Five years ago today, Jimmy Hoffa left his wife at their lakeside home and drove to a fashionable suburban restaurant for lunch. The labor leader was never seen again, disappearing so completely that a $1 million search has turned up only thousands of phony tips and two skeletons -- neither of them Hoffa's.
The Detroit FBI office has filled eight file cabinets with material on the Hoffa case, yet investigators here say that they are "no closer to solving that case than we were five years ago."
The former Teamsters union international president was last seen at 2 p.m. July 30, 1975, wearing a navy sports shirt and matching slacks. He was standing impatiently on a curb outside the restaurant where he was supposed to meet a reputed Detroit mafia boss for lunch.
A half-hour later, Hoffa called his wife and said he'd been stood up and was coming home. He never made it. Police found his dark green Pontiac parked outside the restaurant the next morning, empty except for a pair of white gloves.
"Jimmy never stayed out this long before without reporting in," the county prosecutor said the day after Hoffa's disappearance as speculation and concern began to build.
The Hoffa family kept a vigil at their summer home in Lake Orion, about 40 miles from Detroit. Hoffa's wife, Josephine, whom he'd met on a picket line, was joined by their son and daughter. The family flew in a hypnotist in a vain attempt to pull the names of luncheon patrons from restaurant employes.
The first of what would be hundreds of crank calls came into the local police station. A man said he had Hoffa and would return him for $500. But there was never a ransom note or any firm indication that Hoffa, who once said he had a "police record as long as my arm," had been kidnaped for profit.
Investigators speculated that Hoffa planned to meet with reputed mob chieftain Anthony (Tony Jack) Giacalone and two of his associates in an attempt to regain power in the Teamsters. President Nixon, who commuted Hoffa's 13-year prison sentence for mail fraud and jury tampering in 1971, had banned Hoffa from taking part in union activities until 1980 as part of the commutation deal.
Giacalone's alibi for the day Hoffa disappeared -- that was at a surburban athletic club -- has never been cracked. He is currently serving a 10-year prison term on a tax conviction.
As the days turned into months and the months into years, the FBI and police all over the country were besieged with tips about the location of Hoffa's body and theories about how and where he'd been killed. Several rewards totaling more than $200,000 lured many of the callers.
Two U.S. Senate investigators came to Detroit with a map, which they said showed where Hoffa was buried. State authorities, urged to keep the FBI out of the hunt so as not to alienate Mafia tipsters, spent three days digging holes with a backhoe in a field about 30 miles from Detroit. The only thing they found was a dead dog.
The FBI searched a suburban Detroit banquet hall, where compressed garbage was emptied once a week by a company incorporated by Mafia figures. Next they searched a garbage incinerating company.
In California, federal agents raided the El Dorado Restaurant and Poker Club after a tipster said someone was being hidden there. They searched a dump on the banks of New Jersey's Hackensack River for two weeks. And they rushed to Pennsylvania after a turkey hunter found a skeleton buried in the hills. It turned out to be the body of another short, 62-year-old man.
A former mobster told police that the killer was someone known only a "monster man," who stunned Hoffa with a baseball bat in Detroit, chopped his body up in New Jersey and dumped the pieces in a Florida swamp.
Seventy witnesses were called before a federal grand jury, but there were no indictments.
The theory circulated privately by FBI agents was that Hoffa was picked up at the restaurant and driven to the suburban banquet hall, where he was murdered. His body was then stuffed into a trash compactor, and eventually was taken to a landfill and bulldozed under, according to the theory.
Hoffa's son, labor lawyer James P. Hoffa, says five years have not erased the memories."It is still on my mind. It is on my mind all time," the young Hoffa said in a recent interview. "There is not a day that passes that I don't think about the case."