June 18, 2013
New Tip From Mafia Informant Leads FBI To Jimmy Hoffa Hunt
Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
On Monday, FBI investigators began searching a Michigan field for the remains of Jimmy Hoffa after a tip from 85-year-old Tony Zerilli, the son of former Detroit mob boss Joseph Zerilli, led them to the scene of the apparent crime.
Zerilli alerted investigators in January that the former Teamsters boss, 62 at the time of his disappearance, was bound, gagged and struck over the head with a shovel before being buried alive on the property, with a slab of concrete placed over his body.
Investigators know Hoffa was kidnapped from a parking lot outside the Machus Red Fox restaurant in Bloomfield Township, Michigan on July 30, 1975. However, little else is known about his disappearance.
Over the course of 38 years since Hoffa´s disappearance, thousands of reports and tipoffs have led the FBI to different sites in search of the body, always ending with empty hands. Now, Zerilli´s tip has led the FBI to a field in Oakland Township about 20 miles north of where Hoffa was last seen.
After a long search on Monday, the FBI had not turned up any evidence. However, the bureau insisted the hunt was not over and would continue the search on Tuesday, beginning at around 10 am local time.
Zerilli, who was in prison at the time of Hoffa´s disappearance, told investigators that the plan was to move Hoffa´s body at a later date, but that plan was never acted upon. “Once he was buried here, he was buried and they let it go,” he said.
During a press conference on Monday, Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard said bringing closure to this case is “long overdue.”
“This has been one of those open wounds for a long time and actually as this was spinning up and we were chatting earlier last week and especially yesterday I was thinking about what Father's Day means to the family that doesn't have closure on this case, and families like them all across the country that have a missing loved one and didn't know what happened,” he said.
According to persons who were close to Hoffa, the Teamsters boss said he was going to meet a suspected member of the Detroit mafia and a Teamster boss from New Jersey at the Machus Red Fox Restaurant. It was not until seven years after his disappearance that officials legally declared Hoffa as deceased.
THOUSANDS OF THEORIES
Thousands of tips through the years have been investigated, some seemingly more credible than others.
Frank Sheeran, a mob hitman who was a close friend of Hoffa, told Fox News in 2004 that he killed Hoffa inside a Detroit house in 1975 and dragged his body down a hallway. State police investigation of the scene turned up evidence of blood in the floor of the house, but no other conclusive evidence was found.
Sheeran told reporters Hoffa was later cremated in a funeral home.
Other theories about Hoffa´s demise have led investigators to search locations ranging from the Everglades in Florida to a horse farm in Michigan. To date, all leads have turned up nothing.
According to David Chasnick, Zerilli's attorney, the FBI has been in contact with Zerilli for the past several months and believes without a doubt Hoffa is buried in the Oakland Township lot.
“This was a guy who was intimately involved with some of the players who would be well informed as to where the body would be placed,” Chasnick told Reuters´ Joseph Lichterman.
In a 21-page manuscript, Zerilli explained how Hoffa was dealt with.
“In the movies, people drive around with bodies in a trunk, and put them in meat grinders, and incinerators, bury them in stadiums, put them through wood chippers,” Zerilli wrote. “Those things just don't happen in real life, at least not in the real mob life.”
Hoffa, who led the Teamsters Union from 1957 to 1971, was imprisoned for fraud and jury tampering in his later years. He was released from prison in 1971 when President Nixon commuted his sentence.
The FBI has long theorized Hoffa was ordered killed by the Mob to prevent him from regaining control of the Teamsters. Hoffa agreed to banishment from the union until 1980 as a part of his prison release deal.
The FBI now hopes this Michigan lot is the final piece of a puzzle that has been plaguing law enforcement for nearly four decades.
Robert Foley III, the FBI Special Agent in charge of the dig, could only say the FBI was executing a search warrant.
“Because this investigation is an open investigation and the search warrant is sealed, I will not be able to provide any additional details regarding our activity here,” Foley told reporters.
Barbara Crancer, a retired Louisiana state judge who is daughter of the late Jimmy Hoffa, told USA Today investigators called her on Sunday to alert her of the search. She said she had not heard of Zerilli´s story until he came forward several months earlier. She said she will closely follow the developments online.
“We never get our hopes up,” Crancer said. “We'll just let the FBI do their job, and we'll see what happens. That's all we can do. I want everybody to know that I appreciate the FBI following up on this.”
By the end of the day on Monday, cars could be seen pulling away from the dig site, with reports the search would continue late Tuesday morning.
Former federal prosecutor Keith Corbett, who was also on hand during the dig, said Zerilli may be the most credible person to have come forward to date.
“He would have been somebody who would have been in the position to know,” said Corbett. "Any time you make an assessment that there's reasonably credible information, it would be irresponsible not to follow that down. You can't say 'Well, the chance is 1 in 10.' If you miss that 1 in 10, what have you done? And the bureau has been looking for Hoffa for so long, this is a lead they have to pursue.”
Chasnick cited to reporters that “peace” was the reason Zerilli decided to come forward when he did. Chasnick added that Zerilli wanted to “get it off his chest, and get peace for the family.”
Zerilli describes himself as a good friend of Hoffa´s. He said he learned about Hoffa´s disappearance from the “inner circle” of the Detroit mafia.
John Anthony, an FBI spokesman who has also worked on the Hoffa case in the past, agreed Zerilli was in the best position to know secrets, including the fate of Hoffa.
But not everyone is on the same page when it comes to Zerilli´s story.
Dan Moldea, author of The Hoffa Wars, said he is not so sure Zerilli´s story is the real deal. Following the Hoffa disappearance for decades, Moldea said there are holes in Zerilli´s account.
“Why would they keep the trophy buried in the backyard?” Moldea said, referring to Hoffa's body. “You chop up a body. You burn a body. You don't leave it laying around for it to be found. I'm just kind of surprised that they would allow the body to remain intact.”
He did agree that since Zerilli was part of the inner circle and had inside knowledge, the FBI cannot ignore his side of the story.
“I couldn't make a bet on this,” Moldea told USA Today. “Maybe it's right. Maybe that's why we haven't been able to solve this thing because we've been looking at the wrong place ... I would not make a bet either way on this right now.”
Today could be the day for closure. We will have to wait and see as the events unfold.