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U.S. labor leader Jimmy Hoffa is photographed at the Greater Pittsburgh Airport, Pennsylvania in this April 12, 1971 file photograph. Hoffa was switching planes from San Francisco, and was returning to the federal prison in Allenwood, Pennsylvania

Jerry Siskind/Reuters

Jimmy Hoffa may be embedded in concrete in Giants Stadium, or beneath a New Jersey highway, or scattered in a Florida swamp, but he is not buried under a back-yard pool in Michigan where police were digging yesterday.

After 28 years, hundreds of tips and 16,000 pages of evidence in the case, authorities have still found only a single hair from the head of the former Teamsters boss, despite optimism new information would lead to his body.

Law-enforcement officials tore up the lawn of a Bay City, Mich., home yesterday after a convicted murderer who once lived there told them that Mr. Hoffa was buried on the property. Richard Powell, who is serving a life sentence for murdering his landlady in 1982, told police he was part of the crew that disposed of Mr. Hoffa's body in July, 1975.

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The authorities had reason to believe him, since Mr. Powell led them earlier this year to the body of a murder victim hidden in the crawl space of the same house.

The Detroit News reported that Mr. Powell told police they would find a briefcase he buried at the site containing the hypodermic syringe used to sedate Mr. Hoffa, a deck of playing cards used by his abductors, and cash.

A preliminary search of the property with a metal detector turned up three promising areas to search, but police ended the dig last night after eight hours, ruling out another lead rather than solving the case.

"We thought this information was pretty good, and that's why we went to all this effort," Bloomfield Township Police Chief Jeffrey Werner said. "We're frankly disappointed that we didn't find something."

Mr. Hoffa was last seen in the parking lot of the Machus Red Fox restaurant in suburban Detroit on July 30, 1975, about 160 kilometres from the Bay City home. He was to have met with Anthony Provenzano, a New Jersey Teamsters boss, and Anthony Giacalone, a captain in the Detroit Mafia, but the two men apparently never showed up.

Mr. Hoffa, who had once counted business leaders and mob bosses among his friends, was widely believed to have been killed by organized crime figures who had grown restless at his unwillingness to bend to their demands.

In the months after his disappearance at the age of 62, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation received hundreds of false tips about his whereabouts.

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Though Mr. Hoffa had made the Teamsters one of the most powerful unions in the world, he is now more renowned for his disappearance.

"He is America's most famous missing person," said Arthur Sloane, professor emeritus of labour relations at Delaware University and the author of a 1991 biography of Mr. Hoffa. "Do you know who the last person was to see Hoffa alive? Jacques Cousteau, because Hoffa sleeps with the fishes," Prof. Sloane quipped, retelling a once popular joke.

During his tenure as president of the Teamsters, which began in 1957, Mr. Hoffa proved a tough negotiator, earning valuable concessions from the trucking industry in the union's first national contract in 1964. But his growing power unsettled organized-crime figures who controlled elements of the industry, and members of the Mafia breathed a sigh of relief when he was convicted in 1967 of jury tampering and mail fraud.

Mr. Hoffa's 13-year sentence was commuted in 1972 by then U.S. president Richard Nixon, and he was released on Christmas Eve. Investigators believe members of the Mafia had Mr. Hoffa killed to prevent him from regaining the Teamsters presidency, which by then was held by Richard Fitzsimmons, who was believed to be close to the Nixon White House.

The Hoffa case remains open, and the FBI continues to pursue leads, helped by recent advances in DNA technology. They know Mr. Hoffa's DNA pattern from hair taken from one of his hairbrushes.

In the fall of 2001, federal investigators announced they had found a hair belonging to Mr. Hoffa in the back seat of a car that had been driven by friend Charles O'Brien on the day he disappeared, but they did not have sufficient evidence to bring a case.

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It seems there are as many theories about Mr. Hoffa's disappearance as there are about the assassination of John Kennedy. In 1992, career criminal Joseph Kenneth France told the tabloid show A Current Affair that he and four other men sedated Mr. Hoffa and transported him to a boat on Lake Michigan, then bound him and dropped him into deep water. Mr. France later confessed he'd fabricated the story for a $15,000 (U.S.) payment from the show.

Mr. Hoffa was declared legally dead in 1982 after Mafia hit man Charles Allen told a U.S. Senate committee that he had been killed under orders from Mr. Provenzano and his body "ground up in little pieces, shipped to Florida and thrown into a swamp." Another mobster asserted that Mr. Hoffa's body was buried in New Jersey's Giants Stadium; yet another located it under Pulaski Skyway in New Jersey's Meadowlands area.

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About the Author
Senior Media Writer

Simon Houpt is the Globe and Mail's senior media writer, charged with covering the industry's transformation. He began his career with The Globe in 1999 as the paper's New York arts correspondent, covering the cultural life of that city through Canadian eyes. More

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