A heap see but few know: Detroit’s great whodunit mystery
July 30, 1975, the temperature was 91.9 degrees in metro Detroit (Farmer’s Almanac). The Detroit Tigers were playing in New York and lost to the Yankees 1-2. J.L. Hudson was still a major fixture in downtown Detroit, but suburban malls were giving the 28 story department store a run for its money. Corner grocery stores were yet within walking distance from one’s home, and the locals flocked to Belle Isle for a cool dip in the Detroit River. Stevie Wonder’s album, Songs in the Key of Life, was at the top of the charts, and the dog days of August were just a bark away, but July 30th, 1975, would put Detroit on the map of whodunit with the biggest cliffhanger of the decade.
Rank and file
Local barber shops were having gentlemen debates about whether the Vietnam War was worth the loss of so many lives; however, slowly but surely, the debates gave way to “what happened to Jimmy Hoffa?” Jimmy R. Hoffa was a Detroit resident in 1975, living on Robson in Northwest Detroit, and had been at the top of his game as the president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. To the rank and file, Hoffa was revered as a great leader and shrewd negotiator on behalf of truckers. After the disappearance of Hoffa, Grand Truck Warehouse on East Ferry in the City of Detroit, became a political hub of opinions for local truckers. Tommie Mitchell, a card carrying Teamster member and trucker, moderated many on-site deliberations at the Grand Truck Warehouse site. As intermediary, Tommie would always emanate an aura of tranquility among the hurly-burly Teamster’s on-site deliberations.
A great leader
Hoffa played a major role in the progressive development of the Teamsters, which eventually became the largest single union in the United States, with over 1.5 million members during his terms as its leader. He succeeded in bringing nearly all over-the-road truck drivers in North America under a single national master-freight agreement (James & James, 1965). This was a tremendous undertaking that took guts, foresight, masterful planning, and extreme political maneuvering which included back room deals with special interest groups. Hoffa had numerous supporters, but he also had many assiduous enemies.
Hoffa’s last stand
1967 Hoffa was imprisoned for jury tampering, attempted bribery, and fraud He was sentenced to 13 years in prison. In 1971 he officially resigned the Teamsters’ presidency, as this was part of a pardonagreement with former President Richard Nixon. President Nixon blocked Hoffa from union activities until 1980. Nevertheless, Hoffa was attempting to overturn this directive and re-gain his presidency with the Teamsters (Time Magazine, 1975). Yet, there were others inside and outside of Hoffa’s camp that did not support his return to power either. His attempt to recover his former position with the Teamsters proved to be his undoing.
Hoffa was last seen on July 30, 1975, at the Machus Red Fox, a suburban Detroit restaurant. According to confidential sources, Hoffa believed he was to meet there with two Mafialeaders—Anthony Giacolonefrom Detroit, and Anthony Provenzanofrom Union City, New Jersey(Moldea, 1978).
James, Ralph. & James, Estelle, Hoffa and the Teamsters: A Study of Union Power, 1965, Van Nostrand, pp. 13-15.
Moldea, Dan. The Hoffa Wars: Teamsters, Rebels, Politicians, and the Mob. New York & London: Paddington Press, 1978.
Sloane, Arthur A. Hoffa, MITPress, 1991.
“INVESTIGATIONS: Hoffa Search: ‘Looks Bad Right Now”. Time. August 18, 1975. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,917718-3,00.html. Retrieved May 6, 2010.