Updated: A Familiar Circus Breaks Out As FBI Digs for Jimmy Hoffa
Update: Monday, 6 p.m. -- Detroit FBI spokesman Simon Shaykhet said agents would continue digging until sundown and will return Tuesday at 8 a.m.. to resume activities. He declined to provide specifics beyond that.
10 p.m.: Fox2 reports nothing of substance was found by sundown.
Tuesday, 6 a.m. -- The FBI will be back at it today looking for the body of James Hoffa.
On Monday morning, almost as quickly as a snap of the finger, a circus broke out at a corner of rural Oakland Township.
There were no elephants and dancing bears. But there were FBI agents, sheriff's deputies, farm equipment and lots of TV cameras and reporters, curious neighbors and gawking motorists, some who stopped to snap a photo.
The FBI was digging for James R. Hoffa, with the help of excavation tools including a backhoe and shovels.
It wasn't a huge surprise, in some ways.
Ex-Detroit mobster Tony Zerilli had come forward and spoken to the media several months ago, saying Hoffa is buried on property at a property near the corner of Buell and Adams Road. The site once belonged to Detroit's top mobster Jack Tocco. The FBI was interested.
"Buried Him Alive"
Zerilli, in a transcript of a partial book offered for sale on his website HoffaFound.com, said mobsters drove Hoffa to the property on July 30, 1975, bound and gagged him, then took a shovel and "cracked Hoffa over the head with it." A gravesite already had been dug in a barn.
"They threw him in the hole, buried him alive," Zerilli wrote. "He wasn't shot, he wasn't stabbed, nothing like that. A cement slab of some sort was placed on top of the dirt to make certain he was not going to be discovered. And that was it. End of story."
Zerilli was at the excavation site for a while Monday morning, but took off. His attorney, David Chasnick, said he may have been a little intimidated by the crowd. Chasnick said the FBI confirmed that the cement slab was still there.
Chasnick gave journalists copies of Zerilli's 21-page manuscript of his developing book on the disappearance. Zerilli, 85, is broke and has said he wants to make money on all of this.
As part of the day's activities in Oakland, press conferences broke out.
TV Commentator With Cred
There was Keith Corbett, former head of the U.S. Attorney's Organized Crime Strike Force, who was on hand as a commentator for WDIV.
Corbett told reporters Zerilli's motive for getting the FBI to dig undoubtedly involves his book-in-progress. Still, he said Zerilli was in a position to know what happened. Though he was in prison at the time of the 1975 disappearance from outside a Bloomfield Township restaurant, Zerilli's father was running the Detroit mob, Corbett noted.
Corbett said he would have acted on Zerillli's tip and proceeded with the dig if here were still with the feds.
"I think you have to," he said, acknowledging there's always fallout if a major search yields nothing.
"I think any time you you look for somebody and you don't find the body, yeah, it's embarrassing."
One nearby neighbor game over to look.
Margaret Willard Traub said she lives in the house the late mobster Tony Giacalone once lived in. She said a neighbor knew Giacalone and always suspected he had a hand in Hoffa's disappearance.
"I Can't Wait"
She said the dig, the press, the whole scene "kind of brings some local color" to the area. As she spoke, an elementary school-aged child named Drake could hardly contain his excitement, saying "I can't wait" for them to find the body.
Zerilli's attorney David Chasnick held a second press conference in the early afternoon.
He said his client was "thrilled this has finally come to an end" and thrilled the Hoffa family may get peace of mind.
He said he's had meetings with the feds and they believe the body is there, "100 percent. It's not like 50-50, maybe. They think they're going to find it.'
As of 3 p.m., the FBI was still there. So was the press.
The only question: Is Jimmy Hoffa's body there?
- Who is Mobster Tony Zerilli and What Does He Really Know About Hoffa? (Deadline Detroit, Jan. 14, 2013)
- Did Mobster Tony Zerilli Want to Whack Jimmy Hoffa in the 1960s? (Deadline Detroit, Jan. 15, 2013)