January 7, 2020 – Up until at least the late 2000s, the FBI was fielding tips that Jimmy Hoffa was killed and disposed of at the Raleigh House banquet hall in Southfield, Michigan. The iconic labor union boss was last seen less than five miles away at the Machus Red Fox restaurant parking lot a quick drive up Telegraph Road in Bloomfield Township, a ritzy suburb just north of working-class Detroit, on the afternoon of July 30, 1975 en route to a lunch meeting with Motor City mob street boss Anthony (Tony Jack) Giacalone and New Jersey mob captain Anthony (Tony Pro) Provenzano.
Hoffa, 62, was friendly with Raleigh House owner, a former Purple Gang-affiliate and popular Metro Detroit restaurateur named Sammy (The Cigar) Lieberman, and had felt comfortable enough at the Raleigh House to hold his welcome home party there when he was released from prison four years earlier. The Purple Gang was the city of Detroit’s Jewish mob during Prohibition, with remnants of the group still wielding power in the local underworld well into the latter part of the 20th Century.
Throughout his rise up the ranks of the Teamsters union, Hoffa relied on several ex-Purple Gangers as part of his powerbase. By then, those Purples were working for the city’s Italian mafia, the Tocco-Zerilli crime family, the organization responsible for putting Hoffa into the union’s presidency in 1957. At the time of his disappearance, Hoffa was in a boiling hot feud with the mob over his desire to win back the top post in the Teamsters following relinquishing the reins in order to snare a White House commutation and early-release from his prison term for fraud.
Lieberman was a larger-than-life character known for his trademark stogie, string of delicatessens and a tradition of delivering Passover meals of his famous matzo ball soup to all the Jewish inmates at Jackson State Prison every spring. He opened the Raleigh House in 1965 in Northwest Detroit on 7 Mile Road and eventually moved it to a bigger building in Southfield which held an event space, a performance venue and a restaurant and lounge called the Lion’s Den. Singer Paul Anka played a set of shows at the Raleigh House in 1976. A number of ex-Purple Gangers frequented the Raleigh House and drank at the Lion’s Den bar.
The FBI received tips in the months after Hoffa went missing that Hoffa’s body was put into the trash compactor on the Raleigh House property and then picked up by a Central Sanitation truck and driven away to a landfill 25 miles away. Central Sanitation was owned by mob capos Raffaele (Jimmy the Goon) Quasarano, Peter (Bozzy) Vitale and Dominic (Detroit Fats) Corrado and had a garbage-removal contract with Lieberman and Raleigh House. Other informants told the FBI and Michigan State Police that Hoffa’s body was disposed of in an incinerator at Central Sanitation.
Central Sanitation burned down in 1978 before the FBI could execute a search warrant for the premises. A previously Vitale-owned sanitation company in the Detroit area was allegedly used to incinerate the bodies of a dozen victims of mob violence in the 1950s and 1960s, per federal informants.
Hoffa’s remains have never been found and nobody has ever been arrested for his kidnapping and murder. Lieberman died of natural causes in 1981.
Quasarano and Vitale were observed by FBI surveillance units in New York visiting a Genovese crime family social club in East Harlem the week following Hoffa being killed, presumably traveling there to report the details of the hit to the “Commission,” (the American mafia’s board of directors). According to FBI records related to the still-ongoing Hoffa murder probe, Quasarano was one of the nation’s biggest mob narcotics traffickers and Vitale was the “Godfather of Greektown,” Detroit’s main downtown entertainment district.
The only piece of physical evidence collected by investigators in the Hoffa case was a maroon-colored 1975 Mercury Marquis owned by Joey Giacalone, Tony Jack’s then 24-year old son, the vehicle the FBI believes Hoffa was kidnapped in and his body transported to its disposal in. It was seized by the feds 10 days after Hoffa vanished. Traces of Hoffa’s DNA were found in the backseat and trunk of the car thought to have been used by the Giacalone crew-assembled hit team to pull off the mob murder of the century.
Tony Giacalone, the face of the Detroit mob for more than 40 years, was Hoffa’s liaison to the upper echelons of the mafia in the Midwest and beyond. He died of kidney failure in 2001.
In 2006, a Metro Detroit woman named Elizabeth Ward came forward and told FBI agents that her and her deceased first-husband, Kenneth Tubman, saw a maroon Mercury Marquis in the Raleigh House parking lot in the minutes after Hoffa was last seen less than five miles away getting into a car matching that description. Tubman identified as Chuckie O’Brien at the wheel and two other men in the backseat, one of them appearing to be pressing down on something or someone on the floorboard. Ward said she saw a Central Sanitation truck idling in the back of the parking lot at the same time her and her husband witnessed the commotion going on in the Mercury Marquis.
O’Brien was Hoffa’s surrogate son and admittedly had possession of Joey Giacalone’s Mercury Marquis that day, but has always denied any role in his adopted dad’s slaying. Tubman claimed to recognize O’Brien from his time working as the manager at Darby’s, a successful Northwest Detroit deli and restaurant and where Hoffa and O’Brien would often eat together. O’Brien, a Teamsters business agent, had also been close to Tony Giacalone since he was a child and referred to him as “Uncle Tony.”
Most experts dismiss the likelihood that O’Brien was involved in the Hoffa murder conspiracy – citing a lack of trust by the conspiracy’s shot callers –, however, in Martin Scorsese’s new Netflix film The Irishman, based on the NY Times Best-Selling book I Heard You Paint Houses, O’Brien (played by Jesse Plemons) is portrayed as the man who drives Hoffa (played by Al Pacino) to his slaughter at the hands of self-confessed mob assassin Frank (The Irishman) Sheeran (played by Robert DeNiro). O’Brien’s stepson, highly-respected Harvard Law professor Jack Goldsmith wrote a widely-acclaimed book last year titled In Hoffa’s Shadow in which he lays out a more-than-convincing argument absolving his stepfather of playing any part in the Hoffa hit. Goldsmith penned a NY Times op-ed over the weekend condemning Scorsese, Pacino, DeNiro, et al, for spreading lies about O’Brien in his depiction in their movie.
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