CRIME: Hunting for Hoffa

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For a while, it looked like a gold rush—a small army of diggers descending on a 29-acre site some six miles west of Pontiac, Mich. They were led by state policemen ripping up great trenches with a rented backhoe, but among the scramblers were laid-off auto workers, housewives and after-school kids hacking away at the ground with garden tools. One man was seen digging with his bare hands. They were looking for hidden treasure of a sort—the body of former Teamsters' President James Hoffa, who has been missing since July 30.

For finding Hoffa, dead or alive, any private citizen could claim the $200,000 money put up by the family.

The bizarre hunt began with a tip from an unnamed informer who said a group of Mafiosi wanted Hoffa's body found. The reasoning was odd. The Mafiosi were said to feel they were unfairly getting too much heat from investigators working on the case. If the body was produced, the mobsters believed, their innocence could somehow be proved. No less curious was the fact that the informant went not to the FBI or Michigan state police but to the staff of the Senate's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, headed by Democratic Senator Henry Jackson.

The whole affair had political overtones. Not only is Jackson seeking the presidential nomination, but his campaign manager in Michigan is Frank Kelley, the state's attorney general, who may be running for the Senate next year. To the Detroit News, the whole affair seemed very peculiar indeed. Declared an editorial: "When Kelley and Jackson tell us they see nothing political about all this, we wince in embarrassment for them. The only question is: How far will they go? Will they, for example, insist on being photographed beside the body, if it's found, like big-game hunters beside a trophy?"

Vague Map. Before anyone could pose with anything, something had to be dug up. The map that the informant furnished was vague: it did not even ready Michigan authorities became when they learned that Helfgot admitted he was getting his information about Hoffa fourth-hand—by talking to a courier who was talking to gangsters who were talking to a man who had knowledge of the whereabouts of Hoffa's burial. "It's pure baloney," said one federal investigator. "That stuff about the Mafia is bunk. Look, if the Mob wanted Hoffa's body found, they would have it found."

As the week wore on, Senator Jackson withdrew his committee's investigators from the hunt. The FBI, meanwhile, was checking out a report that Hoffa's body had been stuffed into a trash compactor, compressed and hauled away to a landfill project by a sanitation company owned by the Mafia.