’s long-time protege, Charles (Chuckie) O’Brien, and was driven a short distance where he was killed. Authorities believed Hoffa’s body was shredded or incinerated.
No matter how many leads the FBI has to follow up on, Burnstein said the case will remain active until Hoffa is found.
“It’s one of the main reasons the FBI doggedly pursues it. It’s personal and unfinished business.”
With files from Star’s wire services