News Column

FBI Still Can't Find Jimmy Hoffa

June 19, 2013

The FBI has called off the latest search for the remains of Jimmy Hoffa after a nearly three-day excavation of an Oakland Township field.

Just before 11 a.m., Detroit FBI Special Agent in Charge Robert Foley III announced investigators had not found evidence that the missing Teamsters boss was buried in the overgrown farm field they have been digging in since Monday.

"After a diligent search ... we did not uncover any evidence relevant to the investigation on James Hoffa," Foley said. "We're very confident of our result here after two days plus of diligent effort, and at this point we'll be closing down the excavation operation and returning the property over to the property owner in the condition in which it was found."

The 62-year-old Hoffa was kidnapped on the afternoon of July 30, 1975, from the parking lot of what was then the Machus Red Fox restaurant in Bloomfield Township.

The Oakland Township property came under scrutiny in January after Tony Zerilli, 85, the son of reputed former Detroit mob boss Joseph Zerilli, told investigators that Hoffa was buried there. Tony Zerilli said Hoffa was struck with a shovel and then buried alive on the property, with a slab of concrete placed over the body.

Zerilli's lawyer, Novi-based attorney David Chasnick, said he was disappointed the search ended -- then alluded to the possibility that the FBI could be wrong.

"The one thing I learned yesterday that I was unaware of, it's my understanding the FBI wanted to search the whole property and the court limited it to a very small area," Chasnick said. "Anything's possible."

FBI Detroit spokesman Simon Shaykhet -- while not specifically mentioning Zerilli -- said the FBI's search was based on specific information about the location of a body.

"The FBI requested a search warrant that coincided with information we received," Shaykhet said. "All the area we felt we needed to go in, we did in accordance with the search warrant. What we needed, we asked for in the search warrant, and it was granted."

Shaykhet said the FBI will be at the site for the rest of the day, smoothing out the field.

He declined to say whether the agency would dig again to search for Hoffa.

"It remains an open investigation," he replied.

Chasnick -- who was with a man when the dig began Monday who was handing out print versions marked "Media Copy" of Zerilli's online tale of Hoffa's disappearance -- said Zerilli's manuscript will remain for sale.

"Was he ever peddling it?" Chasnick said. "I don't think he ever was -- he just put it out there."

This latest search has attracted a horde of reporters and curious onlookers, including a man wearing a horse head mask and carrying a shovel Tuesday afternoon.

The man, who said he's 40 and from Lake Orion but refused to give his real name, gave a thumbs-up to law enforcement officers blocking Buell Road near the dig site.

"By being ridiculous, I hope to point out how ridiculous this whole thing is," he said. His mask is a nod to a famous scene from the movie "The Godfather."

He went on to say: "Hoffa disappeared in '75, so 38 years ago. He's obviously dead. How he's dead doesn't really matter. Who killed him doesn't really matter, cause they're probably dead, too. So, really, what's the point in what's going on here today?"

Foley said about 40 agents were involved in an operation that covered about an acre. The FBI has not put a cost on the search, but Foley said it's more important to solve a case.

"With any investigation, we consider cost-benefits analysis," he said. "The FBI and its partners are no corporations. We do not have a profit margin as a bottom line."

Over the years, authorities have received various tips, leading the FBI to possible burial sites near and far.

In 2003, a backyard swimming pool was dug up 90 miles northwest of Detroit. Seven years ago, a tip from an ailing federal inmate led to a two-week search and excavation at a horse farm in the same region. Last year, soil samples were taken from under the concrete floor of a backyard shed north of the city. Detectives even pulled up floorboards at a Detroit house in 2004.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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Source: Copyright Detroit Free Press (MI) 2013

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