Sunday, October 07, 2012

Jimmy and Charlie

Just call us Boneheads.

We Americans seem to be obsessed with finding the earthly remains of
Jimmy Hoffa, a labor leader/crook who presided over the Teamsters
Union for 13 years and who vanished in 1975 without a trace.

What fuels this frenzied skeletal scavenger hunt is as mysterious as
his disappearance. Hoffa was nobody’s idea of a warm and fuzzy guy.
He ran with a rough crowd and apparently suffered a rough fate. End
of chapter. Close the book.

But every half-baked tip sends the cops and the FBI out with a
shovel-wielding, back hoe churning platoon of searchers.
Can’t we just let Jimmy go?

Sure, the Teamsters became the largest single union in the United
States under Hoffa’s leadership, boasting 1.5 million members. And he
was once a powerful presence on the national stage.

While he was playing strongman, however, he was engaged in jury
tampering, bribery and fraud for which he was convicted and
imprisoned in 1967 for a term of 13 years.

It was enough to give the labor movement a bad name.

This is a man of whom Attorney General Robert Kennedy once said, “If
James R. Hoffa is acquitted, I will jump from the top of the Capital

Yet five years into his sentence, he was released from prison by
President Richard Nixon. The Teamsters then endorsed Nixon in his
reelection bid in 1972, a coincidence that raised many an eyebrow and
dropped many a jaw.

When last seen in the parking lot of a suburban Detroit restaurant,
Hoffa was on his way to meet Anthony Giacalone and Anthony
Provenzano, two reputed Mafia figures who had also been Teamster

Maybe they just took a wrong turn into Lake St. Claire. But if you
believe that, you probably believe in the Easter Bunny.

Indeed, the Detroit Free Press in 2006 cited a FBI report concluding
Hoffa was killed by organized crime members because he was attempting
to regain control of the Teamsters whose pension fund they controlled.

So in mob parlance, he was “taken for a ride.” Or perhaps he “sleeps
with the fishes.”

It’s been 37 years. He has been declared legally dead. The hunt,
however, continues.

Just this past week, police acting on a tip from someone who might
have seen something nearly four decades ago, dug up the yard of a
suburban Detroit house. But no Jimmy.

Previous tips have led police and the FBI to excavate land at a
mid-Michigan horse farm, pull up floorboards of a Detroit house and
search beneath a backyard pool.

Then there’s the theory that Hoffa was entombed in concrete at Giants
Stadium in New Jersey, ground up and thrown in a Florida swamp or
obliterated in a mob-owned fat-rendering plant. None of which have
produced a single hair.

If we want to get serious about finding a body, we should take a
lesson from our cousins the Brits.

In what must be the ultimate cold case file, they have been hunting
for the bones of King Richard III for nearly 600 years. And now they
appear to have found them.

Richard was one of the most reviled of the English kings. He was
depicted by Shakespeare as a scheming, evil hunchback, the last of
the Plantagenets whose death in battle paved the way for the triumphs
of the Tudors and Elizabethans.

He died in the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485, then was bound naked
to a horse for two days of public display in Leicester, about 100
miles north of London, according to historical accounts. He was
buried in a priority which over the centuries had become a parking
lot for a bank in Leicester under which the bones were found.

While testing continues to verify that the bones are indeed that of
the king, the Brits have gone one step farther. They found a cabinet
maker living in London whose mother was a 16th-generation niece of
King Richard’s and whose DNA may seal the deal.

Interestingly enough, the discovery has spurned discussion that
perhaps Richard wasn’t such a bad sort after all and should be
reburied in Westminster Abbey along with the other kings of England.

It just shows you how 500 years or so can repair your reputation.
Maybe if they dig up Hoffa in 2512, he’ll be hailed as a hero.

But I have grave doubts.

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