The Irishman Takes On The Jimmy Hoffa Story But What Happened To The Real Union Leader?

PHoto: Robert W. Kelley/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images.
Martin Scorsese’s latest film, The Irishman, combines basically all of his favorite things — a mafia storyline, Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, and Joe Pesci. It tells the story of Frank Sheeran (De Niro), a mafia hitman, and his time working for Russell Bufalino (Pesci) and Bufalino’s crime family. It also involves infamous union boss Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino), because Sheeran claims that he’s the man who was responsible for Hoffa’s even more infamous disappearance. If you’re into The Irishman but you’re not quite sure you know enough about Hoffa, you’re in luck — here’s a little brief on what happened to Jimmy Hoffa (and what he did before he disappeared) so you can be ready now that the movie is hitting Netflix.
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Who Was Jimmy Hoffa?

Per Biography, Hoffa was born in 1913 in Brazil, Indiana as James Riddle Hoffa. Hoffa got his first glimpse at poor working conditions when his coal-miner father died of lung cancer in 1920, and it wasn’t long before Hoffa was organizing for workers rights at his local Kroger grocery stores. According to the Teamsters Union’s website, Hoffa joined the Teamsters, one of America’s strongest and most important unions, in 1933 and rose through the ranks. By 1957, Hoffa was elected General President of the entire union — we’re talking over two million people throughout all of North America — with Hoffa negotiating huge labor deals like the 1964 National Master Freight Agreement, which “united more than 400,000 over-the-road drivers under one contract.”

So, What Did Jimmy Hoffa Do?

Of course, doing work and negotiating with that many people at once means that sometimes, people don’t like you. Sometimes, you have to do favors. Sometimes, you take… liberties, which Hoffa seemed to do. He was, per the New York Times, convicted in 1971 of mail fraud and jury tampering and sentenced to 13 years in jail. Then-President Richard Nixon commuted his sentence in 1974 and let him out of jail, but Hoffa was still forbidden to conduct any union business for a decade until 1981. Which is why it’s so peculiar that, on July 30, 1975, was reported missing by his family after he failed to come home from a business meeting in Detroit, Michigan.
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Per Time, Hoffa was supposed to rendezvous with Mafia bosses Anthony (Tony Jack) Giacalone and Anthony (Tony Pro) Provenzano, but they claim Hoffa never showed up. According to the New York Times, authorities found Hoffa’s car in the parking lot of a restaurant without any trace of Hoffa, with no evidence of struggle and no immediate clues to where he could have gone. According to Hoffa’s family, he didn’t smoke or drink, and he was always home with his family, so it’s not like he would have run away… would he? According to USA Today, the main theory surrounding Hoffa’s vanishing was that the Mafia killed Hoffa so that he couldn’t reveal that the Mafia had infiltrated the Teamsters and was skimming off the top of the union’s pension fund.

Okay, But Really, What Happened To Jimmy Hoffa?

Despite what we see in The Irishman, technically we don't know.
A mystery like this leads to many theories, and since Hoffa’s body (dead or alive) was never found, there are myriad surrounding his disappearance. Per Biography, the FBI searched for three weeks for Hoffa before calling off the search. Hoffa’s scent was found by search dogs in the back of an associate’s car, but many of those called to testify pleaded the Fifth to avoid self-incrimination or just plain didn’t offer up any great information on Hoffa’s disappearance.
There was a rumor that his body was brought to New Jersey’s Meadowlands and dumped so that a stadium could be built on top of it. (Nothing was ever found.) Farms were overturned. Basements were dug up. And nothing.
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Now, 45 years later, Hoffa’s family recognizes that the chances of actually finding Hoffa or his body are slim to none. “They’re all dead,” Hoffa’s daughter, Barbara Crancer, told USA Today. “Most of the people that were suspects are gone. I guess it won’t be solved. It would be a comfort to find his body, but I don’t think we will.”
In the 2004 book I Heard You Paint House, Charles Brook took Sheeran’s confession that he was behind Hoffa’s murder as gospel, even though it’s since been, according to Vanity Fair, widely debunked. Still, Scorsese’s turn with The Irishman is as good a theory as any as to what really happened to Hoffa. And who knows? With any luck, perhaps The Irishman will inspire some interest — and an eventual answer — in this nearly 50-year-old cold case.
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