James R. Hoffa, more commonly known as "Jimmy" Hoffa, was a union representative with mafia connections whose 1975 disappearance has entered popular culture as an archetypal "missing person."
The Teamsters union, which represented trucker and other laborers, had a reputation for using underhanded methods to win contract demands. Although Hoffa was not employed in any union-represented capacity, he was able to join the union. The teamsters were one of the most powerful unions in the country when Hoffa became president of a local chapter in 1936.
In World War 2, Hoffa avoided the draft by claiming his union activities provided a greater benefit to the nation than he could as a soldier. By 1952, Hoffa became the national vice-president of the Teamsters union, which were on their way to becoming the largest and most powerful single union in the United States.
Hoffa took over the presidency of the Teamsters in 1957. His predecessor, Dave Beck, had appeared before the John Little McClellan-led U.S. Senate Select Committee on Improper Activities in the Labor or Management Field, in March 1957, and took the Fifth Amendment 140 times in response to questions. Hoffa was re-elected as president in 1961. Hoffa worked to expand the union, and, in 1964, succeeded in bringing virtually all over-the-road truck drivers in North America under a single national master-freight agreement. Hoffa then tried to bring the airline workers and other transport employees into the union, with limited success.
In 1971, he was forbidden from further union activities by President Richard Nixon.
In 1964, Hoffa was convicted of attempted bribery of a grand juror, and was sentenced to eight years. Later that year, Hoffa was convicted of fraud for improper use of the Teamsters' pension fund. Hoffa received a five-year sentence for that offense, to run consecutively to his bribery sentence.
Hoffa spent the next three years unsuccessfully appealing his 1964 convictions. He began serving his sentences in 1967. Just before he entered prison, Hoffa appointed Frank Fitzsimmons as acting Teamsters president; Fitzsimmons was a Hoffa loyalist, fellow Detroit resident, and a longtime member (since the 1930s) of Teamsters Local 299 in Detroit, who owed his own high position in large part to Hoffa's influence.
Fitzsimmons distanced himself from Hoffa's influence and control after 1967, to Hoffa's displeasure. Fitzsimmons also decentralized power somewhat within the Teamsters' union administration structure; during the Hoffa era, Hoffa had kept most power in his own hands.
Hoffa was last seen at 2:45 pm on July 30, 1975, in the parking lot of the Machus Red Fox Restaurant in Bloomfield Township, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit. He had been due to meet two Mafia leaders. One of the mobsters was also a union leader with the Teamsters in New Jersey, who had earlier been quite close to Hoffa.
Very extensive investigations into Hoffa's disappearance began immediately, and continued over the next several years, by several law enforcement groups, including the FBI. However, the investigations failed to conclusively determine Hoffa's fate. He was declared legally dead in 1982.
Hoffa's disappearance has entered into popular culture as an archetype of a missing person. Finding his body has become a joke amongst law enforcement personnel and mafia enthusiasts. Various myths regarding the location of his body have sprung up, including that is is buried somewhere in Giants stadium.