As my colleague Josh Voorhees noted Monday, the FBI is currently digging up a field outside Detroit in hopes of finding the remains of long-missing labor leader Jimmy Hoffa, otherwise known as “America’s Most Digged-For Man.” The proximate cause of this latest excavation is a tip from an elderly ex-mobster who is peddling a book called Hoffa Found, and who claims that, back in the 1970s, a Mafia buddy told him that Hoffa had been buried in this field. Lots of people have claimed to know Hoffa’s whereabouts since the former Teamsters president went missing in 1975, and they’ve placed his bones in various places: the Everglades, a Michigan tire-shredding plant, under the helipad of a hotel in Wilmington Island, Ga., and, most memorably, under the end zone at Giants Stadium in New Jersey.
This ridiculous story first hit the headlines in 1989, when a crook named Donald “Tony the Greek” Frankos told Playboy that he had been part of the squad sent to murder Hoffa. In Frankos’ telling, the mob became worried that Hoffa planned to reassert control of the Teamsters after his release from federal prison. Frankos said that Hoffa was shot in the head, and his body was dismembered and stored in a freezer. A few months later, according to Frankos, Hoffa’s remains were sealed inside an oil drum, shipped to East Rutherford, N.J., and buried in concrete under what would become the end zone of then-under-construction Giants Stadium. Frankos told Playboy he later attended a football game at the stadium, sitting in Section 107, near where Hoffa was purportedly buried: “The Giants made a few touchdowns, and we sat directly up from Jimmy Hoffa’s final resting place. And we said ‘Do you think Jimmy’s watching the game? Hey, Jimmy, this touchdown is for you.’ ”
As you may have noticed, this story makes absolutely no sense. Hoffa went missing in Detroit, a city that, then as now, was filled with great places to hide a body. There would be no reason to send the corpse across the country in some ludicrously complicated scheme that isn’t even symbolic or anything. As far as I can tell, Hoffa had no strong connection to football, the Giants, East Rutherford, N.J., or the number 107. Moreover, it’s not even clear that the unreliable Frankos was even a hit man, or a mob affiliate, or that he ever met Jimmy Hoffa. As an FBI source told Robert J. Wagman in 1989, “Frankos came to us long ago with his version of the Hoffa story. But it was apparent he was telling us nothing that he could not have strung together from the books and articles written about Hoffa.”
But, then, a lot of things about the mob make no sense: their tolerance for the television program Mob Wives, their weird nicknames, their penchant for wearing black collared shirts with white neckties. The Hoffa-in-the-end-zone story was just weird enough to ring true. And so even though the story had its skeptics at the time (hilariously, Penthouse was among them), it caught on—with late-night comedians and with the public at large. Giants fans dubbed the west end zone the “Jimmy Hoffa Memorial End Zone.” The myth was too good to be busted.
But busted it was, eventually, both by the television program Mythbusters—which devoted a segment to debunking the story in 2003—and by the demolition crews that, when they tore down Giants Stadium in 2010, didn’t find Hoffa’s body anywhere. (Granted, they didn’t look particularly hard.) I guess Hoffa’s as likely to be in some Michigan field as anywhere else, but, frankly, I hope he’s never found. The world is more fun when there’s a famous missing dead man to hunt for.
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