GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Sunday marks 48 years since controversial American labor leader Jimmy Hoffa disappeared from metro Detroit — never to be seen or heard from again.

Hoffa’s disappearance has long been one of the county’s most infamous missing persons cases, not only because of Hoffa’s personal history but also his apparent connections with organized crime and the number of failed searches to find his remains.

Even now, 48 years later, the FBI says it still receives tips or claims about what happened to Hoffa. But as the years go by, the odds of ever learning the truth seem to fade.


Hoffa spent most of his life as a union organizer, a role that stemmed from his upbringing. He was born in Brazil, Indiana, in 1913. His father, a coal miner, died when Hoffa was only 7 years old from “work-related conditions.” Hoffa’s family eventually moved to Detroit and he dropped out of school at 14 to work as a stock boy at a Kroger grocery warehouse.

There, perhaps to honor his late father, Hoffa led a push to fight back on unfair treatment and poor working conditions. At the Kroger warehouse, Hoffa called for, led and won his first strike. By 1940, he had become the chairman of the Central States Drivers Council and was named the president of the Michigan Conference of Teamsters in 1942, all before he was 30 years old.

By 1952, he had worked his way up to be elected the international vice president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. Five years later, he was chosen to succeed Dave Beck as the union’s president.

Jimmy Hoffa leads a parade of supporters at the Teamsters Union Convention in Miami Beach, Florida, on Oct. 3, 1957. He was the president of the Teamsters from 1957 until he resigned from behind bars in 1971. (AP file)

Hoffa was considered a tough and smart bargainer and helped develop the Teamsters into the largest labor union in the nation. But did he do everything by the book? Most investigators would say no.

Hoffa and the union had several ties to organized crime. Many experts are convinced that the Teamsters were able to thrive in part because of some “shady practices.” Hoffa had managed to avoid criminal charges until 1967, when he was convicted of jury tampering, fraud and conspiracy and sentenced to 13 years in prison.

While behind bars, Hoffa struggled to hold on to power within the union and in July 1971 resigned as the president of the Teamsters. On Dec. 23, 1971, less than five years into his sentence, President Richard Nixon commuted that sentence on the condition that Hoffa would not “engage in the direct or indirect management of any labor organization” until the end of his original prison term.

Hoffa later said he never agreed to that condition of his release and fought against it, working almost immediately to win back his title as president of the Teamsters.


Investigators determined Hoffa leaned on his connections within several organized crime families to regain his footing in the union, including the Provenzano family in New Jersey and the Giacalone family in Detroit. Despite claiming to be threatened by the Provenzanos for continuing to push for power just months earlier, Hoffa agreed to meet with representatives from the two families at 2 p.m. on July 30 at Machu’s Red Fox in Bloomfield Township.

According to testimony, multiple witnesses recall seeing Hoffa pacing in the parking lot of the restaurant that afternoon. Hoffa called his wife from a payphone across the street at 2:30 p.m., saying he was still waiting for the meeting. His wife told investigators that when he called, he said, “I wonder where the hell Tony is” and “I’m waiting for him.”

Minutes later, one witness claimed he saw Hoffa willingly get into a maroon car with three other people. That witness would be one of the last people to see him alive.

By the next morning, after Hoffa had failed to return home, his family called police. He was officially declared a missing person later that day, triggering a nationwide manhunt.

The cover page of the FBI’s vault of records for Jimmy Hoffa. (FBI Records)

Organized crime families were immediately suspected of involvement. A 1975 Time Magazine report says both Anthony Provenzano and Anthony Giacalone “were on prominent display elsewhere” during the time of the disappearance. Giacalone — Tony Jack — had his alibi set because several people saw him hanging out at the Southfield Athletic Club. Provenzano — Tony Pro — was visiting with union officials in New Jersey.

Several people affiliated with organized crime families have been implicated and questioned in Hoffa’s disappearance, but no one has ever been formally charged. There are dozens of theories of who caused Hoffa’s disappearance or where his remains may be, but most professional and amateur investigators come to the same conclusion: Hoffa was murdered.

Hoffa was formally declared dead on July 30, 1982 — seven years after the date of his disappearance — to allow his children to move forward with his estate. Hoffa’s wife Josephine died in 1980. His daughter, Barbara Crancer, went on to become a lawyer and eventually served as a Circuit Court Judge in Missouri. His son, James P. Hoffa, followed in his father’s footsteps leading the Teamsters. He was first elected as the union’s president in 1998 and held that role through 2022.


Part of what piques national interest in Hoffa’s disappearance is the continued search for answers and the new theories that continue to pop up.

The FBI has conducted several digs around southeast Michigan, including one in 2006 in Milford Township and one in Roseville in 2012. The most recent digs have happened in New Jersey, one in a landfill in 2021 and another under the Pulaski Skyway in Jersey City in 2022.

Hoffa’s disappearance has also evolved into urban legends, often spread by people with ties to organized crime. One of the most popular was that Hoffa’s body was buried under Giants Stadium in New Jersey while it was under construction. That came from a self-described hit man in an interview with “Playboy.” The FBI said there was no evidence to support the claim and the agency chose not to conduct a search when the stadium was demolished in 2010.

Another was used as part of the plot for the 2019 Netflix movie “The Irishman.” Longtime mob hit man Frank Sheeran claimed on his death bed that he killed Hoffa at a home in Detroit. Police ripped up floorboards in the house and found traces of human blood, but they did not match Hoffa.

Because of the ties to organized crime, others suspect that “dirty” federal officials played a role in the disappearance. One of Hoffa’s former aides, Joseph Franco, wrote a book in 1987 in which he speculated that “federal marshals or federal agents” were responsible for Hoffa’s kidnapping, took him to an airport and dropped him out of a plane into one of the Great Lakes. Like most other theories, the FBI has not found any evidence to support the claim.