Thursday, January 17, 2008

A Hoffa Sighting

by Joyce Tremel

Well, not exactly.

I read an article a few days ago about the FBI stopping a bank robbery in Fayette County last Thursday. The man who was arrested, William James Hoffa Jr. admitted that he also robbed another Fayette County bank on Christmas Eve. For the second robbery, Hoffa recruited a getaway driver, who in turn told the feds Hoffa's plans.

All this is pretty standard stuff and probably would have just gotten a passing reference in the newspaper. What made it newsworthy is that William James Hoffa Jr. claims to be related to long-missing Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa.

I never knew much about Jimmy Hoffa other than the fact that his body was never found. He went missing in 1975, the year I graduated from high school. The only thing on my mind that year was who was buying the beer for the party at Clair's house on Friday night. If you asked me about Hoffa back then I would have said, "Who?"

My inquiring mind did a little research this week. From what I've read, there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of difference between organized labor and organized crime. At least there wasn't back then. Hopefully, things have changed. Hoffa's dealings with organized crime are well documented and he spent time in a federal penitentiary for fraud and jury tampering until he was pardoned by Richard Nixon in 1971. Authorities believe Hoffa's disappearance was connected to his efforts to regain power.

As recently as 2006, the FBI along with forensic experts and anthropologists did an extensive search and investigation at a horse farm thirty miles from Detroit, Michigan. Theories abound as to the whereabouts of Hoffa's body. One says his body is mixed into the concrete used for the New York Giant's stadium. Another says he's buried in a gravel pit in Michigan owned by his brother, William. (The father of William the bank robber?)

Unsolved cases like this fascinate me. I can't help wondering what really happened. I'm pretty sure if I was a detective instead of a writer, an open case would drive me nuts. At least when I write about murder, my detective always solves the crime. How about you? If you were writing a disappearance like Hoffa's into your novel, how would you solve it?


Anonymous said...

When I lived in Dallas, they said Jimmy Hoffa was buried in the LBJ Freeway...that's a lot of cement.

And as to how I would solve a disappearance, Joyce, funny you should mention that. My Nantucket Mystery The Nature of the Grave hinges on Lieutenant John Jarad unravelling the disappearance of his younger brother Danny.

The idea of a disappearance has been in the back of my mind for a long time, because when we lived in Kansas City (OK, we moved around a lot) a young girl in my neighborhood vanished on her way home from the community swimming pool. They never found her. I was 15 when this happened, and even back then I can remember thinking: this is important, I'm going to use this someday. I've been fascinated ever since by the idea that someone you love, in the course of a normal day, just vanishes.

Laura Lippman did a wonderful job with this puzzler in What the Dead Know last year.

Thought provoking post for my AM coffee, Joyce. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I've always felt a special connection with this mystery, because my family lived in Bloomfield Hills, MI, where Hoffa was last seen. The evening my father died, my family went to dinner at "The Silver Fox," which was the restaurant where Hoffa ate before he disappeared. In the punchy logic of that day, it seemed the natural thing to do. (My dad was a General Motors executive, but NOT involved in either organized labor or organized crime.)

Have you heard the theory that Jimmy Hoffa is buried under Tammy Baker's makeup? (Not included in your article, I see.) :-)

Joyce Tremel said...

Very funny, Tory!

I remember one missing person case from many years ago. A little girl by the name of Cherie Mahan got off her school bus in Butler county and was never seen again. You still see her photo with an age progression picture on the flyers that come in the mail sometimes.

We had a missing person in Shaler several years ago. A man who worked as a cook at the homeless shelter on the North Side was reported missing by his wife. I don't remember all the details, but there was a pretty exhaustive investigation, but he seemed to have disappeared without a trace. At least a year later (maybe longer), we got a call from a police department out west. They picked the man up for DUI (on a bicycle!) and when they ran his info he came up as a missing person on NCIC. Basically, he had wanted to start a new life and had taken off.

Ramona said...

To solve a Jimmy Hoffa-type mystery, I would hire an inquisitive police secretary from a small Pennsylvania township.

Anonymous said...

If I were trying to solve the mystery of Hoffa's disappearance, I think I'd start by changing my name to something ending in a vowel.

Then maybe start asking questions about pig farms in Michigan.

