As the search for the vanished Hoffa got underway in Michigan after his 1975 disappearance, an early theory regarding his fate cropped up thousands of miles away on the West Coast. When rumors surfaced that Hoffa may have been involved in an acrimonious negation with a Gardena businessman, conspiracies swirled that Hoffa had been murdered and buried in the foundation of a nearby poker club and restaurant. It remained a local legend for decades until the property was bought up by magazine publisher Larry Flynt, fully excavated and reopened as a casino in 2000.
The 2013 search wasn’t the first (or even the fifth) time investigators have targeted Michigan in their hunt for Hoffa. And though it’s probably a bit presumptuous to rule out the entire Wolverine state as the likely location of Hoffa’s remains, several spots have already received a thorough going over. In 2003, following a tip, investigators dug up the backyard pool in Hampton’s Thumb neighborhood in search of either Hoffa or evidence regarding his death—specifically a briefcase supposed to have contained a medical syringe and pharmaceutical material used to kill Hoffa. The search turned up nothing but dirt.
A year later in 2004, the FBI was at it again, this time in a suburban Detroit home once owned by one of Hoffa’s erstwhile friends, Frank Sheeran. Sheeran, who claimed that he had murdered Hoffa himself after the two men had a severe falling out, claimed to have committed the murder in his Bloomfield home. Search teams descended on the house and did find traces of blood—but medical examiners stated that they weren’t from Hoffa.
A seemingly promising lead sent the FBI to a horse farm located northwest of Detroit. The Feds spent more than two weeks digging at the site in May 2006 before calling it quits. The FBI, normally close-lipped about ongoing investigations, stated that they may not have located Hoffa’s body, but believed that it may have been buried there before being moved elsewhere.
Just 10 months before the July 2013 investigation, the FBI received yet another Michigan-based tip that Hoffa had been buried beneath a backyard shed in Roseville. When sonar of the site revealed abnormalities in the soil composition, they decided to drill for samples. Once again, no evidence of Hoffa’s remains turned up.
The most popular urban legend associated with Jimmy Hoffa’s disappearance is that he was buried beneath a football stadium at the sprawling Meadowlands Complex in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The idea was first floated by mob hit man Donald “Tony the Greek” Frankos in an interview with Playboy magazine in 1989. Frankos, an informant who turned state’s witness, insisted that he had no personal involvement with the murder, but had been told that two other Jersey wiseguys were responsible for the murder, dismemberment and eventual burial of Hoffa’s body beneath one of the stadium’s end zones. Federal officials and Hoffa’s own family voiced their suspicions over Frankos’ story, but that didn’t stop it from capturing the public’s attention. Supporters of the theory noted that Hoffa did disappear while the complex was under construction and his last known public meeting was with reputed New Jersey crime boss Anthony “Tony Pro” Provenzano, who Frankos insisted had himself ordered the hit on Hoffa. The Giants Stadium theory was put to rest in 2010, when the building was demolished to make way for new sports complex.
Michigan may have cornered the market in Hoffa-mania, but the Garden State isn’t far behind. In fact, more than 200 FBI agents have been assigned to the case over the past 38 years, most of them in Michigan and New Jersey. Just weeks after Hoffa’s disappearance, the FBI began surveillance on a Jersey City landfill situated near the Hackensack River, based on an anonymous tip that Hoffa had been buried there in a 55-pound drum. They soon called off the search.
In 1982, another mob hit man, Charles Allen, claimed that he had the inside scoop on what really happened to Hoffa. Testifying before a U.S. Senate committee, investigating Anthony Provenzano and other organized crime leaders, Allen said that Hoffa had been shot and killed shortly after his disappearance, with his body later ground up, dumped in a steel drum and brought down to Florida where it was dumped unceremoniously in a nearby swamp. Shortly after testifying, Allen entered the witness protection program, which didn’t stop him from granting interviews with reporters to further press his claim. The federal government, however, was doubtful, noting Allen’s credibility problem and eagerness to sell his salacious story to the highest bidder. The same year Allen testified before Congress, Jimmy Hoffa was declared legally dead.
One of the most surreal theories surrounding Hoffa’s remains is the one most difficult to prove, or disprove. As with many Hoffa theories, it begins with his violent death at the hands of his enemies and the dismemberment of his body. In this version, however, rather than a fairly pedestrian burial underground, the pieces were compacted even further at a Detroit-area factory, then added to locally produced steel used for auto manufacturing. According to this myth, the controversial labor leader who championed America’s unions was himself exported—as part of an auto shipment to Japan.