MILFORD TOWNSHIP, Mich. – After decades of following dead-end tips that led to swimming pools, trash dumps, incinerators and even beneath the floorboards of a Detroit home, the FBI said Thursday it has a promising lead into the disappearance of former Teamster President Jimmy Hoffa, nearly 31 years after the notorious labor boss was last seen.
This search for Hoffa’s remains may end like all the others, but if Thursday’s remarks by the head of the FBI in Detroit are an indicator, officials will spend weeks turning and carefully examining a lot of dirt at a horse farm.
“Since I’ve been here … this is the best lead I’ve seen come across on the Hoffa investigation,” said Special Agent Daniel Roberts, who was careful not to reveal much information to a throng of reporters who gathered on a tree-shaded dirt road for new developments in perhaps the most famous disappearance in modern American history.
Roberts said “nothing significant” has been recovered since digging began Wednesday morning on the 85-acre farm about 35 miles northwest of Detroit.
“But the process is just starting,” he added.
Roberts said the search will last at least two weeks and will involve archaeologists, geologists and anthropologists from Michigan State University, as well as cadaver dogs from the Detroit Police Department.
Architects and structural engineers will be brought in to assist in the possible dismantling of a 30-foot-by-100-foot horse barn, under which evidence may be found.
Roberts would not comment on the contents on a search warrant, which has been sealed in U.S. District court in Detroit. He did, however, call the lead “fairly credible.”
Neighbors in this leafy rural enclave are, for now, basking in the new-found celebrity though that quiet dirt road has become chaotic for residents like Mark and Lynne Hait. They were out with their two young boys walking their Irish setter even as a local TV reporter prepared to do a live report for the 5 p.m. news.
“It’s kind of cool right now, but I’m sure it’s gonna get old,” Mark Hait said.
Hoffa was last seen a few miles from here in July 1975. He was formally declared dead in 1982, and the mystery of his whereabouts has fueled Web sites, documentaries, movies, books and scads of speculation, much of which re-surfaced since news of the latest dig broke Wednesday.
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One report Thursday from an author of a new book on the Hoffa disappearance dismissed this latest lead, saying Hoffa was buried in New Jersey and then removed, disposed of in a car that was crushed and then shipped to Japan.
Others called the search of this farm, which was reported to be a popular meeting place of organized crime figures in the 1970s, a waste of time because nothing was found there 30 years ago.
Still, the FBI, by all appearances, seems determined to exhaust this latest lead. Graduate students schooled in geology will be used to determine whether the earth has been removed and then replaced, Roberts said. If anything is found they will check for a DNA match.
About 40 to 50 investigators and diggers were working the site Thursday, aided by heavy equipment. And helicopters hovered above, adding a new chapter of local commotion to the long unsolved mystery surrounding Jimmy Hoffa.
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PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): HOFFA
GRAPHIC (from KRT Graphics, 202-383-6064): 20060518 HOFFA Mich map