On July 31, 1975, James Riddle Hoffa, one of the most influential American labor leaders of the 20th century, disappeared in Detroit, Michigan, never to be heard from again. What happened to him?
The popular belief is that he was the victim of a Mafia hit although conclusive evidence has never found and his death remains shrouded in mystery to this day.
Born in 1913 to a poor coal miner in Brazil, Indiana, Hoffa proved a natural leader in his youth. At the age of 20, he helped organize a labor strike in Detroit. His charisma and talents as a local organizer quickly got him noticed by the Teamsters and he steadily move upward through the ranks.
Originally a small but rapidly growing union, the Teamsters organized truckers across the country and through strikes, boycotts and some not so legal methods of protest, won contract demands on behalf of members.
Hoffa became their president in 1957 when its former leader was imprisoned for bribery. As president, Hoffa was praised for his work to expand the union, and for his devotion to its members. He used to tell even the east powerful members, “You got a problem? Call me. Just pick up the phone.”
Hoffa was also popular for his electrifying public speeches which made him popular with union members, politicians and businessmen.
But, he had dark side.
At the time, many Teamster leaders, including Hoffa, were in cahoots with the Mafia in racketeering, extortion and embezzlement. They were the target of several government investigations throughout the 1960s and in 1967, Hoffa was convicted of bribery and sentenced to 13 years in prison.
While in jail, Hoffa remained president of the Teamsters and when President Richard Nixon commuted his sentence in 1971, he was ready to get back to work, but he was released on the condition of not participating in union activities for 10 years.
His plan was to fight the restriction in court when he disappeared from the parking lot of a restaurant in Detroit never to be seen again.
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