James Riddle Hoffa (February 14, 1913 – July 30, 1975), better known as Jimmy Hoffa, was an American union activist. A reference to the working class of the 20th century, Hoffa began his union activity at the age of 18 within the trucker union. With time, he was gaining importance and enemies. He mixed with the mob and was the leader of the most important union organization in the U.S.A., the International Brotherhood of Truckers. His actions took a toll on him and in 1967 he was arrested for bribery. In 1975, he disappeared after having dinner at a Detroit restaurant. To date, it is unknown what happened or where his body is. His disappearance was portrayed in Scorsese’s The Irishman.
He was born in Brazil, Indiana, on February 14, 1913. James was the son of John Hoffa and Viola Riddle. His father passed away when he was 7 years old, of Irish descent and working as a miner. When the dad died, the family moved to Detroit, where Hoffa lived the rest of his life. He studied until he was 14 years old and began working as a teenager, to help the family. At the age of 18, he began to participate in the union demonstrations of the truck driver’s union, and over time he gained recognition. However, Hoffa had never driven a truck.
Jimmy Hoffa, the truckers, and the mob
Despite his clear inexperience, Hoffa managed to earn the respect of all road workers thanks to his charisma and effective acting. He was thus elected president of the famous International Brotherhood of Truckers or “Teamsters” in 1957. From then on he would be known for his aggressive methods and connections with the Cosa Nostra (Italian mafia). It is known that Jimmy used the mob to gain notoriety and destroy his competitors, while the union served as a front to clean up dirty money from the mob.
As time went by, his relationship with Cosa Nostra became increasingly evident, becoming the target of various investigations (fraud, conspiracy, evasion, extortion, laundering…). Behind them was the prosecutor Robert Kennedy, who later became a solicitor, his sole objective being the capture of Hoffa. Although he managed to leave the courts unscathed on several occasions – thanks to his intimidation and bribery strategies – he was finally locked up in 1967.
Hoffa had faced justice several times, so the confinement did not scare him, he planned to continue running the union and all its businesses from jail, leaving someone manageable in command. But this did not turn out as he expected, his puppet rebelled and the mafia took advantage of his confinement to expand their business with more facilities. It was clear that everyone was better off without Hoffa at the helm.
The disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa
In 1971 his sentence was commuted and Hoffa returned to work, he tried to regain his place and strength, but had little luck, because the mafia was clear that the business was better without him. The day he arrived, on July 30, 1975, he was summoned by Anthony Provenzano and Anthony Giacalone, two gangster bosses who were tired of his instance. They summoned him to a restaurant in Detroit, but never showed up, Hoffa waited for more than an hour and then got into a car, disappearing ever since. Nobody saw him again.
Jimmy was powerful, but he had made many enemies and was in the crosshairs of the mob, making his disappearance one of the most famous of the 20th century. His body was never found and in 1982 he was presumed dead. Although over time many took credit for his disappearance (and his death) from him, little is known for sure.
One of the possible culprits is perhaps Frank Sheeran, the Irishman, Hoffa’s henchman, who, pressured by the gangsters, would have killed the union leader. According to Sheeran’s version, that day he would have taken Hoffa to a house, where he shot him three times, and then moved his body to a still uncertain place.
His body and his disappearance became one of the best-known mysteries of the time. To date, the fate of his body is unknown. Many say it is buried, others that it was dismembered and thrown into a river, and others that it was compacted. There were many complaints about the discovery of his body, but all false.
His legacy was continued by his son, the current head of the International Brotherhood of Truckers, James P. Hoffa.
He was married to Josephine Poszywak and was the father of James P. Hoffa and Barbara Ann Crancer.
On July 30, 1982, he was declared legally dead.
Scorsese’s The Irishman
Scorsese’s The Irishman premiered on Netflix in 2019. The film follows Hoffa’s hitman and right-hand man, Frank Sheeran, as he thus narrates his story and participation in the disappearance of Hoffa. In the film, Hoffa is played by Al Pacino, while Sheeran and the prosecutor Kennedy are played by Robert De Niro and Jack Huston.