Annette said...

These kinds of cases are always fascinating. My heart still breaks for Cherry Mahon's family. And, Martha, I LOVED Laura Lippman's What the Dead Know. Definitely my favorite book of the year. Perhaps because it brings to mind the case of Czarina Anastasia. Somehow, I've always hoped she did escape the massacre and lived out her life quietly somewhere.

Of course, I also hoped that Butch and/or Sundance made it back from Peru, too.

As for Elvis, I'm pretty sure he left the building long ago.

Joyce Tremel said...

Ramona, I'm kind of lazy, though. It's so much easier to just make something up and write about it.

Nancy, you might be on to something with the pig farm. I read a book recently where the villain fed his victims to the pigs after he killed them.

Annette, I always hoped Anastasia escaped too. I saw an article not long ago that they found the rest of the remains near where the other members of the family were buried. All were accounted for. But I think Butch and Sundance got away.

Joyce Tremel said...

I'm interrupting my own blog because this really pissed me off:

Why is the this the fault of the police??? Would someone tell them it's the fault of the asshole who SPED AWAY FROM THE TRAFFIC STOP! If he wasn't guilty of something, he wouldn't have taken off!

Now we return to our regularly scheduled blog...

Anonymous said...

Not too long ago, I discovered Charlaine Harris's Harper Connolly books. In the second, Harper and Tolliver find the body of a girl buried in an old cemetary in Memphis. The girl turns out to be 11 year old Tabitha Morgenstern, who disappeared from Nashville a year previously, one early morning, right outside her own house.

I enjoyed the book, but I don't mind telling you it gave me chills. And not in a good way. Almost four years ago, 13 year old Tabitha Tuders disappeared from my neighborhood in East Nashville, early one morning, waiting for the school bus on the corner half a block from her house. No one has seen or heard from her since.

I have to hope that Charlaine's use of the name was accidental, and even more, I have to hope that Debra Tuders doesn't read paranormal mysteries, because if the parallells bother me, I can't imagine what they would do to Tabitha's mother.

Joyce Tremel said...

I know what you mean, Jennie. I'd bet the similarities are just plain old coincidence.

Anonymous said...

In defense of writers who come perilously close to using real life situations, I have to admit that someimes I read a news article and file it away in the back of my mind. Years later, a name or storyline might pop back onto the front burner, so to speak, except my imagination has twisted or tweaked the facts a bit. (This is one of the reasons I don't think I should ever be chosen for a jury. "Facts" get totally mangled in my right brain.) So a lot of material tends to sound as if I'm ripping off someone's life. Which I didn't intend to do, but it happens. (I once used a name for a protagonist that was the same name a critique partner used years earlier. She was Not Happy.) So if the details of Charlaine's book (which I loved--I think that series is excellent is so many ways) are a little too close for your comfort---well, I understand both sides of the issue. Not that I"m speaking for Charlaine, of course. But it happens. No malice intended.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I'm sure it wasn't intentional. It was just kind of spooky, because the situation in the book was SO close to reality. If the girl in the book had been named Cheryl or Susan and had disappeared from Little Rock or Louisville, I wouldn't have thought twice, and I may be the only one who reacted to it at all, but for those of us who live in that same neighborhood, and especially for those of us who have kids of our own, what happened to Tabitha Tuders tends to loom large still. :-)

Anonymous said...

Everyone is afraid to this day of this story. My deepest empathy to the Hoffa Family, but they must have been living lives equal to my childhood at that time. I am going to be brave. Daddy was a Teamster, from Cleveland, OHIO who disliked Hoffa.
When I was growing up, I spent oodles of time with the Teamsters and Italian's and not one of them mentioned Jimmy Hoffa (with the exception of my own Dad)
or in front of me. If I mentioned Hoffa first, in the company of men of these groups. I was met with odd looks, disbelief and 99% of the time met with silence. My Father, (deceased) 30 years was a World War II decorated VET: Bronze Star, Purple Heart. I have much more to say...but I don't know who to say it to! My Dad was a brave man looking forward to retiring...I am not saying that my DAD was a murderer, but I am saying that DAD was really, really, good at organizing men. Certainly many children of that era have memories....Follow the yellow brick road!