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September 27, 2012

Hoffa found?

Authorities investigate claim of body beneath Roseville driveway

By Sara Kandel
C & G Staff Writer

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Hoffa found?
Police are investigating a tip that the body of Jimmy Hoffa is buried beneath a Roseville driveway.

Authorities in Roseville are investigating a claim that Jimmy Hoffa’s body is located beneath a driveway in the center of the city.

There was a steady stream of headlights traveling down the 29000 block of Kelly Road well into the evening Sept. 26 after news broke in the afternoon that Hoffa’s body could be buried under a driveway that backs onto the street.

Police Chief James Berlin said they are investigating the claim but at this point they have no proof of its validity.

“At this point we don’t know what is under there,” Berlin said. “It could be Hoffa, but it could be the bones of a dog or a cow. It’s too soon to say anything.”

The department, working with the Michigan State Police Crime Lab, used a ground-penetrating radar to search the area in question, looking for ground anomalies.

Anomalies were located in the area that was claimed by the source to be the location of the body; however, ground-penetrating radar cannot determine what type of anomaly it is, only that there is something there.

On Sept. 28, detectives, working with a forensic pathologist from Michigan State University, were to take a core sample from the area to determine if the remains are human or animal. If test results determine the remains are human, the driveway will be excavated sometime during the week of Oct. 1.

Drilling for samples began at 10 a.m. Sept. 28, with the first sample collected shortly after 10:30 a.m. Berlin said they would be finished pulling the second and final sample by 11:30 a.m.

The soil — two 6-foot samples  — will be stored at the Roseville Police Department until Monday morning, when they will be transported to Michigan State University, where a forensics team will determine if they contain human remains. Berlin said there was nothing visible in the samples, but that does not exclude the possibility that they contain remains.

“They told us we would have the results by Monday afternoon,” Berlin said. “We won’t know anything until then.”

Berlin said that the claim’s source thought that Hoffa was buried there because the day the event took place correlated with Hoffa’s disappearance. Even if a core sample determines the remains to be human, Berlin said that detectives will continue under the assumption that a John Doe is interred there.

The department did not disclose anything more specific on the tip, but neighbors said it was the written statement of a dying man.

“It’s on a dying gentleman’s deathbed statement that they buried him there in ’75,” said 38-year-old Robert Ransom, who lives kitty-corner from the driveway in question.

“I don’t know if it’s him though,” he added. “I think they probably chopped him up and fed him to the pigs. Pigs will eat anything: bone, tissue, everything. I truthfully don’t think they will find anything, but if they did, it would be amazing.”

Ransom’s roommate, Cassandra Anderson, 32, said the street’s been a madhouse since she got home from work Sept. 26. “There are people coming up to me telling me they’ll pay to sit on my porch when they dig it up.”

Anderson said she isn’t sure if it is Hoffa buried there.

“If it isn’t a squirrel or a dog and it is actually him, well, at least then the family will finally have closure,” she said.

She’s been a resident on the street for a little over four years. She’s not close with the family that resides across the street, but said they seem nice.

“They keep to themselves,” Anderson said. “They’re quiet but nice. It’s an old woman and her adult son. They’ve been here since before I moved in here.”

According to Roseville assessor’s records, the most recent change of title occurred in 2003 when Patricia Szpunar purchased the home.

Szpunar’s life went from normal to hectic when the authorities told her that the infamous Teamster might be buried on her property.

“I’m not going to talk about it,” Szpunar said. “I don’t even want to think about it. This whole thing turned my life upside down. It’s like a three-ring circus out there. Can you imagine if it was you?”

The street outside her home was packed with cars and pedestrians within an hour of the story breaking. Even when night fell, crowds of people were still showing up to see the house where Hoffa might be buried. School kids rode up and down the street in groups on bikes, stopping just outside groups of people to try and pick up bits of information on the man many of them had never heard of before.

“I was walking home from school and this girl I knew was riding her bike, and she said this criminal dude was buried here,” said 12-year-old Brandyn Huffman.

Teenagers and 20-somethings took pictures in front of the driveway.

“We’re a part of history; right now at this moment, this is history,” said Mike Wells, 20, of Roseville. “I’d like to think he is under there right now.”

“I don’t really think he is under there, but I’d love to be proven wrong,” said Dustin Garbe, 24, of Roseville, while standing next to two friends flashing a peace sign for a photo in front of the driveway.

“I don’t think he’s here,’ said 21-year-old Brandon Rasik. “I think the body was soaked in lye and disintegrated and there’s nothing left.”

A man who grew up in the area drove over when he heard the news.

“My best friend used to live here in the ‘80’s,” said Rick Hadge. “I grew up in that house. I was there all the time. They lived here before I lived here in Roseville. I think they moved in there in ’77. It’s funny. If it’s him, that would’ve been just a couple years after it happened.”

Costco employees Steven Hurley and James Arnold headed to the site straight from work after seeing something about it on the TV in the break room.

For Arnold especially, it’s a compelling mystery.

“I was in Teamsters 299,” said Arnold, 36, of Roseville. “That’s the local he came from. There has been a lot of other rumors about where he’s been buried in the past — they said he was under (I-696) and then they said he was under that stadium in New Jersey and now, here.”

“Jimmy Hoffa had enough power to shut the nation down if he wanted,” Arnold continued. “With one phone call, he could have had every truck in the country pulling off to the side of the road and stopping. He was a bigger-than-life icon. It’s fascinating that he could even be here.”

“And it’s ironic,” added 24-year-old Hurley, also of Roseville. “If he’s really buried here, it’s ironic because Hoffa is known for his work with unions and this spot is right by Wal-Mart, which is very anti-union.”

Bystanders spoke about the rumors they’d heard surrounding Hoffa’s mysterious disappearance.

“They dug up a yard in Milford looking for him in 2006,” said a neighbor that asked not to be named. “But I have heard some things about what this house used to be back then.”

“I heard it was a numbers house for the mob,” says a voice from the crowd gathered near the driveway of the home that borders Kelly Road and Florida.

Most of the people standing around were hesitant to believe Hoffa could really be buried so close to home, and while a few didn’t like the idea of a man being buried so close by, most did.

“Man, that would be awesome, but I don’t think they’re ever going to find him,” said Roseville resident Clayton Nixon.

As crowds of people came and went, a Roseville patrol car remained parked nearby. The officer was unable to comment on the case but confirmed a patrol unit would be posted there throughout the coming days to ensure the resident’s safety and well-being.

Every once in a while a group of people would wander onto the property, and from the loud speaker, the officer would inform them they couldn’t be there, but for the most part, the crowd was there to revel in the mystery and excitement of the whole situation.

“It was my childhood dream to have a piece of history buried in my backyard,” said Erin Kennedy, 38, of St. Clair Shores. “I don’t know much about it, but it’s very exciting.”

Kennedy came with her sister, Jamie Kennedy, 34, also of St. Clair Shores. Jamie knows all about Hoffa. She's a librarian at the Detroit Public Library, and although currently at the Knapp branch, she used to work at the main branch where the movie "Hoffa" was filmed.

“This is one of the greatest mysteries of our time,” she said. “And anything is possible at this point.”
 

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Sara Kandel at skandel@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1030.