Michigan police take soil sample in decades-old search for Hoffa

Reuters News
Posted: Sep 27, 2012 10:07 PM
Michigan police take soil sample in decades-old search for Hoffa

By Ryan Felton

ROSEVILLE, Michigan (Reuters) - In the latest twist in the 37-year-old search for missing Teamsters union boss Jimmy Hoffa, police removed a soil sample from behind a private home in suburban Detroit on Friday after a tip that a body may be buried there.

The dramatic life-story of the union leader inspired the 1992 movie "Hoffa," starring Jack Nicholson. He disappeared in July 1975 in what authorities believe may have been an organized crime hit. Investigators have followed up thousands of leads over the decades but no remains have been found.

More than a hundred onlookers, including camera crews from local TV stations and curious neighbors, watched from behind yellow tape as investigators took the sample from inside a large backyard shed.

The sample will be analyzed by a forensic scientist from Michigan State University. Roseville Police Chief James Berlin said results were expected Monday.

Investigators are skeptical Hoffa is buried in this suburb, but Roseville police decided to investigate after the department received what Berlin called a "credible" tip that someone was buried in the backyard of the home around the time Hoffa disappeared.

Berlin said there are "some inconsistencies" with the tipster's timeline, but "memories fade, facts blur, so who knows?"

Michigan Department of Environmental Quality officials used ground-penetrating radar on the driveway, which detected an anomaly that warranted investigation, agency spokesman Brad Wurfel said earlier this week.

"We have no clear indication of what that might be, only that it appears that something was buried there," Wurfel said.

Hoffa, the father of current Teamsters President James Hoffa, led the union from 1957 to 1971, spending the final years of his term in prison for fraud and jury tampering. He was released in late 1971 when President Richard Nixon commuted his sentence.

Authorities have long held the theory that Hoffa was ordered killed by organized crime figures to prevent him from regaining control of the Teamsters. He had agreed to be banned from the union until 1980 as part of the deal that got him out of prison.

Police had wanted to keep the latest search as low-key as possible. "This is a cold-case homicide investigation, not a search for Jimmy Hoffa," Berlin said.

Instead, the dig brought a surge in interest into the community, which is about 20 miles east of the restaurant where Hoffa was last seen.

"We tried to avoid this," Berlin said, referring to the media frenzy the search set off. "We don't know what's down there."

(Reporting by Ryan Felton; Writing by James B. Kelleher; Editing by Paul Thomasch and Claudia Parsons)