Three veteran journalists participating in a panel discussion at The Mob Museum on the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa challenged the assertion in a new Hollywood movie that Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran killed the national labor leader 44 years ago.
The forum in Las Vegas also included a spirited exchange regarding the whereabouts of the 62-year-old Hoffa’s remains. Hoffa went missing from the parking lot of a suburban Detroit restaurant on July 30, 1975, and though his body has never been recovered, a judge declared him legally dead seven years later. No one was ever charged with a crime in the matter.
The December 11 forum in The Mob Museum’s historic courtroom featured author and investigative journalist Dan Moldea, Fox News anchor and senior correspondent Eric Shawn and retired Detroit television investigative reporter Vince Wade.
The Hoffa mystery is attracting renewed attention in large part because of the Martin Scorsese film The Irishman, which was released this fall and stars Robert De Niro as Sheeran, a World War II combat soldier and Mob hit man who claimed to have shot his friend Hoffa on orders from the Mafia.
The movie is based on a 2004 book, I Heard You Paint Houses, by Sheeran’s attorney, Charles Brandt, a former homicide prosecutor and chief deputy attorney general in Delaware. According to the book, “painting houses” is Mafia code for a contract killing.
The panelists said the evidence they have gathered suggests New Jersey hit man Salvatore “Sally Bugs” Briguglio is the one who killed Hoffa, not Sheeran.
Briguglio did not live many years after Hoffa went missing. In March 1978, two unknown assassins shot Briguglio four times in the head and once in the chest, killing him during a rainy night on Mulberry Street in New York City’s Little Italy. Sheeran also claimed to have been one of the two men involving in that shooting.
Hoffa ended up at the Machus Red Fox restaurant near Detroit on a 91-degree July afternoon in 1975 supposedly to attend a “peace meeting” with Detroit mobster Anthony “Tony Jack” Giacalone and New Jersey’s Anthony “Tony Pro” Provenzano of the Genovese crime family. The meeting did not take place, and Hoffa was never seen again.
Before that, Hoffa was attempting to regain the presidency of the national Teamsters Union following a prison sentence for jury tampering and pension fraud. Hoffa was making this power move, and was threatening to expose Mob infiltration into the Teamsters under new leader Frank Fitzsimmons, against the wishes of Mafia leaders who were benefiting from their cozy relationship with Fitzsimmons. A former Hoffa ally, Fitzsimmons was not inclined to relinquish the office and, in a show of disrespect, even referred to Hoffa privately as “his nibs,” according to published accounts.
While the panel discussion explored various angles in the killing, the conversation also turned toward theories regarding the disposal of Hoffa’s body. New reporting by Shawn and Moldea points to New Jersey as the likely location where Hoffa was buried in a 55-gallon drum. Their reporting, with specifics on where the body might be, is detailed on the Fox Nation subscription website. Earlier accounts from Moldea, author of the 1978 book The Hoffa Wars, cite a Mob-controlled New Jersey landfill as the burial place.
“You’ll get a million different theories as to where Hoffa wound up,” Moldea said at the forum.
Wade, a former reporter for WXYZ-TV Channel 7 in Detroit, broke the story in 1975 about Hoffa’s disappearance. At the museum, Wade said he believes Hoffa’s remains were incinerated at Central Sanitation Services in Hamtramck, Michigan, near downtown Detroit. The Detroit Free Press describes Central Sanitation as “a Mob-owned garbage disposal service in Hamtramck that was destroyed in an arson fire about six months after Hoffa’s disappearance.”
Moldea, however, asserted that the Central Sanitation disposal theory was rejected years ago. In a debate that became contentious at times, Moldea and Wade challenged the reliability of the people who each relied upon to identify where Hoffa’s remains ended up.
Shawn noted that he has more on the mystery upcoming, possibly by February. As he has in the past, Shawn called for the federal government to release all files on the Hoffa investigation. He said whether the killer was Briguglio, Sheeran, or, as some believe, Detroit mobster Anthony “Tony Pal” Palazzolo, the answer could be in those files.
“We deserve to know what happened,” he said.
Larry Henry is a veteran print and broadcast journalist. He served as press secretary for Nevada Governor Bob Miller, and was political editor at the Las Vegas Sun and managing editor at KFSM-TV, the CBS affiliate in Northwest Arkansas. Henry taught journalism at Haas Hall Academy in Bentonville, Arkansas, and now is the headmaster at the school’s campus in Rogers, Arkansas.