It’s been 37 years since the disappearance of teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa, and the conspiracy theories and rumors of where he’s buried have only multiplied. Some say he was dumped in the Florida Everglades as a meal for the alligators; others insist he lies beneath one of the end zones at New Jersey‘s Giants Stadium (now a parking lot for the new MetLife Stadium). Still others say his remains were secretly processed at a fat-rendering plant.
But a reputed Detroit mobster and former crime boss now claims to know for a fact what happened to Hoffa’s remains, and is coming forward for the first time with his story.
Anthony “Tony” Zerilli, 85, who was released from a federal penitentiary in 2008 after serving six years on racketeering and extortion charges, says he’s now living in poverty and is barely able to walk. But he contacted a reporter at WNBC in New York who had worked the crime beat while working at Detroit station WDIV in order to break his silence — and hopefully make a buck in the process.
Zerilli denies being part of the mafia or having anything to do with Hoffa’s disappearance, but he says he knows what happened the day Hoffa was last seen in a restaurant in suburban Detroit.
“All this speculation about where he is and he’s not,” Zerilli told WNBC. “They say he was in a meat grinder. It’s all baloney.” He says he believes Hoffa is buried in a field in northern Oakland County, Mich. “If I had a thousand dollars, I’d bet you a thousand dollars that he’s buried right here.”
“The master plan that I understood was that they were going to put him in a shallow grave here and they were going to take him from here to Rogers City upstate,” said Zerilli, who at the time of Hoffa’s disappearance was in jail for illegal dealings with a casino in Las Vegas. “Then I understand that just fell through, once he was buried here, he was just buried and they let it go.”
Law enforcement officials who have been on the Hoffa case for years say that if anybody would know about what happened it would be Zerilli because of his alleged mob ties. Zerilli himself claims that he was a friend of Hoffa’s, who himself went to jail in 1967 for the attempted bribery of a grand juror.
“He’s certainly the most interesting and attractive lead that’s come up since I’ve been involved in this,” said Keith Corbett, who prosecuted organized crime in Detroit for 20 years as a U.S. Attorney. “And I would think the [FBI] would react the same way.”
As an asterisk to the story, however, as WNBC reporter Marc Santia notes: Zerilli is far from a disinterested party in this case. He’s broke and hoping to make some money by opening up about what he knows — he’s even launched a website, hoffafound.com. It is unclear, though, who would pay him for this information. Hoffa was declared legally dead in 1982 and there is no longer a reward for finding his body.
As far as the latest clues, it wouldn’t be the first time Michigan has been scrutinized as Hoffa’s final resting place. In 2006, authorities spent two weeks digging at a horse farm in Milford, Mich., turning up no evidence; a soil sample taken last year in Roseville, Mich., also yielded nothing.