Search for Hoffa leads to Michigan backyard

Media and spectators watch as authorities drill for soil samples Friday in the floor of a Roseville, Mich., shed where, a source said, Jimmy Hoffa’s body was buried long ago. (Associated Press)
Media and spectators watch as authorities drill for soil samples Friday in the floor of a Roseville, Mich., shed where, a source said, Jimmy Hoffa’s body was buried long ago. (Associated Press)

Teamsters leader vanished in 1975

ROSEVILLE, Mich. – Jimmy Hoffa is presumed dead, cocooned in mystery and innuendo and missing for the past 37 years. Patricia Szpunar just hopes that if the former Teamsters boss’s remains do turn up, they’re not in her backyard.

Over the years, authorities have dug up a Michigan horse farm, looked under a swimming pool and pulled up floorboards in their quest for Hoffa.

The latest search led police, droves of local and national reporters and dozens of curious onlookers to Szpunar’s brick ranch-style home in Roseville.

“I’m looking forward to everybody going home,” she told the Associated Press on Friday from her front porch. Szpunar has lived at the house since 1988.

Minutes earlier, a small mob of people scooted by, following closely behind police who were carrying tubes of soil samples taken from two 6-foot holes drilled through the concrete floor of her backyard shed.

Police in the mostly working- and middle-class community north of Detroit recently received a tip from a man who claimed he saw someone buried there about 35 years ago and that the body possibly belonged to Hoffa.

The crowd buzzed Friday, muffled a bit by the periodic whir of the drill. Szpunar cautiously peeked at the activity from the security of her partially enclosed rear deck.

“It’s not excitement for me,” she lamented. “This has turned my life upside down. My son can’t even come out and cut the grass.”

She may receive a respite this weekend. The samples taken Friday are expected to be tested Monday by forensic anthropologists at Michigan State University for traces of human decomposition. Wet soil and clay were found, but there was no visible sign of human remains, Roseville police Chief James Berlin said.

A negative test Monday means police likely will rip down the yellow tape roping off the entrance to Szpunar’s yard – Nothing to see here.

But if decomposition is found, authorities will dig up the driveway, whether it’s Hoffa beneath it or not, according to Berlin.

“I don’t believe it’s Mr. Hoffa. I don’t know what it is,” Berlin said. “It’s still a crime scene until we get verification from the anthropologist that there are no human remains present.”

The city of Roseville would pay for her driveway if it’s ripped up, Szpunar said.

A recent radar test revealed a shift in the soil, which also prompted Friday’s drilling. Berlin said the house may have been owned in the 1970s by a gambler with ties to organized crime.

Hoffa was an acquaintance of mobsters and adversary to federal officials. He spent time in prison for jury tampering. He was last seen July 30, 1975, outside a restaurant in Oakland County, more than 30 miles to the west.

The day he disappeared, Hoffa was supposed to meet with a New Jersey Teamsters boss and a Detroit mafia captain.

He was declared legally dead in 1982. Previous tips led police to excavate soil in 2006 at a horse farm northwest of Detroit, rip up floorboards at a Detroit home in 2004 and search beneath a backyard pool a few hours north of the city in 2003.

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