What Happened To Jimmy Hoffa? The Strange Story Of His Disappearance

Published November 6, 2017
Updated November 19, 2018
Published November 6, 2017
Updated November 19, 2018

Jimmy Hoffa may be the most famous disappeared man in history, and these theories suggest he suffered one of history's most gruesome deaths.

Jimmy Hoffa

Robert W. Kelley/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty ImagesJimmy Hoffa at the Teamster’s Union Convention in 1957.

If a writer was trying to come up with a name for a character synonymous with mysterious disappearances and wild goose chases, “James Riddle Hoffa” might be deemed too on-the-nose, unless you’re Thomas Pynchon or DC Comics circa 1950.

But that’s his full name: the Teamsters guy, Jimmy Hoffa, who most people likely know more from the decades of jokes about his disappearance than they do about his role as a labor union leader. But those cracking a knowing smile likely do so because of Hoffa’s well-established mafia connections and his high-profile criminal trials

His body long-missing, Jimmy Hoffa has become the embodiment of what happens to those who go against organized crime and pay for it — at least in the public imagination. The reality is that nobody knows for sure what happened to union leader Jimmy Hoffa and no forensics operation to-date has ever amounted to anything approaching a clear picture of how he vanished that day in July 1975.

But Hoffa’s body has suffered an incredible amount of hypothetical abuse, in both rumors and jokes. Saturday Night Live writers were among the first to crack wise about Hoffa’s disappearance, reporting in 1977 that he was secretly portraying R2-D2 in Star Wars.

Jokes aside, if you ignore all the evidence to the contrary (or the total lack of solid supporting evidence in many cases), the 62-year-old ex-Teamsters leader suffered one of the following gruesome fates…

The Many Theories On Jimmy Hoffa’s Disaperence

Giants Stadium

Wikimedia CommonsThe old Giants Stadium in the Meadowlands of East Rutherford, New Jersey.

1. Jimmy Hoffa was shot, dismembered, frozen, and then buried in cement at the old Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. Specifically, Hoffa was buried under Section 107. When the stadium was demolished in 2010, so convinced was the F.B.I. that the story was bunk, the agency didn’t even bother to search the site.

2. Hoffa was crushed by a 40-cubic-yard trash compactor outside the Raleigh House restaurant in the Detroit suburbs, five miles from where he vanished. The Mafia famously ran the sanitation business, so it was a relatively routine hit.

3. According to Joseph Franco, Hoffa’s former associate, and self-proclaimed “thief, extortionist, leg breaker, and hired killer,” Hoffa was shoved alive out of an airplane over one of the Great Lakes by a couple of federal agents.

The Irishman

YouTubeFrank “The Irishman” Sheeran

4. Before his death, Mobster and former friend of Hoffa, Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran confessed to the hit and said that Jimmy was shot to death and then cremated in a trash incinerator in the Detroit suburbs. Interestingly enough, Sheeran will be portrayed by Robert De Niro in an upcoming Netflix original movie based on Sheeran’s account of the Hoffa murder. Al Pacino will be playing Hoffa.

5. Hoffa was shot with a stun gun, ground up at an ironworks, placed into a steel drum, and shipped to the Everglades, where his remains were disposed of. Some accounts note that he may have been partially digested by alligators.

6. According to Mafia chauffeur-turned-stool pigeon Marvin Elkind, Hoffa was kidnapped, killed, and then buried in the wet concrete foundation of Detroit’s Renaissance Center. Elkind noted ominously to the New York Post in 2011, “practically every union carpenter in and around the city was called in to rush the construction of wooden forms needed for pouring concrete at the Renaissance project.”

7. Hoffa was stabbed in the head with a hunting knife, placed in a steel drum, set on fire, buried, then dug up and compacted inside a car and shipped to Japan as recycled scrap metal for use in new cars. As investigative reporter Jerry Stanecki wrote noted in The New York Times, it was “the ultimate insult — a nonunion market.”

And those are just the most popular theories surrounding the Jimmy Hoffa disappearance. Of course, none of these stories have amounted to anything, leaving the mystery unsolved.

The Official Report On Jimmy Hoffa’s Disappearance

Red Fox Restaurant Where Jimmy Hoffa Disappeared

Getty ImagesJimmy Hoffa was last seen standing outside the Machus Red Fox Restaurant in Bloomfield Township on July 30, 1975.

The official F.B.I. report on the Jimmy Hoffa case, the so-called “Hoffex Memo,” suggests a motive, but not a method. According to the Chicago Tribune:

“The memo says a plan was conceived in New Jersey by Teamsters with ties to the Mafia to stage a hit on Hoffa in Detroit. According to federal authorities, the hit was set up out of fear of Hoffa’s possible return to power in the Teamsters.”

Specifically, the memo suggests that Hoffa was killed so that he wouldn’t once again gain control of the shady Teamsters Central States Pension Fund, which was worth around a billion dollars unadjusted for inflation.

Jimmy Hoffa With His Son

Wikimedia CommonsJimmy Hoffa and his son, James P. Hoffa. 1965.

Hoffa’s son, James P. Hoffa, elected head of the Teamsters in 1999, agreed that the Mafia was involved and even ran his campaigns on the back of that conviction. “The mob killed my father. If you vote for me, they will never come back,” he told a crowd of truck drivers in 1996.

But even if most people agree that the mob was responsible, there remains the continued fascination with the whereabouts of Hoffa’s body more than 40 years later. As NPR’s Alan Greenblatt suggested in 2013, that fascination is instinctual: “Everyone knows we all must die, but people who go missing entirely tap into primal fears.”

Paradoxically, as Bob Thompson, a professor of pop culture at Syracuse University told Greenblatt, the public-at-large might not actually want this case demystified, noting, “Closure is the death knell to these kinds of things.” The lurid, almost entirely imaginary details of the case are enchanting precisely because their veracity seems, at this stage, forever unknowable.

Like Amelia Earhart, perhaps the most famous missing person in history, Jimmy Hoffa’s disappearance has become legendary. The truth, if it’s even obtainable, would be a loss of a different kind, as historian Katrina Gulliver notes.

“A lingering absence begets its own mythology: the claimed sightings, the clues, the purported explanations,” she wrote on the 75th anniversary of Earhart’s disappearance. “By disappearing, these people in a sense never die. They remain frozen in time, even as the world changes. In our collective imagination, they are still out there.”

Enjoy this article on Jimmy Hoffa and his mysterious disappearance? Next, hear from one expert criminologist who recently claims to have solved the Jimmy Hoffa mystery once and for all. Then, read about the fascinating and mysterious disappearance of infamous plane hijacker D.B. Cooper.

Kellen Perry
Kellen Perry writes about television, history, music, art, video games, and food for ATI, Grunge, Ranker, Ranker Insights, and anyone else that will have him.